April 8th, 2009 21:05 EST
It's Time for Obama to Get Tough on Somali Pirates
The imprisonment by Somali pirates of the captain of the Maersk Alabama, a merchant ship flying the American flag, may be a bigger threat to our new president than he appreciates.
The safety of American seamen is deeply rooted in the American psyche. Our Navy was born to protect our merchant ships and earned its bones putting an end to Barbary piracy. If we are perceived now as a toothless dragon it will damage our new administration at home and abroad.
Our Navy has been very good at explaining the difficulty of responding to Somali pirates, but that`s not what Americans want to hear. They don`t regard the Navy as a public information office "they regard it as the guardian of our shores and our ships at sea. We may pay the politicians to stuff their own pockets and take care of their buddies, but we expect much more from a Navy whose founding rationale was the protection of our ships.
The Navy, the Bush administration and now the Obama administration can explain away, but unless the taking of a single American seaman is redressed forcefully, the public will lose confidence in both the administration and the Navy it oversees. In the past, Washington under Republicans and now Democrats has called piracy an international problem, as if that were a substitute for action. Piracy is an international problem, but now that an American has been taken it`s up close and personal, and continuing to call it everybody`s problem isn`t going to wash. It comes across as a weasel-wily.
The public doesn`t want to hear excuses and explanations. It doesn`t want to hear about appropriate action " and proper authorities. " This issue is too ingrained in American history to treat it like just another emergency. The public needs not only to hear from President Obama: it needs him to step in. Granted that it`s difficult to punish a Somali government that doesn`t exist. But the White House must understand that if it seems to be trying to talk its way through this crisis it will diminish itself in the public eye. This is a high-impact emotional issue. The commander in chief must act like one.
We didn`t allow the British and the French to impress our sailors, we didn`t pay tribute to the Algerian pirates, and if we allow starving Somalis to take our seamen and hold them hostage, we will seem less like a superpower and more like a paper tiger. Even worse, President Obama will lose face with his own people.
He needs to step up to the plate. Now. And while he`s at it he might take a look at why the Somali seamen are so desperate. Most of them are fishermen whose traditional grounds have been turned into a toxic dump by European business interests.
Djelloul (jeh-lool) Marbrook was born in 1934 in Algiers to a Bedouin father and an American painter. He grew up in Brooklyn, West Islip and Manhattan, New York, where he attended Dwight Preparatory School and Columbia. He then served in the U.S. Navy.
The pioneering Online Originals (U.K.), the only online publisher to receive a Booker nomination, published his novella, Alice Miller`s Room, in 1999. Recent fiction appeared in Prima Materia (Woodstock, NY), vols. I and IV, and Breakfast All Day (London, U.K.).In his younger days his poetry was published in literary journals including Solstice (England) and Beyond Baroque and Phantasm (California). Recent poems appear in Arabesques Literary and Cultural Review (www.arabesquespress.org), Perpetua Mobile (Baltimore), and Attic (Baltimore). He is the English language editor of Arabesques Literary and Cultural Journal (www.arabesquespress.org).
He worked as a reporter for The Providence Journal and as an editor for The Elmira (NY) Star-Gazette, The Baltimore Sun, The Winston-Salem Journal & Sentinel and The Washington Star. Later he worked as executive editor of four small dailies in northeast Ohio and two medium-size dailies in northern New Jersey.