Jonah Goldberg

Well, that was simple. Shoot the pirates, problem solved.

OK, not the problem of piracy per se. But the problem of these specific pirates off the coast of Somalia: taken care of. And, if more pirates were shot, there would be fewer pirates. Unlike, say, jihadist terrorists, pirates are in it for the money. Raise the cost of being a pirate -- in denominations of pirate blood -- and you'll lower the supply of pirates. That's how governments -- good and bad -- have dealt with piracy for thousands of years.

President Obama didn't personally order the Navy SEALs to take out the Somali pirates holding Capt. Richard Phillips hostage. He left the decision up to the commanders on the scene, who made the right call. Obama should be congratulated for that, just as surely as he would have been criticized if things had gone south.

For those of us who see the resurrection of Jimmy Carter in Barack Obama, this was a nice surprise. People forget how reluctant the Carterites were to use force. Carter agonized over whether to rescue American hostages in Tehran. According to Charlie Beckwith, the commander of Delta Force in charge of the mission, he informed Carter's point man, Warren Christopher, that in the rescue effort, "anyone who is holding a hostage, we intend to shoot him, and shoot him right between the eyes. We intend to shoot him twice." Christopher was stunned, according to Beckwith. "Would you consider shooting them in the leg, or in the ankle or the shoulder?"

So this, as they say, is progress.

But only if you look at things along a timeline beginning a mere 30 years ago. Looked at from 200 years ago -- the last time an American-flagged ship and crew were seized by pirates -- we've fallen terribly behind.

Why has this become so complicated? I don't mean finding and shooting pirates, which can be quite difficult, according to experts. I mean the issue of piracy, which has been around since the 13th century B.C. And it hasn't gotten any more complex.

Several answers come to mind. For starters, the culture has become more pro-pirate. Although everyone hoped for the safe return of Phillips, it was clear the media and public thought there was something charmingly exotic about all this pirate talk. Avast, mateys, and all that.


Jonah Goldberg

Jonah Goldberg is editor-at-large of National Review Online,and the author of the book The Tyranny of Clichés. You can reach him via Twitter @JonahNRO.
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