Is Obama serious about war on piracy?

The USS Bainbridge tows a lifeboat in which the captain of the Maersk Alabama was held hostage.
U.S. President Barack Obama won a battle against Somali pirates. But does he really want to go to war?

You may have seen the headlines in the last few days: a Somali pirate attack and hostage-taking ended with a precision operation by U.S. snipers and a successful rescue. Somali pirates have been the scourge of the Horn of Africa for years. They’ve attacked dozens of ships and taken hundreds of hostages from several countries. The attack on the Maersk Alabama was the first on an American ship. But when it was over, Obama made a particularly broad pledge. “We are resolved to halt the rise of piracy in that region,” Obama said. “We’re going to have to continue to work with our partners to prevent future attacks. We have to continue to be prepared to confront them when they arise.” Experts say that means addressing the anarchy ashore which allows the pirates to operate. Somalia is a failed state, where lawlessness is a license for every kind of criminal enterprise.

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James Christodoulou of Industrial Shipping Enterprises Corporation told CNN that if the US wants to do something about piracy, it has to “go to Somalia and deal with the cause there. Whether it’s with bullets or butter, the solution lies on land not at sea.” The U.S. tried once before to impose order in Somalia, with disastrous results. It led a humanitarian mission to oversee the delivery of food aid that turned into an armed operation against local warlords. More than 40 U.S. personnel were killed before U.S. forces withdrew. That’s the challenge facing the leader of every nation whose ships have fallen prey to the pirates. An international effort has been underway to patrol the troubled waters. The French navy has been particularly active. But no one has rushed onto Somali soil. The Obama administration is already managing wars in two countries. Wait and see whether it’s really willing to risk a third.