Our Pirates and Theirs

Here's the plot of Pirates of the Caribbean 4.
The film opens with Johnny Depp as Jack Sparrow dropping anchor in New
York harbor. He descends on Wall Street with his mates and, after a
quick costume change at Brooks Brothers, storms the boardrooms of
Merrill Lynch, Citigroup, and other major firms. They don't need sabers
to rake in the haul. Jack's a clever pirate. He takes advantage of the
tools at hand. Applying mortgage-backed securities and collateralized
debt obligations, Jack seizes billions of dollars in booty. He
distributes huge bonuses to his crew for a job well done. And just
before the government steps in to clean up the mess, the pirates
scramble back to their ship and set sail.

Quick
question: Why are more than a dozen of the world's navies converging on
Somalia to battle pirates there instead of sailing into New York to
capture the Wall Street pirates? After all, CEOs captured over $20
billion in taxpayer money using tax loopholes,
according to an IPS study. Surely the global economy would be made more
secure by forcing former Merrill Lynch CEO John Thain, who doled out $4
billion in executive bonuses even as his company was collapsing, to
walk the gangplank than by cracking down on the bands of privateers in
the Horn of Africa.

"Pirate,"
like "terrorist," has always been a slippery term to define. Just as
the British considered George Washington a terrorist rather than a
freedom fighter, they portrayed John Paul Jones as a pirate rather than
a naval hero. After the Revolutionary War, the shoe was on the other
foot when the United States fought several pitched battles with the
"Barbary pirates." These fearsome vessels, however, were not really
pirate ships. Rather, they worked on behalf of several Barbary states
that were part of the Ottoman empire. As Frank Lambert writes in The Barbary Wars,
Algeria, Tripoli, and Morocco preferred traditional commerce and
resorted to piracy largely because European powers refused to open
their markets. If terrorism is the weapon of those on the political margins, piracy is the weapon of those on the economic margins.

Fast
forward to the latest piracy news. The newspapers have been full of
stories about gangs preying on vessels passing through the Suez Canal
and near the Somali coast. They seized dozens of ships last year -
including a Saudi tanker with $100 million worth of crude oil that
yielded a $3 million ransom - with the help of fast boats, GPS, and
submachine guns. The pirates are currently negotiating for a comparable
ransom before releasing a Ukrainian vessel that has 33 Russian tanks,
heavy artillery, and grenade launchers.

As
Foreign Policy In Focus (FPIF) contributor Rubrick Biegon points out,
the Somali pirates did not start out as Jack Sparrows. "Piracy in
Somalia began because traditional coastal fishing became difficult
after foreign fishing trawlers depleted local fish stocks," he writes
in Somalia Piracy and the International Response.
"Desperate fishermen started attacking trawlers until the trawler crews
fought back with heavy weapons, leading the local fishermen to turn to
other types of commercial vessels. The pirates prefer to call
themselves the Somali 'coast guard,' noting that, prior to the recent
spate of hijackings, they organized themselves to defend their
communities from overfishing and, according to several accounts, to
protect Somalia's coastline from toxic dumping by foreign vessels."

Piracy
blossomed in Somalia after Ethiopia invaded in 2006 with U.S. support
and deposed the Islamic Courts Union. "Under the Courts, there was
literally no piracy," observes
one maritime security expert. "While many Somalis disapproved of some
of the more fundamentalist ways of the original courts, most felt that
they were well organized, disciplined, and effective civil
administrators who had certainly provided Somalia with its first
semblance of order and leadership since 1991," write FPIF contributors
Gerald LeMelle and Michael Stulman in Africa Policy Outlook 2009.

The
anti-piracy campaign, argues FPIF contributor Francis Njubi Nesbitt, is
a giant red herring. "Ethiopia's invasion of Somalia in December 2006,
backed by the United States, sparked an Islamist resistance that led to
thousands of civilian deaths, displaced over a million people, and
depopulated the capital, Mogadishu," he writes in Somalia: Waiting for Obama.
"But instead of focusing on the aftermath of this crisis and helping
foster a peace process, the United States, European Union, and other
international actors are engaged in the more dramatic and
media-friendly anti-piracy campaign."

Hussein
Yusuf disagrees. "Somalia poses a grave danger to the United States and
the Horn of Africa today," the FPIF contributor writes in What's Next for Somalia.
"Despite the U.S. 'Global War on Terror,' piracy in the Gulf of Aden
threatens the supply of oil and commercial trade to the West. Islamic
extremists threaten the stability of this region more than ever." Yusuf
and Nesbitt offer contrasting interpretations in their strategic dialogue on this topic.

