Obama vs. pirates

OBAMA VS. PIRATES…. At some point over the last few days, the hostage standoff with Somali pirates became a leadership test for President Obama. I’m not sure how or why, and I’m less sure this makes sense, but it apparently happened anyway.

Oddly enough, it seems conservatives wanted it this way. Some on the right blamed the White House for the pirates attacking the Maersk Alabama in the first place, while many more blamed the White House for not resolving the matter immediately. The situation, conservatives told us, made the president, and the country, appear “weak.” As Michael Tomasky noted this morning, the “unhinged-o-sphere” had started calling this “Obama’s Hostage Crisis.”

Given this, if Obama is held responsible when bad things happen, I suppose he necessarily deserves at least some credit when good things happen. In this case, the president authorized the use of military force to rescue Capt. Richard Phillips, and the result was a successful operation.

It was one of the earliest tests of the new American president — a small military operation off the coast of a Third World nation. But as President Bill Clinton found out in October 1993, even minor failures can have long-lasting consequences.

Clinton’s efforts to land a small contingent of troops in Haiti were rebuffed, for the world to see, by a few hundred gun-toting Haitians. As the USS Harlan County retreated, so did the president’s reputation.

For President Obama, last week’s confrontation with Somali pirates posed similar political risks to a young commander in chief who had yet to prove himself to his generals or his public.

But the result — a dramatic and successful rescue operation by U.S. Special Operations forces — left Obama with an early victory that could help build confidence in his ability to direct military actions abroad.

It’s easy to get a little carried away with this. There’s plenty of credit to go around, but I’m inclined to give most of it to Richard Phillips, a genuine American hero; the U.S. servicemen and women who responded to the standoff; and the Navy SEAL snipers who can do very impressive things under very difficult circumstances.

But from a purely political perspective, as Daniel Politi put it, “[T]he truth is that it’s hard to see how things could have gone better for the young president.”