Free Markets, Free People

Bruce McQuain

Pirates: Facts, Fiction and Opinion

If you look at the big picture, you realize that the pirates off the Somali coast are more of a nuisance than a problem.   Estimates are that 25,000 to 30,000 ships per year transit the Gulf of Aden (headed for the Suez Canal) or the east coast of Somalia.  The bulk, of course, go through Suez.  The successful hijackings over a multi-year period have been very low in comparison.  In 2007, for instance, there were 12 successful hijackings.

The area of ocean in which these events take place cover approximately a million square miles. Here’s a great map (pdf) which shows the areas and the incidents through 2007.  Obviously the pirates can pick and choose where to strike while the navies of the world can only react and hope they are close enough to prevent the hijacking.  That was demonstrated quite clearly in the latest hijacking of the US ship in which Capt. Phillips was taken hostage.  It took hours for the USS Bainbridge to arrive on scene and the rescue was only effected because the skiffs the pirates had used had been destroyed and they were forced to use a lifeboat.

20 countries are now concentrating naval assets within the area, most concentrated in the Gulf of Aden.  A coalition of nations commanded by a US admiral constitute Task Force 151 which is strictly an anti-piracy task force.  TF 151 operates in the Gulf.  China and Russia have also committed naval assets to the task but do so outside TF 151.  They coordinate with the TF but only escort their country’s flagged ships.

With the amount of traffic which transits the area, it is obvious that no navy has the assets to escort all of the ships.

But there is a tool through which the TF can coordinate its efforts and ensure those ships which are most likely to be attacked have a safe passage.  One of those tools is a website.  There vessels transiting the area can register their vessel and alert the TF of their time of arrival in the area in which hijacking is most likely.  There are also tips for the masters of vessels transiting the area, maritime intelligence reports and alerts.

Obviously with that number of ships transiting the area, some are more susceptable to attack than others.  What type of ship are the pirates looking for?  According to Admiral  Terry McKnight, (pdf) the TF 151 commander, they’re looking for ships traveling under 15 knots and with a low freeboard with aids boarding. As Adm. McKnight says, those sorts of ships seem to scream “pirate, me, pirate me”.  If the TF knows ships which fit this template are going to be transiting the region, they can arrange to group them with other ships, track their movement and arrange for that movement at a time when the pirates are less likely to be out hunting.

The pirates have also adapted their tactics, especially off the eastern shore in the Indian Ocean.  As shipping has moved further and further off shore to avoid the skiffs employed to board them, the pirates began using “mother ships”. Those are larger ships which carry a number of skiffs and 10 to 20 pirates.  This enabled the pirates to go further and further off shore to attack shipping.

As you’ll note on the map linked above, there are three major areas on the eastern shore (to include Mogadishu) where the pirates seem to be concentrated, one on the tip of the Horn of Africa and one on the north shore of Somalia on the Gulf of Aden.  Admiral McKnight said that “99.99 percent” of the pirates they’ve run across have been exclusively Somali.

The question, however, is would a land-based military mission which attacked these centers of piracy successfully end the attempted hijackings?

In my opinion, probably not.  To date the risk to reward has been so low that there is a seemingly endless supply of would-be pirates.  And, as long as shipping companies are willing to pay the ransom when one of their ships is hijacked, it will, in relative terms, remain a fairly low-risk way of making huge sums of money. Shipping companies know the numbers and recognize that the real chance of hijacking is very low, relatively speaking, and seem to prefer to pay off the hijackers if their ship ends up hijacked.   And, of course, they’re all insured, so that is also part of the equation.

While we may clean out the nests of pirates for a short time if we mount a military operation, I find it hard to believe that others won’t step in, adapt to the new reality (perhaps by moving their base of operations frequently) and again head out into the Gulf or Indian Ocean in search of easy prey.

Punitive military operations may be satisfying in some way but in reality I would think their effect would be a very short term one.  Just like war against insurgents, war against the pirates will see a constant adaptation by the pirates to any tactics the military might use.  But this isn’t a military problem – it is a failed state problem.  The problems ashore – a failed government, abject poverty, and few choices for gainful and legal employment – are what must be solved if we hope to see piracy in that area defeated.  Until they are solved, there will be plenty of eager replacements for whatever casualties we might inflict on the current pirates, and the attacks on shipping will continue.

