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No Pain No Gain

Taking the fight to the pirates.

4:15 PM, Apr 10, 2009 • By SETH CROPSEY
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Certainly, negotiations should continue for the captain's release and return. But, what then? Does a "21st century" response mean that with the crew and ship safely returned, the case is dismissed and we go about our business? This will guarantee more attacks on U.S.-flagged ships and American merchant marine sailors.

It will add to the appearance that the new administration's idea of a "21st century" response is one in which there are no consequences for those who violate international laws and customs in crossing the United States.

There are plenty of other reasonable alternatives that would send a clear message. If the pirates who seized the Alabama can be apprehended and transferred to a U.S. Navy ship, Title 18 of the U.S. Code allows them to be brought to the U.S. and, if found guilty, imprisoned for life. A more convincing approach would be to use the same unmanned aerial vehicles that have been operational since U.S. involvement in Bosnia to target pirates in the centers where they are known to congregate on land. Special operations missions could accomplish similar objectives, albeit with less plausible deniability.

Punishing the guilty would do justice, increase respect for the Obama administration while conforming to its standard of soliciting international approval, and decrease the likelihood of repeated attacks against Americans abroad. It might also provide the same benefit for mariners aboard ships carrying the flags of other states who go about their business peacefully in the region. This is more likely to increase respect for the administration abroad than ignoring direct challenges to the U.S. and packaging such sideways glances as policy that befits the 21st century.

Least likely to produce positive tangible result are approaches that bypass the administration's own foreign policy standard of multilateralism and UN sanction in pursuit of the additional and dubious requirement that wrongdoers escape serious consequences for their action.

The destroyer that was sent to the aid of Alabama is the U.S.S. Bainbridge. The ship was named for Captain William Bainbridge who served several tours in the American naval expeditions that eventually used force successfully to end the Barbary pirates' threat to American merchant shipping in the Mediterranean during the first two decades of the 1800s. Sometimes the 19th century, including the statesmanship of Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, is the most appropriate model for U.S. policy.

Seth Cropsey is a Senior Fellow at the Hudson Institute and served as a naval officer and as deputy undersecretary of the Navy in the administrations of Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush.