The idea that what passes for a government in Somalia could ask for international funding to solve the problem of Somali piracy is comic. That Rep. Donald M. Payne (D-N.J.) actually intends to seek funding for the ridiculous proposal in Congress is tragic. That Payne’s party claims the legacy of Thomas Jefferson is absurd.
Typically when faced with a foreign policy problem we’re lucky if we have one good historical precedent to guide our actions or, more often, a few close parallels. In this case we’re guided by two solid and completely on point historical lessons that cry out “Don’t do it!”
One of these is so recent and should be so firmly entrenched in the public mind that having to even mention it is absurd. One would think that a popular movie only 8 years out of the theaters would be enough for even the dullest of dullards to remember that 18 American soldiers died and 73 were wounded in our last attempt to help the Somalis. The reason those deaths eventually grew out of what started as a purely humanitarian mission was that in the anarchy of Somalia at the time, which persists to this day, money, food or other aid never reached those it was intended to help without US military escorts to help it on its way. Unless we’re prepared to provide an overwhelming show of force, the rule “no land war in Asia” is doubly true in Africa.
The second object lesson is the payment of an estimated 20% of federal revenues to the Barbary pirates from 1786 to 1801. That huge expense didn’t win a war or disband the pirates, it only delayed by 15 years the Marine landing on the shores of Tripoli. The delay was perhaps necessary as the new nation recovered from the cost of the Revolutionary War and built up its naval forces. Today, we do not have that problem. The surest, the quickest, and the most honorable way to deal with these pirates is to do simply that – deal with the pirates and those sheltering them. That buying them off may be cheaper in the short run is irrelevant. To paraphrase Thomas Jefferson, “Trillions for defense; not one cent for tribute.”