Claire Soares: Obama plays a canny game and triumphs in hostage drama


Related Topics

The successful resolution to the five-day pirate hostage drama set off a flurry of triumphant chest-puffing headlines across the American media, with Barack Obama winning praise for an "early military victory" in his presidency. It was an important test for the US leader, derided by his critics as a soft-talking ingénue commander-in-chief. Had the rescue operation been bungled, the damage to his reputation would have been immense, as his Democratic predecessors can personally attest.

Jimmy Carter never recovered from Operation Eagle Claw, the doomed attempt to rescue 52 American hostages from the US embassy in Tehran in 1980 that ended with eight military deaths.

Bill Clinton came undone in the very arena where Mr Obama prevailed. His disastrous bid to track down the warlord Mohamed Farah Aideed in Somalia in 1993 saw 18 US troops killed, with corpses dragged through the streets of Mogadishu – an episode dramatised in the film Black Hawk Down.

Mindful of these lessons, President Obama played a canny game, almost downplaying the crisis by making no public remarks while events were unfolding in the Indian Ocean. Behind the scenes, he talked to military chiefs, received 17 briefings, and at 8pm on Friday gave the order to use force if the hostage's life was in danger.

Even when Richard Phillips had been freed, there was no victorious appearance before the cameras, just a written statement saluting the captain's courage and US Navy's bravery. The Obama administration has already ditched GWOT (Global War on Terror) from its lexicon, and, significantly, the President did not lump the Somali hostage-takers, out to make a quick buck, with traditional "terrorists".

However, the US President should not sit on his laurels. The American hostage rescue may have succeeded, but Somalia is a deteriorating failed state. And one which will not go away any time soon. Al-Shabaab, the radical Islamic group that claimed responsibility for yesterday's mortar attack, controls vast swathes of the country. It is allied to al-Qa'ida, and Osama bin Laden recently issued a rallying cry to the Somali people to topple President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed, the moderate head of the three-month-old government.

At the end of this latest crisis, Mr Obama pledged to help end the scourge of piracy, but he made no mention of the onshore lawlessness. And as long as instability persists on land, there will be no end to the maritime menace.

Claire Soares is deputy foreign editor

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Dublin

£13676.46 - £16411.61 per annum + OTE: SThree: SThree Trainee Recruitment Cons...

Ashdown Group: Marketing or Business Graduate Opportunity - Norwich - £22,000

£18000 - £22000 per annum + training: Ashdown Group: Business and Marketing Gr...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Are you great at building rela...

Ashdown Group: Database Analyst - Birmingham - £22,000 plus benefits

£20000 - £22000 per annum + excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Application Sup...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Labour leader Ed Miliband unveils Labour's pledges carved into a stone plinth in Hastings  

Election 2015: Smash two-party system! Smash the voting system!

Armando Iannucci
Tactical voting is a necessary evil of the current first-past-the-post system, where voters vote against what they do not want rather than in favour of what they do  

Election 2015: Voting tactically has become more fraught in the new political order

Michael Ashcroft
General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

Flesh in Venice

Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
11 best anti-ageing day creams

11 best anti-ageing day creams

Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

Juventus vs Real Madrid

Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power