Piracy on the high seas has been a military issue for the United States since the founding of the Republic. President Thomas Jefferson waged our first foreign war to fight Islamic pirates in the Mediterranean.
So why did President Barack Obama dither full-speed ahead, with the FBI impounding the pirated Maersk Alabama as a “crime scene”?
White House spin, being headlined in the press, is that President Barack Obama “twice approved force” to rescue Maersk Alabama Captain Richard Phillips from Somali pirates.
What isn’t making the headlines is that Obama flailed and dithered for nearly three days before first approving force.
The British Guardian newspaper reports that the pirates had taken the Maersk Alabama at 5:30 AM British time on Wednesday. That is 7:30 AM Mogadishu time, or 12:30 AM Wednesday in Washington, DC. Somalia is seven hours ahead of Washington DC.
The Navy moved immediately. The nearest warship, the USS Bainbridge, steamed 300 miles and reached the Maersk Alabama in about 20 hours, at 3:00 AM Mogadishu time on Thursday, April 9.
A White House chronology shows that Obama did not authorize the use of force to save the freighter captain until 8:00 PM Eastern Daylight Time on Friday. That’s 3:00 AM Mogadishu time on Saturday, a full 48 hours after the Bainbridge reached the vessel.
More than 67 hours. Nearly three days. Even then, it was a limited order. Obama reconsidered, and issued broader orders at about 9:20 on Saturday morning, roughly 80 hours into the crisis.
Pretty slow decision-making in a life-or-death situation. Slow to order action to save an American citizen’s life. Slow to respond to a terrorist attack on an unarmed American vessel.
Some news reports say that the Pentagon had to urge Obama twice to make a decision. Other reports say that Obama authorized the use of deadly force only if Phillips’ life was in imminent danger. If true, they show that the administration doesn’t understand how to send the right message to the Islamist pirates in the Gulf of Aden and Indian Ocean.
A Maersk Alabama crewman said after news of Captain Phillips’ rescue that the US shouldn’t have allowed the pirates to threaten American shipping in the first place: “Tell the president to get these guys. It shouldn’t come to that.”
The US Navy was ready before the word “go.” The sailors performed flawlessly, saving Phillips’ life and Obama’s credibility. Hopefully the president has learned a lesson.
Mike Waller blogs at Politicalwarfare.org
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