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World Cop and American Daddy - By Jacob Hornberger

Written by Subject: Foreign Policy
World Cop and American Daddy
By Jacob Hornberger
Published 04/18/09 

In its self-proclaimed role as world cop, the U.S. military is now assuming the role of protecting U.S.-owned vessels -- and maybe even ships owned by foreigners -- from Somali pirates. Actually, the U.S. Navy should butt out of the international piracy field and leave ship-owners to their own devices in dealing with the piracy problem.

Traveling overseas involves risks. If a person doesn't wish to incur such risks, then he should stay home. For example, traveling in Mexico involves the risk of being kidnapped by drug cartels and being held for ransom. Should the U.S. military invade Mexico in order to free an American being held captive by a Mexican drug gang? No! When an American travels into Mexico, he cannot expect his government to be his daddy by sending troops to extricate him from a bad situation.

Bad things happen all over the world. Some places are more dangerous than others. Each person must come up with the best way to deal with such risks and dangers. As Peter Leeson points out in National Review Online, the ideal solution for dealing with the piracy problem is to place the oceans and waterways under private ownership and control. Absent that, however, each person must decide for himself how best to deal with the possibility of being attacked by the Somali pirates in international (i.e., non-owned) waters.

Of course, there is an obvious and simplistic answer: the ships should arm and defend themselves. Yet, we all know that that's not the solution that most of the ships have come up with. Instead, they have intentionally remained disarmed. Why is that?

The ship-owner apparently feels that the odds of a successful pirate attack are relatively low. The chances are that most of the time, his ship is going to make it through successfully. He has obviously weighed the cost of violent resistance if the odds go against him and the pirates successfully board his ship. A shootout will likely result in death or serious injury to crew members, which could mean millions of dollars in lawsuits, damages, and attorney's fees. Ship-owners might well figure that compared to that risk, they're better off simply paying the one or two millions of dollars in ransom to the pirates, especially given that pirates haven't been harming the crews they kidnap.

Why don't the ships hire private security forces to guard them? Possibly because the costs of such forces are much higher or about equal to the amount of the ransom they have to pay the pirates. Moreover, there's always the possibility that the ship will make it through without being hit. Thus, the company might figure that the risk of being hit by the pirates is too low to justify the hiring of a permanent security force.

Moreover, many countries do not allow armed ships to enter their ports. Thus, it's possible that ship owners do not wish to forego the benefits of landing in those ports by arming their ships.

By intervening in this process, it appears that the U.S. government has done a wonderful thing. But has it? The implication is that it saved Phillips' life, but that's nonsense given that the pirates have not been killing the crews they've been taking captive. As soon as they've been receiving the ransom money, they've been releasing the crews unharmed.

So, what the U.S. Navy has actually done is simply save the ship-owner one million or two million dollars. Yet, the entire Navy exercise wasn't itself a cost-free endeavor. I'm willing to bet that sending all those Navy vessels to free Phillips cost much more than the one or two million dollars that would have had to be paid in ransom money. Thus, the substantial cost of saving the ship-owner one or two million dollars has simply been transferred to the backs of the American taxpayer.

Moreover, since it was the U.S. government that killed the Somali pirates, who by the way were teenagers, there is now the possibility of revenge or blowback against other Americans, a situation that would probably not have arisen if the killing had been done by the ship's crew rather than by agents of the U.S. government.

To make matters worse, there are now increasing demands for increased U.S. military intervention in Somalia, which will inevitably lead to more blowback, more crises, more terrorists, more military spending, and more infringements on the liberty of the American people.

The world is a dangerous place with lots of dangerous creatures in it. The American people would be well-served to rein in their government and prohibit it from going abroad in search of dangerous creatures to destroy. Americans who travel overseas should understand that they are doing so at their own risk. If they would rather not incur such risks, they should stay at home.

It's time to end the U.S. government's role as world cop and American daddy.

Copyright © 2009 The Future of Freedom Foundation

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