Obama, like pre-9/11 Bush, may scorn nation-building. But can the US afford not to do it?
It would be easy to hope, after Sunday's dramatic rescue in the Gulf of Aden, that heroic ship captains, Navy Seal sharpshooters, and an armada of foreign warships will somehow contain pirates off Somalia or keep that anarchic land free of Al Qaeda-friendly Islamists.
But a bit of history: In the early 19th century, it took America and Europe nearly 30 years to defeat the Barbary pirates off the coast of northern Africa, relying on horrific battles and eventually imperialist conquest.
So it's unlikely that President Obama, occupied with two wars and costly "nation-building" at home, wants to get to the root of the piracy problem by fixing the failed state of Somalia with an invasion, occupation, or oodles of foreign aid.
And yet, Somali pirates still hold captive more than 200 foreign sailors and more than a dozen ships. American crew members on passing cargo ships might now be particularly targeted in retaliation for the killing of the three pirates.
What's more, Mr. Obama's defense secretary, Robert Gates, cites weakly run countries as a major threat to the US. In a speech last October, he said: "The security of the American people will increasingly depend on our ability to head off the next insurgency or arrest the collapse of another failing state."