Also misguided is the impulse to lump pirates and terrorists together, as Bill Kristol did yesterday on FOX’s Special Report with Bret Baier, stating that if “these so called pirates” “had an accident due to a cruise missile or due to a predator, or just due to a bomb, that would be a healthy thing, I think, for the pirates,” and making the comparison that “we are killing people in the wild lands of Pakistan who are terrorists.” (Howard Kurtz went there as well, writing yesterday, “it became more clear that these were armed terrorists – small time, to be sure, but terrorists nonetheless.”) Once you assign a label, though, it tends to stick, a fact that an AP analysis story touched on: “it’s notable that in an administration that has for all intents and purposes banned the phrase ‘war on terror,’ no one called the pirates ‘terrorists.’” Well, that’s because these pirates aren’t systematically using terror for a political end. They want money. If they’re terrorists, then so was John Dillinger.
The problem with these examples—from Goldberg’s seeming desire to pick-em-off-one-by-one (uh, shooting pirates to solve piracy?) to Kristol’s too-easy Pakistan comparison—is that they push wholesale the good-bad rhetoric that is so limiting to the public discourse. This sort of bellicose, overly blunt rhetoric also suggests that there is an easy solution when it is rather clear that there isn’t one. Senator Russ Feingold may with the best of intentions call for a comprehensive strategy to shore up Somalia’s new transitional government, and others may call for a more coordinated response on the seas, but it’s clear that only some combination of efforts will prevail.
Obama’s understated but decisive response, played in the press as both a political and military victory, offers guidelines for the organization of future responses, and it doesn’t look like it’ll be the antagonistic “pirate hunters” storyline to which Goldberg and Kristol seem so attached. Luckily for them, they can soon just watch the reality show.