I’m getting a lot of e-mail from readers about Barack Obama’s refusal to comment on the piracy crisis and negotiation to free the captain of the Maersk Alabama. Quite a bit of it is derisive, claiming that Obama is voting “present” rather than leading, but is that really what’s happening?
Obama was asked to comment on the situation several times by reporters at a White House event on refinancing for homeowners. Obama, however, stuck closely to the script and replied that he wanted to remain focused on housing.
I’m no fan of Obama, obviously, and I think he has serious deficiencies as an executive. This isn’t one of them. At the moment, we’ve sent FBI negotiators and warships to the location in order to impress upon the few remaining pirates that they aren’t going to go anywhere:
FBI hostage negotiators joined U.S. Navy efforts Thursday to free an American cargo ship captain held captive on a lifeboat by Somali pirates. A U.S. destroyer and a spy plane kept a close watch in the high-seas standoff near the Horn of Africa.
The pirates took Capt. Richard Phillips hostage Wednesday after they hijacked the U.S.-flagged Maersk Alabama, but the cargo ship’s crew overpowered them and at least four then fled to an enclosed lifeboat. It was the first such attack on American sailors in about 200 years.
My bet is that their primary demand will be to keep breathing for more than the next few hours. The pirates only have one bargaining chip now, and they’re obviously not suicidal fanatics, or they’d all already be dead. The only question is when they’ll realize the futility of their situation, and how they’ll react when they do.
Meanwhile, just as in any hostage situation, external comments won’t help and could make things worse. Military and civilian professionals are on their way to deal with the situation. I don’t blame the media for asking the question, but I don’t blame Obama in this incident for not responding, either. He’s right to wait until the situation is resolved to publicly comment on it.
Update: Joe Biden’s also refusing comment, but John Kerry is publicly calling for hearings on America’s piracy policies. I think that’s a good idea — once this crisis has passed.