Friday, November 21, 2008

"How 'bout them Somali Pirates?"

A good friend argued with me at lunch today that there was no way the U.S. Navy was going to be effective in suppressing piracy off the coast of Somalia. "Very simply," he said, "the Navy doesn't have enough ships to do the job."

I found that very hard to believe. "You mean to tell me," I demanded, "that with all the ships, subs, and planes in our Navy and all the communications and surveillance capabilities at their disposal, they can't track down and smash these little pests if they had a mind to do so?"

"Yes, exactly. You don't understand," he continued patiently, "what a huge expanse of ocean they have to hide in out there and how difficult it is to spot and track their tiny boats, never mind distinguishing them from the swarm of genuine fishing boats that dot the seas. And don't forget, these pirates aren't after loot they'd have to haul back into port on barges; they're after cash they can carry off in their speedboats.

"Even if the whole U.S. Navy were assigned to chase these guys down—which they won't be, given more critical situations elsewhere in the world—the pirates would still slip through their fingers."

I decided I needed to dig deeper into the problem in order to understand what we were up against. Among a lot of others, I came across an article that ran in the some weeks ago that contained a helpful map as well as this sobering observation:

But the pirates’ biggest victim has been Somalia itself. Some 2.6m of the country’s 8m people depend on food aid that comes by sea. French, Danish and Dutch naval ships have escorted ships carrying food from Mombasa to Mogadishu, Somalia’s capital, for the UN’s World Food Programme, but it is a fragile supply line. In May, a Jordanian freighter, the Victoria, carrying sugar for displaced people, disappeared 56km (35 miles) off Mogadishu before being freed a week later. It is hard for the UN to find shipowners willing to take the risk without an armed escort.

You can find the full article here. It's worth reading and thinking about. Read more!

A glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel?

Has Somalia reached bottom?
The big question in the U.S. these days is, When will our country’s economic recession ‘reach bottom’ and begin to turn around? I certainly can’t answer that question, but I have to believe that the fundamental richness of this country ensures that it’s not going to go bankrupt. There may be more hard times ahead as our economy readjusts fully to global realities, but with a brilliant new leadership team about to take office in Washington I’m hopeful we’ll begin to see signs of recovery before very long.

One might ask the same question about Somalia: After sixteen years on a bumpy and painful downward slide, is there a chance that the worst is over and that Somalia may be ready to bounce back?

There are at least a few clear signs of impending change: The Ethiopian occupation appears to be winding down. The hapless transitional government admits it has lost control of any significant part of the country and is on the verge of total collapse. The African Union’s peacekeeping mission seems to have thrown in the towel and is wanly hoping for relief by a more robust international force. And the United States government, along with its European allies, is too taken up with its own economic problems and its Middle East difficulties to think seriously about pursuing its War on Terror any further in Somalia’s deserts (chasing “pirates” off the coast is viewed as a preferable and less costly alternative with much more media appeal).

Granted that not all of these signs of change can be viewed as wholly positive. Indeed, some are likely to be cited as evidence that Somalia is plunging deeper into chaos. Certainly they do not offer any immediate hope for relieving the plight of the throngs of starving refugees that years of conflict have produced. Indeed, among those paying any attention at all these days to Somalia, there will be increasing concern over what to do to be helpful and how to go about doing it, in the face of such anarchy, and no easy answers spring to mind.

some gloomy economists are predicting a deepening economic depression in America too, in the absence of costly government bail-outs.

I just don't buy that, either for Somalia or the U.S. Maybe it’s nothing but the intoxicating effect I’m feeling over the recent election outcome here, but I'd rather put a more positive spin on these developments and predict they bode well for Somalia’s future and our relations with that country. If the rest of us can find ways to be compassionate and supportive without being meddlesome and directive, perhaps Somalis themselves may at last have an opportunity—perhaps the right word is “obligation”—to take control of their country’s future. It just may be, as the poets say, that “the night is darkest just before dawn.”
Read more!

Sunday, November 16, 2008

"Yes we can!"

I'll admit it: Barack Obama's election as president has filled me with hope, but it has also left me breathless and uneasy. Am I placing too much hope in this bright young man? Is there any chance that his election might somehow lead to genuine change in the way America views and deals with the rest of the world? After sixteen years of arrogance and bullying from Washington, could an Obama administration actually demonstrate how leadership can be earned through intelligent dialogue, honest cooperation, mutual respect, and serious negotiation with both foes and friends — not by simply dropping bunker-busting bombs on those who disagree with us?

No, that's probably too much to expect. But just posing the question to myself prompts me to resume tending my assorted blogs after months of inattention and (frankly) despair. (Could that possibly be a light I see at the end of the tunnel?)
Read more!