Everyone
agrees, however, that the pirates of the Somali coast have raked in
quite a lot of money, somewhere around $30 million in 2008. That's more
than a few pearls and pieces of eight. But compare that to the bonuses
that Wall Street employees took home last year: $18.4 billion.

At least the Somali pirates were good at their jobs.

Speaking of Jobs...

President
Obama recently appointed Richard Holbrooke as special envoy to
Afghanistan and Pakistan. Holbrooke has "perhaps the most sordid
history of any of the largely disappointing set of foreign policy and
national security appointments" in the Obama administration, writes
FPIF senior analyst Stephen Zunes in Insensitive Choice for a Sensitive Region.

Holbrooke
got his start, Zunes continues, working on "notorious pacification
programs in the Mekong Delta of South Vietnam. This ambitious joint
civilian-military effort not only included horrific human rights abuses
but also proved to be a notorious failure in curbing the insurgency
against the U.S.-backed regime in Saigon. This was an inauspicious
start in the career of someone Obama hopes to help curb the insurgency
against the U.S.-backed government in Afghanistan."

As
Holbrooke sets to work, he'll need to consider a major out-of-area
factor: Russia. "Looking at the developments of the past 90 days
through the filter of the new Russian security framework, a clearer
picture emerges," writes FPIF contributor Sam Gardiner in Russia and Iran Get Strategic.
"It's no longer a question for the United States of whether or not
Russia will support additional sanctions on Iran. That won't happen.
Russia is on the path to make Iran a strategic partner, a counter to
the United States in the regions of rivalry." And that will have
significant implications for work in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Obama and Democracy Promotion

Even
as it stumbled so blatantly in its efforts to promote democracy in Iraq
and Afghanistan, the Bush administration institutionalized its "freedom
agenda" before leaving office - through national security directives,
legislation like the ADVANCE Democracy Act, and boosted funding for
such organs as the National Endowment for Democracy.

As
FPIF contributor Anthony Fenton points out, the Obama administration
looks likely to continue along the same trajectory. "Obama has pledged
to rebrand democracy promotion so that it 'cannot become a casualty of
the Iraq War,'" he writes in Bush, Obama and the 'Freedom Agenda.'
"Seeking 'durable bipartisan support' for his democracy policies while
avoiding 'mere rhetoric,' Obama's team has said they will foster
'concrete outcomes that will advance democracy.' What exactly the Obama
administration means by 'concrete outcomes' remains unclear. The U.S.
democracy promotion apparatus has historically been criticized for
double standards and nefarious meddling in the internal affairs of
unfriendly regimes."

If
Obama wants to engage in concrete democracy promotion, he should
consider repairing ties with the democratically elected leader of
Bolivia. "The ratification by popular referendum of Bolivia's
constitution has given President Barack Obama an opportunity to rebuild
frayed relations with a nation that perceives itself to be a
long-suffering victim of U.S. policies," writes FPIF contributor Joshua
Gross in Why Obama Should Meet with Morales.
"Even with a broken economy to mend and many other geopolitical
priorities, Obama should meet with Bolivian President Evo Morales in
his first 100 days in office. Rapprochement with Bolivia based on
mutual respect and non-interference would send a signal to Latin
America's many skeptics that the Obama administration intends to break
from an inglorious past and forge a more constructive U.S. policy in
the region."

More on War

The
United States and Israel are both dealing with the fallout from their
respective wars. As FPIF columnist Conn Hallinan writes in Purple Hearts: A Cold-Blooded Decision,
the Department of Veterans Affairs has largely ignored returning
soldiers with Mild Traumatic Brain Injury (MTBI) and Post-Traumatic
Stress Disorder (PTSD): "Fewer than half of those Iraq and Afghanistan
vets diagnosed with PTSD or MTBI have received disability benefits. One
Veterans Affairs psychologist in Texas even urged VA staff to 'refrain
from giving a PTSD diagnosis' and consider instead 'a diagnosis of
adjustment disorder.' PTSD sufferers receive up to $2,527 a month,
adjustment disorders significantly less."