Meanwhile, what can be done to make attacks on the high seas less likely?  Well the obvious way is to arm the merchantmen.  But for various and sundry reasons, most shipping companies don’t want to do that.  They range from liability concerns, to concerns about essentially untrained crewman with weapons to concerns about gun laws in the various countries the ships go.  We know there aren’t enough naval ships to escort each merchant ship, so options are limited.  Some merchantmen have armed their ships with high-pressure water cannons which have succesfully thwarted a few pirate attacks.

What I expect to see offered soon, perhaps by Blackwater, now known as Xe, is rent-a-gun teams.  For those that want them, a team is air-lifted to the ship as it enters the pirate zone and taken back off by air as they successfully exit the zone.  I’m sure there are some legal and liability concerns there as well, but it may be one of those times when showing up at the rail and pointing a few automatic weapons at a very vulnerable skiff below you would be enough to disuade the would be pirates from attempting to board.

Food for thought.

~McQ

Believing Makes It So?

What an absurd poll:

A new poll indicates Americans don’t agree with former Vice President Dick Cheney’s recent assertion that President Barack Obama’s actions have increased the chances of a terrorist attack against the United States.

This qualifies as “news”?

“A new poll indicates Americans don’t agree with Joe Blow that Obama’s actions against the Somali pirates increases the risk of attacks on American shipping”.

If you saw that, you’d think, “so, what do those who don’t agree actually know about the situation with the pirates off of Somalia?”

And you’d answer, “not much, so of what importance is their uninformed opinion and why is it being treated as news?”

Good question.

That goes for this poll as well – the fact that those being polled are ignorant as to whether “Dick Cheney’s recent assertion” is true or not isn’t important.

Apparently what is important is what they believe to be true.

~McQ

GM Probably (Finally) Heading To Bankruptcy

After skillfully managing the bailout of GM and throwing billions of dollars in taxpayer money at it, our man Timmy (Geithner) has told GM to prepare for bankruptcy:

General Motors Corp. is believed to be preparing to file for bankruptcy by June 1 after being directed to plan for a filing by the U.S. Treasury Department, according to a report Sunday in the New York Times.

The Times, quoting unidentified sources, said the Treasury Department has directed officials at General Motors to lay the groundwork for a “surgical” bankruptcy filing that could last as short as a few weeks for portions of the company. Those portions would be the “good” parts of the company, and the “less desirable” parts of the company would remain in court for much longer and possibly be liquidated, according to the Times.

One has to wonder who gets to determine what the “good” parts are, but that said, if the following is true, it won’t be GM’s present “health care obligations”.

The parts of GM that may get bogged down in a lengthy court restructuring or liquidation include the “unwanted brands, factories and health care obligations,” sources said in the report.

That should fire up the UAW. The union won’t be the only one who isn’t going to be happy with an attempt to rush through a GM bankruptcy.

A report in the Wall Street Journal on Sunday said that any attempt at a “quick” bankruptcy for GM could face legal challenges from bondholders of the company.

As they have every right to do — but it certainly isn’t going to make the bankruptcy either surgical or short. My guess is the bondholders are realizing that pirates aren’t only to be found off the coast of Somalia.

~McQ

Quote Of The Day

You want pithy, here’s pithy – from Gerald Warner of the UK Telegraph, speaking of the recent European foreign policy tour by President Obama:

President Barack Obama has recently completed the most successful foreign policy tour since Napoleon’s retreat from Moscow.

And that’s the opening line.  Couldn’t help it – deep belly laugh in reaction to it.  As you’ll discover, Warner is not an Obama fan.  RTWT.

~McQ

[HT: Scott Jacobs]

Pirate Rescue – Both Right And Left Spinning It Hard

Anne Scott Tyson, at the Washington Post, seems to have the low-down on how the mission to rescue Captain Phillips went down.

The pirates apparently were growing increasingly agitated with the situation and were making threats when they made a fatal mistake and gave SEAL snipers 3 targets at once. Feeling that Captain Phillips life was in imminent danger, the on-scene commander called the shot and the snipers took all three of the pirates out.

