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The ghosts of pirates

Opinion: Piracy off the coast of Somalia emerged after years of failed and flawed US policy in the region.

LONDON — The drama in the high seas off the coast of Somalia with a group of pirates holding an American sea captain hostage is one more of the costly legacies of the Bush administration.

The story and the rise in piracy throughout the Gulf of Aden is another example of how the Bush administration’s single-minded pursuit of its war on terror actually undermined security worldwide.

More than 20,000 ships pass through the Gulf of Aden annually, including 4 percent of the world’s oil supply.

With ship owners routing vessels around the tip of Africa rather than running the gauntlet of the pirate-infested channels in the Gulf of Aden, shipping officials say transport costs have gone up and the time per trip has increased.

The long journey adds an estimated 14 days steaming time from the Arabian Gulf to Europe and eight days to America.

The international naval task force that was sent to protect shipping may have deterred some attacks but cannot rid the region of piracy. There are too few warships to patrol at least a million square miles of sea.

The way to effectively reduce the risk of piracy, experts believe, is to increase security on land, and specifically to take away their safe haven in the failed state of Somalia. Somalia has become a haven for pirates because most of it is lawless. So how’s that the fault of the Bush administration?

The greater part of Somalia collapsed into anarchy after the dictatorship of Mohamed Siad Barre was overthrown in 1991. The Clinton administration sent American marines to the aid of a starving population caught in the chaos. The Marines were in turn attacked. Eventually, Clinton ordered forces to go after one of the brutal warlords, Mohamed Farrah Aidid. But the U.S. suffered a humiliating defeat in 1993 at the hands of Aidid and a host of tribal warlords, turned tail and left the country. The defeat was the basis for the Hollywood movie “Black Hawk Down.”