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Is Obama serious about war on piracy?

  • Story Highlights
  • President Barack Obama says U.S. is committed to tackling piracy off Somalia
  • Hostage captain of U.S. cargo ship rescued in U.S. Navy operation this week
  • But experts say tackling piracy on seas means tackling failed state of Somalia
  • With wars in two countries, is Obama willing to risk getting involved in another?
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By Jonathan Mann
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(CNN) -- U.S. President Barack Obama won a battle against Somali pirates. But does he really want to go to war?

The USS Bainbridge tows a lifeboat in which the captain of the Maersk Alabama was held hostage.

The USS Bainbridge tows a lifeboat in which the captain of the Maersk Alabama was held hostage.

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."
See an interactive map of 2009 pirate attacks off the Horn of Africa »

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.

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