Disney was able to make three huge films on the subject of piracy, reducing one fine thespian to imitate Keith Richards over and over again. (Sorry Mr. Depp, but the schtick gets old.) Seen through the rosy lens of IMAX projectors, piracy looked glamorous and virtuous, while the tired, seadogs of the British Navy come across as entirely amoral bastards. It's all great fun, but it's also a particularly nihilistic distortion of the truth. Piracy is organized crime of the wet variety. At best, its practitioners are well-disciplined thieves and kidnappers; at worst they are sadistic murderers whose plunder funds terrorism, the turf-battles of warlords and other equally intriguing enterprises. You'd be hard pressed not to notice just how different than the Pirates of Somalia differ from Caribbean-via-Hollywood cousins.
And yet, Dick Cheney - hawk extraordinaire - did pretty much nothing for the past few years despite the fact that all hell was breaking loose in the midst of one of world's busiest trade routes. Apparently, if you didn't make the original Axis of Evil list, then you could get away with anything. And so the situation might have degenerated even further were in not for a confluence of events.
First, the pirates made a mistake. They put a human face, that of Captain Richard Phillips, on the victims of piracy. They compounded it but failing to understand that something had changed, not off the eastern shores of Africa but in Washington, DC. The ideologues were out and the realists were in: it's not all about Iraq anymore.
As a result, someone was able to make a decision a good decision about the willingness of the US to use force. Three pirates died as a result, and a message got sent: don't mess with American ships or crews. That's not the same as a comprehensive strategy, and it will not protect all shipping, but it's a start. In fact, it's the sort of thing to confer a certain degree of hope regarding what appears like a disastrous repeat of Iraq elsewhere. I speak of Afghanistan of course.
Could it be that President Obama, Secretary Gates and the Department of Defense also know what they are doing on the ground in places like Afghanistan and Pakistan? I don't know, but it's possible. That does not mean that we should stop asking hard questions or paying the fragments of the independent press core to be put its own boots on the ground to find out, but it might also be plain old good news. Competence and decision-making might actually back, and since it likely won't be in town for very long, I intend to enjoy it.