Ron Paul, master of the high seas

The Texas congressman is endorsing the idea of privatizing the fight against piracy by returning to the good old days of letters of marque.

Published April 15, 2009 9:15PM (EDT)

Give this much, at least, for those who advocate privatizing government function after government function: They sure are consistent. Of course, Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, is one of the most prominent supporters of such actions, and he calls for them regularly -- in the wake of 9/11, he introduced a bill that authorized President Bush to allow private citizens to hunt down Osama bin Laden and other terrorists responsible for the attacks. Now, he's calling for a similar response to a new security threat.

In a new YouTube video, Paul advocates a return to the days when Congress issued letters of marque, which give privateers government permission to hunt down pirates. The letters are authorized by the Constitution, and were used frequently in the country's early days. Not so much since, however.

The congressman believes this would be cheaper than using the U.S. military, and that it would have a deterrent effect as well. "I think if every potential pirate knew this would be the case, they would have second thoughts because they could probably be blown out of the water rather easily if those were the conditions,” Paul said in the video.

The problem is that there needs to be some sort of financial incentive for the privateers. In the old days, they could just take whatever booty they captured, but the Somali pirates aren't exactly known for keeping their holds full of Spanish doubloons. So other supporters of the idea, like the Competitive Enterprise Institute's Eli Lehrer, want bounties offered. Lehrer told Politico, "Right now we have a Navy designed mostly to fight other navies. The weapons we have are all excellent, but they may not be the best ones to fight these kinds of pirates. The only cost under letters of marque would be some sort of bounty for the pirates.”

As Andrew Grotto of the Center for American Progress observed to Politico, though, the U.S. doesn't have a great history with private contractors doing military work recently. Additionally, Maritime law has changed greatly since the War of 1812, and beyond that, it takes real skill to do what the Navy accomplished last weekend. People without incredible training and discipline could very easily kill hostages instead of pirates.

By Alex Koppelman

Alex Koppelman is a staff writer for Salon.

MORE FROM Alex Koppelman

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Ron Paul War Room