K.T. McFARLAND: Will Obama Put an End to Pirates Once and For All?

By Kathleen Troia "K.T." McFarlandFormer Defense Department Official

Pirates and presidents. Hostages and heroes. Since the early years of the Republic, we've judged our presidents on their ability to defeat pirates and rescue hostages.

Remember Jimmy Carter? When Iranian radicals stormed the American embassy in Tehran in 1978 and took hundreds of our diplomats hostage, Carter failed to negotiate their release. His secret rescue mission two years later was a fiasco. The Iranian hostage crisis wasn't finished but Jimmy Carter's presidency was.

Compare that to Ronald Reagan's response when Marxists seized the Caribbean island of Grenada, endangering hundreds of American medical students there. Insisting on complete secrecy, Reagan gave the order to invade Grenada, and rescue the students immediately. The first the world knew about it was when 400 grateful American students landed in the United States and knelt to kiss the ground. The rest was history.

Obama, the anti-war candidate, needed a decisive and successful hostage rescue -- both for domestic political reasons and to demonstrate to the world that he isn't the Jimmy Carter of the Pirates. The strongest navy in the world couldn't be held at bay by a bunch of skinny teenage thugs in dinghies, hopped up on narcotics and waving AK-47s at Americans. Thanks to the SEALs, the United States Navy and the heroic Captain Philips, this ended well.

The question is what's next. Unless we act decisively, Somali piracy will continue -- in fact it already has. And why shouldn't it. Iit's easy money, pirates are replaceable and seizing an unarmed vessel on the high seas is easy pickings. But the last thing America needs is another war, so whatever we do will have to be in concert with others. President Obama could build on the momentum he's achieved and pull together a consortium of nations -- perhaps using NATO forces in an out of area operation -- to end the pirate menace now.

The risk in letting piracy continue is it will morph into something more lethal. Remember the hijackings of twenty years ago? The world used to laugh them off hijackings as annoying but relatively harmless events -- that is until September 11 when Al Qaeda realized they could hijack 747's filled with fuel and turn them into deadly missiles.

As the world watched the pirate drama unfold, there was no doubt another group watching it as well -- observing, learning, measuring how they might use piracy to advance their own goals. Could the next phase of the pirate wars be terrorists seizing tankers full of oil and using them on suicide missions into ports or fuel depots or narrow waterways?

President Obama deserves credit for decisive action in rescuing Captain Phillips. He should use that and push to eradicate the pirate menace now before our laughs over pirates turn into tears over terrorists.