Okay and well done. But there seems to be a whole bunch of spin on both sides as to what role Obama played. The left seems bound and determined to spin this as some sort of “military victory” which proves Obama has stones of steel and the right seems equally as determined to deny him any credit for the rescue, claiming it was the “on-scene commander” who made the decision.

Look – Obama was most likely briefed and asked for the go ahead to use both the military and lethal force if the situation called for it. He gave his approval for both. I doubt he tried to tell them what tactics to use or how to carry out the rescue. Instead he allowed those on the scene to make that determination. His concern was Phillips and resolving that situation in a way that the captain was rescued unharmed. By approving the use of lethal force, he made it clear he had no concern for the final disposition of the pirates and placed no constraints on the military in that regard, assuming the main mission – rescuing Phillips unharmed – was accomplished.

Great – that’s what he should have done.

But a “military victory”? It was a hostage situation – albeit on the high seas with lots of drama. But at its foundation, it was no different than a situation the local sheriff finds himself in with a domestic disturbance gone bad and hostages held in a house. The reason the national command authority and the military were involved at all is because the situation developed on the high seas in international waters. But at base, it was a run-of-the-mill hostage situation that law enforcement deals with routinely without presidential input.

So? So Obama did the right thing (at the right level of visibility) and so did the military. The situation was resolved. To the right – Obama did a good job. Get over it and understand that it wasn’t his job to “call the shot.”  He gave the on-scene commander, through his authorization to use deadly force, the latitude to make that call himself without seeking further permission.

To the left – this was no more a “military victory” than was Ruby Ridge or Waco. Quit trying to make it more than it is. If you think popping 3 rag-tag pirates is going to be interpreted by Iran or North Korea as a demonstration of our military might, you’re dreaming. Obviously, had it gone bad, it would have reflected badly on the US. However it didn’t (thankfully). But it proves nothing more than in the situation presented – a hostage situation – we were able to resolve it to our advantage. That’s good and it reflects well on us. But a “military victory”? For heaven sake, get a clue.

~McQ

Podcast for 12 Apr 09

In this podcast, Bruce, Michael, Bryan, and Dale discuss the Maersk Alabama Piracy conclusion, President Bush’s Obama’s military and terrorism policies, and the poll that found only 52% of Americans beleive that Capitalism is superior to Socialism.

The direct link to the podcast can be found here.

Observations

The intro and outro music is Vena Cava by 50 Foot Wave, and is available for free download here.

As a reminder, if you are an iTunes user, don’t forget to subscribe to the QandO podcast, Observations, through iTunes. For those of you who don’t have iTunes, you can subscribe at Podcast Alley. And, of course, for you newsreader subscriber types, our podcast RSS Feed is here. For podcasts from 2005 to 2007, they can be accessed through the RSS Archive Feed.

SEALS 4, Pirates 0 – Final

Some form of strange aquatic life, not native to the coast of Somalia, helped Captain Richard Phillips escape his pirate captives. He’s now safe aboard the USS Bainbridge.

The pirates? Not so good:

The American captain of a cargo ship held hostage by pirates jumped overboard from the lifeboat where he was being held, and U.S. Navy SEALs shot and killed three of his four captors, according to a senior U.S. official with knowledge of the situation.

You knew it was coming – you just wondered when.

My guess is remaining pirates will now immediately go to remedial flag identification class and learn the difference between the US flag and the flag of Panama.

~McQ

Free Speech Under Assault In The West

Is it driven by fear?

Jonathan Turley, writing in the Washington Post, says that much of the West is becoming increasingly intolerant of certain speech.

But now an equally troubling trend is developing in the West. Ever since 2006, when Muslims worldwide rioted over newspaper cartoons picturing the prophet Muhammad, Western countries, too, have been prosecuting more individuals for criticizing religion. The “Free World,” it appears, may be losing faith in free speech.

Among the new blasphemers is legendary French actress Brigitte Bardot, who was convicted last June of “inciting religious hatred” for a letter she wrote in 2006 to then-Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy, saying that Muslims were ruining France. It was her fourth criminal citation for expressing intolerant views of Muslims and homosexuals. Other Western countries, including Canada and Britain, are also cracking down on religious critics.

Tolerance, it seems, is only reserved for speech which praises tolerance. If, instead, the speaker is intolerant of things for which the state believes they should be tolerant, there is no tolerance.

