Time for pirate story to walk the plank

We can all agree that it's good that Capt. Richard Phillips was rescued -- so can we stop talking about it now?


Alex Koppelman
April 13, 2009 8:00PM (UTC)

Hey, so did you hear about these pirates?

Just kidding -- of course you did! Unless you somehow managed to sequester yourself in complete isolation from all media and other human beings for the past week until landing on War Room just now, you probably haven't been able to escape hearing about the Somali pirates and their hijacking of an American ship bringing food aid to the impoverished residents of Somalia. And you've definitely heard about the Navy's daring rescue of Capt. Richard Phillips, who had given himself up in order to secure his crew's safety.

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Don't get me wrong, I like a good pirate story as much as anyone, and I certainly don't claim to be above this kind of news -- actually, I'm typically pretty interested in it. But am I alone in thinking that, especially now that Phillips has rescued, perhaps the level of attention given to the drama in recent days has been a little much?

That's especially true because it's not like anyone in the U.S. had really cared that much about the dire conditions in Somalia that have led to this situation, at least not until Americans were taken hostage. (Blame the media all you like for the lack of coverage before this, and I will too, but be honest -- would you have read it?) Hopefully now this will at least to some examination of U.S. policies in the region and what we can be doing to help the people there, not to mention stop the pirates. And there has been some sign of that coverage starting, but let's face facts: In a week or so, we'll have forgotten all about this, at least until the next time Americans are directly affected.

While we're on the subject of coverage of the story, let's not forget about the political angle that's been tacked on. The Associated Press and the Washington Post, among others, have proclaimed this a major military and political victory for President Obama. That's probably a little much. John Cole at Balloon Juice, who's an Army vet, had a sharp take on this:

Maybe I am alone, but I hardly view this as a test of the President. Unless I am mistaken, all he had to do was sign off on rules of engagement and stay out of the way, and I don’t mean that to denigrate Obama, but because that really is all any President could do. We have a massive Navy with several hundred ships, highly trained professionals in the SEALS, highly trained professionals in the FBI and in the crews of the naval vessels tailing (and in one case towing) the raft, and you just need to let them do their job. This didn’t happen because heroic efforts by Rahm Emmanuel and David Axelrod in consultation with Obama produced a dashing plan a la the The West Wing. This happened because our very entrenched military and national security apparatus can handle little things like this without flinching.

On the other side of things, the right has been dying for a way to turn the piracy story into proof that Obama is a miserable failure. And, apparently, almost any decision he made, or any outcome, would have confirmed their suspicions. In one post at RedState, for instance, a conservative blogger, based on initial reports that Phillips had jumped to safety, allowing Navy SEALs to open fire, wrote, "The President, you see, was saved by the Captain." When it turned out that Phillips was in fact tied up and that the SEALs had acted because they believed his life was in danger, there was a 180 degree turn -- but Obama was still a pansy who hadn't actually done anything, because, he wrote, the actions were standard military protocol that didn't need presidential approval.


Alex Koppelman

Alex Koppelman is a staff writer for Salon.

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