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The War Nerd / February 5, 2009

I come back from sick leave and there’s a whole pile of wars in my “in” box, like one of those old office cartoons. Still got to write up the dustup in Gaza, and then there’s the so-called final victory of the Sri Lankan Army over the LTTE. But for sentimental reasons I’ve got to give first mention to my boyeez, the Somali pirates. This is what democracy looks like: the Somali pirates. This is what anti-globalization looks like when you do it for real, not like deadheads following the WTO from city to city, banker groupies in black masks and red armbands.

Not only are the Somali pirates doin’ it for themselves, they’re like a spotlight on all the most interesting stories out there. Remember that Ukrainian freighter the pirates grabbed a few months ago? That freighter was veeeeeeery quietly carrying 33 Russian tanks and a few thousand AKs, with ammo, to Mombasa in Kenya. But it wasn’t the Kenyans who wanted all those Russian tanks. It was the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement, the gang that runs Southern Sudan right now, after using the Darfur distraction to force a ceasefire with those Arab hotheads in Khartoum. It seems the SPLM, a sensible bunch who’ve had years of experience in Khartoum treachery, decided that “the best way to keep peace is to prepare for war.” Not that that slogan means anything, actually. The best way to keep the peace—no such things. Too many variables. All those pundit-speak clichés are crap. You can find counterexamples to all of them. But knowing the sort of scum who rule Sudan, it just seems sensible to get as many tanks and aircraft as you can. In third-world vs. third-world wars like the one in Sudan, that sort of mid-price Soviet hardware works perfectly well. It’s only when you go up against a first-world AF that it turns into scrap iron.

And we owe all this cool dirt on how the Sudan war’s going to our friends the Somali pirates. Nobody would have known that this ship was sending all those tanks to southern Sudan until they grabbed it. That’s what I mean when I say these guys are natural stars, born hams, scenery-chewers. They’re not in it for the publicity, they’re strictly about the money, but they just can’t help stealing the show.

Like today: they officially handed back that Ukrainian freighter and collected their 3.2 million dollar ransom. But that wasn’t enough: they did it in style.

The pirates zoomed out to the drop zone in their little boats, right in view of two USN warships, collected their loot, counted it—I love that part, that they actually counted out the money, which must’ve weighed a few kilos, right under the guns of the world’s most expensive navy—then waved goodbye and zoomed off home, to turn their booty into SUVs, satellite dishes and extra wives. I hear the price of virgins has zoomed in the most “pirate-infested” parts of Puntland since these multimillion dollar ransoms started pouring in. This is the golden age, in Puntland. And why shouldn’t they have their little fun time? It’s not like there’ve been a lot of golden ages in Puntland. It’s kind of hard to feel too sorry for the oil companies, Russian arms dealers, or other sleazy fat cats whose insurance is going up. Especially when you remember that these pirates used to be fisherman, never bothering anybody, until the Asian trawlers took advantage of the fact that Somalia has no authorities, no government, to scoop every last sand-dab out of the fishing grounds. If you saw that happen, and all you had left was guns and little boats, and you had to watch the wonderful parade of global commerce going by flipping you the bird for a few years, you might start thinking Jack-Sparrow thoughts your own self.

It’s too good to last, of course. When the costs really start biting, we’ll go in—no use letting the Euros try to do it like we’re doing now, they don’t have the will to pull the trigger any more—and we’ll turn a few boats into floating splinters, and the good times will be over for Puntland. Too bad, too. Once the pirates are wiped out or chased back to their little burrows on the coast, people will start missing them and realizing how great they were, what goddamn heroes, actual reallife Robin Hoods they were. That’s how we do it in the big world: kill’em, then make movies about how great they were. Just ask the Sioux or the Highlanders.

Now Gaza, that’s not nearly as much fun of a story. If I was in a mood to gloat, I’d have to mention that it ended exactly the way I said it would: just before Obama’s big day like I predicted. On January 18. The IDF declared a ceasefire so the news crews could catch the planes to DC in time to see Jesse Jackson do his crying act again. I swear, that man does the worst crying on cue since Stallone. He needs crying lessons.

The lowdown on Gaza is simple: in the short run, Israel did a decent job of killing Hamas’s cadre. Gaza’s a small place, and it was pretty much shooting fish with headscarves in a sandy barrel. They blew up the place real good, made themselves feel better after getting roughed up by Hezbollah a couple years ago. OK, so you’re a Hell of a counterpuncher; so what?

