Of course, tales of Blackbeard and the like have always fascinated, but in recent years pirates have joined ninjas, mafiosos, drug dealers and even serial killers as pop-culture heroes. If we can make cannibals and psychopaths -- albeit fictional ones -- like Hannibal Lecter and Showtime's "Dexter" into sympathetic figures, it's no wonder we can take a profession historically associated with murder, rape, pillaging and torture and turn it into a Disney franchise.
Then, of course, there's the fact that the pirates today aren't flamboyantly dressed, gold-bling-sporting white guys better suited for "Project Runway," but very poor Muslim Africans from a failed state. Generations of "don't blame the victim" talk have made us sympathetic to criminals, particularly Third World ones.
Indeed, the British, who once hastened human progress by hunting and hanging pirates, are now afraid to allow the Royal Navy to even arrest them for fear that under the 1998 British Human Rights Act, the captured pirates might demand asylum in Britain. After all, you can't send pirates back to their home country, where they might be mistreated.
And that raises the primary reason this all seemed so complicated. Lawyers. Layers and layers of lawyers. Bret Stephens asked in a prescient Wall Street Journal essay last November, "Why Don't We Hang Pirates Anymore?" And the answer, he discovered, is that "there is no controlling legal authority." A combination of international and domestic law has made dealing with what Cicero dubbed "hostis humani generis" -- enemies of the human race -- just too darn complicated.
Add to this the fact that trial lawyers, bureaucrats and accountants for too long have conspired with corporate honchos to make paying ransoms the least costly option. Shipping companies don't want their crews armed to defend themselves.
Piracy is still a small problem in the scheme of things, but that makes things easier. Cannibalistic serial killers are relatively rare, too. That hardly means there's a great mystery about what should be done with them.
What remains to be seen is whether this problem was solved despite Obama's instincts or because of them. The SEALs solved a hostage crisis by shooting three pirates. The question is whether Obama will prevent a pirate crisis from emerging by making it easier to shoot even more pirates.