Heh … yeah, fairly convoluted but it certainly appears to be the case. And, of course, not all religions are equal in that regard. Speak of Islam or Muslims as Bardot did in France and face charges. Say similar things about Christianity, and expect your speech to be greeted with … tolerance.

There’s a movement within the UN to ban religious defamation. It is backed by such paragons of religious freedom as Saudi Arabia. Imagine the fate of someone like Christopher Hitchens should such a resolution pass – it would certainly limit his ability, and most likely his desire, to travel, unless he’s willing to risk being jailed in some backwater theocracy for blasphemy and the defamation of religion.

As it turns out, it doesn’t even have to be a backwater theocracy for that to happen any more:

While it hasn’t gone so far as to support the U.N. resolution, the West is prosecuting “religious hatred” cases under anti-discrimination and hate-crime laws. British citizens can be arrested and prosecuted under the 2006 Racial and Religious Hatred Act, which makes it a crime to “abuse” religion. In 2008, a 15-year-old boy was arrested for holding up a sign reading “Scientology is not a religion, it is a dangerous cult” outside the organization’s London headquarters. Earlier this year, the British police issued a public warning that insulting Scientology would now be treated as a crime.

And, of course, you remember the infamous Canadian Human Rights Commission “trail” of Mark Steyn and Ezra Levant for daring to speak ill of Islam.

And, of course, this caught my eye in Turley’s article:

No question, the subjects of such prosecutions are often anti-religious — especially anti-Muslim — and intolerant. Consider far-right Austrian legislator Susanne Winter. She recently denounced Mohammad as a pedophile for his marriage to 6-year-old Aisha, which was consummated when she was 9. Winter also suggested that Muslim men should commit bestiality rather than have sex with children. Under an Austrian law criminalizing “degradation of religious doctrines,” the 51-year-old politician was sentenced in January to a fine of 24,000 euros ($31,000) and a three-month suspended prison term.

No doubt, then, this is just fine by the Austrians. After all, it is merely the implementation of the “religious doctrine” they feel compelled to protect by suppressing free speech:

A Saudi judge has refused for a second time to annul a marriage between an 8-year-old girl and a 47-year-old man, a relative of the girl told CNN.

The most recent ruling, in which the judge upheld his original verdict, was handed down Saturday in the Saudi city of Onaiza, where late last year the same judge rejected a petition from the girl’s mother, who was seeking a divorce for her daughter.

Why should Austria say nothing about this?

“We hear a lot in the media about the marriage of underage girls,” he said, according to the newspaper. “We should know that Sharia law has not brought injustice to women.”

That’s right – because pointing out this outrage against children would be considered a “degredation of religious doctrine” and the Gestapo state would prosecute you and put you in jail.

It’s a sad day for free speech when speaking out against blatant child abuse and, more likely, pedophilia, can be considered a crime punishable by jail, isn’t it?

In fact, it is a sad day for free speech when – in the name of “tolerance” and “acceptance” for things which have never been tolerated or acceptable in Western culture – speech is suppressed and punished.

But here we are.

~McQ

Obama Administration – Forget That Habeas Thing, It Only Applies To Gitmo

Earlier in the week I pointed out that the Obama administration was defending their assumed right to continue the wiretaps they so roundly condemned when the Bush administration did them.

And, of course, we all remember the consistent condemnation by candidate Obama of Guantanamo Bay and the denial of habeas to prisoners there as a horrible denial of rights.

Of course that was then and this is now, and it appears what was considered a principled stand now appears nothing more than election year rhetoric.

The Obama administration said Friday that it would appeal a district court ruling that granted some military prisoners in Afghanistan the right to file lawsuits seeking their release. The decision signaled that the administration was not backing down in its effort to maintain the power to imprison terrorism suspects for extended periods without judicial oversight.

But that was a mortal sin when BushHitler was in charge, wasn’t it?

Michael W explains the case here. Even Glenn Greenwald realizes there is no difference between the administrations on this question.

As Insty reminds us:

Yeah, it’s as if all that talk about the evil power-grabs of the Bush Administration was just insincere electioneering. What made those power-grabs evil, in Obama’s eyes, wasn’t that they were power-grabs. It was that they were by the Bush Administration.

~McQ