Meaning, what happens five years from now when all those dead Hamas guys’ little brothers are ready to graduate from the rebuilt Gaza I-Hate-the-Jews Academy. You can’t kill some, like this, and hope to do much. If this was Georgia or some other squeamish middleclass country, then killing a few locals like the Russians did with the Georgians would work. Which it did; the Georgians have gone real quiet, real peaceful, since they got that lesson in the dark alley.

But Gaza isn’t Georgia. Israel spent twenty years driving these people insane, and that wasn’t such a hard job in the first place. You can’t stop them by blowing up their shitty slums or killing the eldest brothers in a thousand families. Those are big families in Gaza; the guy they elected has 13 kids, and he’s nothing special in his neighborhood. All they have is babies and hate. There was probably a time when the Israelis could have done something that would really work. Say, after the big win in the Six-Day War in 1967. Back then everybody still loved them, so if they’d decided to expel all the Palestinians, there wouldn’t have been much blowback. Or if they’d gone the other way, bribed the Hell out of the Pals, killed them with kindness. That might have worked…maybe.

But this, killing a few and driving the rest even crazier in their little prison camp on the beach; it’s stupid. A lot of macho stupidity, short-term gratification and long-term disaster.

What a lot of people don’t realize about war—and this is war, all of it, the demos and the weeping moms, the whole thing, all ways of making war—what a lot of people don’t get about war is there comes a time when there ain’t no smart moves any more. Say you started playing chess against a master and messed it up so bad after twenty moves that they brought Bobby Fischer back from the dead to take over for you. He’d have to resign. Nobody, not Subotai or Belisarius or Alexander, could save some situations. And Israel, in the long term…well, they’ve got those 200 nukes, and the US Congress…and that’s about all. They won’t get driven into the sea like Arafat used to screech, but they’ll get meaner and smaller until all the smart people, the ones who can, will get out, and what’s left will be another scrappy desert fort making deals with the locals. A lot of Crusader kingdoms went out that way, just one decision away from getting re-absorbed into the Muslim soup. If they’d made a deal with the Mongols, maybe we could’ve done something with this. But nooooooo, they were too snotty. Nope, doesn’t look good, and worse yet it’s going to be some ugly maintenance wars, where you have to blast a lot of schools and hospitals, and still don’t get anywhere. Like that scene in Fight Club where he bleeds all over the Mafia guy, till the wise guy screams he can use the basement. “Lou! Lou! You don’t know where I’ve been!”

Gary Brecher is the author of the War Nerd. Send your comments to

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Add your own

  • 1. kaangeya  |  March 18th, 2009 at 7:50 am

    Gary isn’t going to be writing about Sri Lanka, because like all pandits, he only provokes counter-examples. Attrition warfare works v.well. The LTTE thanks to the Indian noose it drew around its neck, unasked is well a truly finished. The LTTE is definitely the best rag-tag army ever. But norag-tag army can fight a war of attrition. There’s no counter-example to that. Don’t waste your time with Gary. Likewise for Somali punks. A shot in the gunwales works v.well.

  • 2. G. Tingey  |  April 15th, 2009 at 12:16 am

    “no use letting the Euros try to do it like we’re doing now, they don’t have the will to pull the trigger any more”


    The French just proved you wrong.
    Also, the RN still has standing orders regarding piracy, as do most real navies……

  • 3. SA  |  April 17th, 2009 at 7:10 pm

    Garry, I am thrilled about your knowledge for Belisarius, you an American (I am only kidding)! The irony is that Belisarius, when the Carthaginians rebelled against the Byzantines; it sounds like Palestinians rebelling against the Israelites, he went in with the army like the IDF, flatten the city and massacred its inhabitants irrelevant of age or sex. However, that was nearly 1500 years ago, but attitudes in wars, it seems haven’t change much.

  • 4. montenegro  |  May 25th, 2009 at 5:50 am

    The onley thing that matters is moneyyyyy, and you go figure who has the moste of it.

  • 5. Frank  |  January 23rd, 2010 at 11:05 pm

    Preach it, brother, preach it! How could anyone hate the somali pirates? They’re the snotty little mutt that barks down the doberman by dint of sheer moxie, right up until the doberman breaks their neck with one neat bite.

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