In Israel, meanwhile, the election campaign is in full swing and the candidates are all trying to out-hawk
one another. This rhetoric might not just be for the consumption of
voters. "That Israel got away with a military tour de force at minimal
immediate military cost is likely only to encourage those Israelis who
have already set their sights on regime change in Tehran," writes FPIF
contributor William deB. Mills in Gaza: Laboratory for the Power-Hungry.
"These Israelis are likely to dismiss talk of Israel having lost
support globally or tarnished its image by its brutality; rather, they
will cite Israel's smooth, rapid exit and proclaim the inevitability of
Israeli military victory over all enemies. The outcome of this invasion
of Gaza thus raises the likelihood of a conflict with Iran, both
directly to the degree that it encourages Israeli adventurists and
indirectly to the degree that it frightens Iranians and empowers
Iranian radicals."

Links

Frank Lambert, The Barbary Wars (New York: Hill and Wang, 2005); https://us.macmillan.com/thebarbarywars

Rubrick Biegon, "Somali Piracy and the International Response," Foreign Policy In Focus (https://www.fpif.org/fpiftxt/5827);
Besides being unsustainable from a logistical standpoint, the
heightened military response to the pirate attacks probably won't work
because it doesn't address the root causes of this menace to maritime
security.

Gregory Viscusi, "Somali Pirates Thrive After U.S. Helped Oust Their Islamic Foes," Bloomberg, December 3, 2008; https://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=20601116&sid=atERt0ckMiJ4&refer=africa

Gerald LeMelle and Michael Stulman, "Africa Policy Outlook 2009," Foreign Policy In Focus (https://www.fpif.org/fpiftxt/5814); The Obama administration must overhaul U.S. policy toward Africa.

Francis Njubi Nesbitt, "Somalia: Waiting for Obama," Foreign Policy In Focus (https://www.fpif.org/fpiftxt/5823);
The piracy issue is overblown, and the Obama administration needs to
bring all sides to the table to reach a political compromise.

Hussein Yusuf, "What's Next for Somalia," Foreign Policy In Focus (https://www.fpif.org/fpiftxt/5824); The Obama administration should take the issue of piracy seriously and engage Somalia now.

Hussein Yusuf and Francis Njubi Nesbitt, "Strategic Dialogue: Somalia," Foreign Policy In Focus (https://www.fpif.org/fpiftxt/58250); Two different takes on the Somali pirates and next steps to bring peace and stability to the Horn of Africa.

Julia Ritchey, "U.S. to Get Aggressive Against Somali Pirates," VOA News, January 16, 2009; https://www.voanews.com/english/2009-01-16-voa3.cfm

Ben White, "What Red Ink? Wall Street Paid Hefty Bonuses," The New York Times, January 28, 2009; https://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/29/business/29bonus.html?_r=1&hp

Stephen Zunes, "Holbrooke: Insensitive Choice for a Sensitive Region," Foreign Policy In Focus (https://www.fpif.org/fpiftxt/5826); Richard Holbrooke made a name for himself currying favor with dictators. Why send him to Pakistan and Afghanistan?

Sam Gardiner, "Russia and Iran Get Strategic," Foreign Policy In Focus (https://www.fpif.org/fpiftxt/5816); The United States falls into a trap in assuming that Russia doesn't want a nuclear-armed Iran.

Anthony Fenton, "Bush, Obama, and the 'Freedom Agenda,'" Foreign Policy In Focus (https://www.fpif.org/fpiftxt/5818);
President Obama is poised to continue the Bush administration's
"freedom agenda." And that means scaled-up counterinsurgency.

Joshua Gross, "Why Obama Should Meet with Morales," Foreign Policy in Focus (https://fpif.org/fpiftxt/5815);
Rapprochement with Bolivia would signal to Latin America's many
skeptics that the Obama administration intends to forge a more
constructive U.S. policy in the region.

Conn Hallinan, "Purple Hearts: A Cold-Blooded Decision," Foreign Policy In Focus (https://www.fpif.org/fpiftxt/5820); Veterans with PTSD aren't getting medals, medical care, or even a modicum of respect.

Griff Witte, "Israel's Key Election Issue: Did War End Too Soon?" The Washington Post, February 2, 2009; https://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/02/01/AR2009020100422.html

William deB. Mills, "Gaza: Laboratory for the Power-Hungry," Foreign Policy In Focus (https://www.fpif.org/fpiftxt/5821); The bloodshed in Gaza was a testing ground for dangerous hypotheses about far greater global political issues.