Newsweek: What Obama can learn from the French.

Newsweek: What Obama can learn from the French.

It will take a lot more than SEALs and snipers to defend global shipping and American prestige. What Obama can learn from the French.
Christopher DickeyNewsweek Web Exclusive

In the dusty pirate havens of Puntland, a province in the country formerly known as the nation of Somalia, today's Kalashnikov-bearing buccaneers are said to be leery of the French flag. If they're not, they certainly should be. Three times since April of last year Somali gunmen have seized pleasure boats with French passengers and crews—and all three times, including just last week, the French have negotiated, stalled (in the first case even paid a ransom), then attacked.

The French response to Somali piracy is now so well known that "in Puntland they talk about avoiding 'the French option'," says John S. Burnett, author of the prescient 2002 study of modern piracy, "Dangerous Waters." "They know French commandos will come after them," says Burnett, "and some of these French guys are really tough mothers." Burnett says that to his knowledge the Somalis have never attacked a cargo ship carrying France's flag.

On Wednesday, the French defense ministry announced that the frigate Nivôse had intercepted and detained 11 pirates on a small "mother ship" about 500 nautical miles east of Mombasa, Kenya. The French Navy had tracked the pirates through the night after using a helicopter to foil their attack on a Liberian-flagged vessel.

There are lessons for the United States in the French actions, some of which may already have been learned. The dramatic rescue of the American Capt Richard Phillips of the Maersk Alabama on Easter Sunday was carried out with tactics very similar to the French operations.

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