Congressional "Privateers?"

I love the movie "Master And Commander." But as policy cue? (via DougJ):

Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) and a growing number of national security experts are calling on Congress to consider using letters of marque and reprisal, a power written into the Constitution that allows the United States to hire private citizens to keep international waters safe. . . . “The Constitution gives Congress the power to issue letters of marque and reprisal when a precise declaration of war is impossible due to the vagueness of the enemy,” Paul wrote in a press release. “Once letters of marque and reprisal are issued, every terrorist is essentially a marked man.”

Not the best idea I have heard recently. Consider this "national security expert's" take:

“If we have 100 American wanna-be Rambos patrolling the seas, it’s probably a good way of getting the job done,” said Competitive Enterprise Institute senior fellow and security expert Eli Lehrer. “Right now we have a Navy designed mostly to fight other navies. The weapons we have are all excellent, but they may not be the best ones to fight these kinds of pirates. The only cost under letters of marque would be some sort of bounty for the pirates.”

Sheesh. What's in the water in these "think tanks?" I tell you what is interesting though - it is the Congress, not the President, that has the power to enact this "national security policy." Only the Congress can issue Letters of Marque." Can we finally get folks to understand that the President does not have unchecked power on national security and foreign policy? If for that alone, I think this discussion would be worthy.

Speaking for me only

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    Isn't it romantic? (5.00 / 1) (#5)
    by jbindc on Wed Apr 15, 2009 at 12:39:04 PM EST
    We're back to the days of swashbucklers and damsels in distress.  We need Horatio Hornblower!

    Except those guys had cannon balls (5.00 / 1) (#16)
    by inclusiveheart on Wed Apr 15, 2009 at 01:03:14 PM EST
    that went such a short distance that they had to line up parallel to each other to actually do any dammage and they used muskets, but mostly engaged in sword fights or hand to hand combat when they took a ship.  They also had shipwrights on board to repair the ship's dammage from battle - a process they never show in the movies.

    I think this idea in the modern world would only lead to more rescue missions, probably a lot more actual death and quite possibly a lot of sunken ships.  Keeping in mind that playing with high powered explosives on boats can do dammage to the vessel causing it to sink.  But it is not at all surprising that a lot of Americans think it would be a great idea.


    I was being saracastic (none / 0) (#17)
    by jbindc on Wed Apr 15, 2009 at 01:05:17 PM EST

    I know - I was just piling on really. (5.00 / 1) (#25)
    by inclusiveheart on Wed Apr 15, 2009 at 01:18:30 PM EST
    There really is an amazing detachment from reality apparent in some of these people's ideas.

    Hey, what about the boiling oil over the side? (none / 0) (#34)
    by nycstray on Wed Apr 15, 2009 at 02:15:23 PM EST
    Those are for castle walls and fortresses (none / 0) (#48)
    by WS on Wed Apr 15, 2009 at 04:03:14 PM EST
    There's too much danger of igniting the ship with the boiling oil.



    Heated shot (none / 0) (#53)
    by ricosuave on Wed Apr 15, 2009 at 11:29:21 PM EST
    What you want is your heated shot.  Red hot cannonballs.  Probably pretty effective against a fiberglass lifeboat.

    Federal sea marshals (5.00 / 1) (#9)
    by Cream City on Wed Apr 15, 2009 at 12:44:18 PM EST
    like federal air marshals.  Not "Rambos," but trained military randomly assigned and dressed like crew or passengers (in the case of passenger ships), so the pirates don't know which ships have them.  Or make it UN sea marshals, so they're on non-U.S. ships, too -- but right now, it's U.S. ships being targeted.

    Not really translatable (none / 0) (#44)
    by Socraticsilence on Wed Apr 15, 2009 at 03:17:09 PM EST
    Sea Marshalls would have to be far, far more heavily armed and would likely need to be a significant portion of any crew (as opposed to 1 or 2 a flight)- ! man with a gun can stop guys with knives in a confined and restricted space- especially when the passengers can easily assist- one guy with a gun against a crew of men with automatic weapons and RPGs is far worse odds.

    Blackwater at sea (5.00 / 1) (#14)
    by ruffian on Wed Apr 15, 2009 at 12:58:09 PM EST
    It was the next logical progression.

    I like the reflexive need to praise the DoD:

    The weapons we have are all excellent, ...

    Oh, of course, naturally!!! All excellent!!!

    They are. (5.00 / 1) (#30)
    by scribe on Wed Apr 15, 2009 at 02:02:23 PM EST
    They surely cost enough.

    But, more to the point, the question is whether these were or are the "right" weapons for the job.

    For all the derring-do of SEALs flying who-knows-how-far/long then parachuting into the ocean and then whacking three pirates, the weapon came down to sniper rifles (admittedly, a highly modified, gyro-stabilzed rifles) shooting precisely at about 40 yards.

    Those were only necessary because of the hostage situtation.  For stopping non-hostage pirate attacks, the military's standard .50 cal. machine guns (in service since 1923) or WWII vintage 20 mm autocannon will outgun the pirates in all the instances I've seen.

    Unfortunately for the people who profit by selling weapons and profit more by designing them, since adequate weaponry is already in warehouses, there's no profit from that solution.  So we'll get some boondoggle that will cost millions (or even billions), take years, and be little if any improvement on what's already available.


    Old Case Law (5.00 / 1) (#20)
    by denise k on Wed Apr 15, 2009 at 01:09:51 PM EST
    This is slightly OT, but this post reminded me of a legal research I did when I was a newby lawyer.  I was looking for case law on maritime torts.  The research took me to some very old, early 19th Century cases involving pirates and wow! is all I can say.  These cases described in excruciating detail piracy in the old days.  It was fascinating.  For example, one I recall vividly told how they put up a flag (their means of ship-to-ship communication, evidently) asking for help.  Then when a ship came along side they boarded and robbed it.  If you ever want to read some really interesting stories, check those cases out.  They were written in the day so you get a flavor (albeit pretty dry) of the piracy action.  

    Awesome (5.00 / 3) (#39)
    by Socraticsilence on Wed Apr 15, 2009 at 02:29:43 PM EST
    I don't see what could possibly go wrong with combing the perverse incentives of asset forfieture (and remember that's from people who already have actual funding and are supplementing) and the proud history of scalp hunting, how could this possibly end badly or hurt America's reputation in the world.

    For some reason, I am (none / 0) (#1)
    by Anne on Wed Apr 15, 2009 at 12:30:35 PM EST
    getting a mental picture of Ron Paul in a do-rag and a "puffy" shirt...

    [Sorry if the humor is inappropriate]

    Next thought:  What are these people thinking?  Or smoking?

    Just to be technical, they weren't (none / 0) (#2)
    by tigercourse on Wed Apr 15, 2009 at 12:32:56 PM EST
    privateers in Master and Commander and the enemy was the French. But yeah, Ron Paul is, as always, a nut. We built this navy for a reason. We should use it.

    The French ship was a privateer (5.00 / 1) (#7)
    by Big Tent Democrat on Wed Apr 15, 2009 at 12:41:07 PM EST
    The Acheron was operating under a letter of Marque from Napoleon.

    Oops. I assumed in this scenario we (5.00 / 1) (#8)
    by tigercourse on Wed Apr 15, 2009 at 12:43:34 PM EST
    were the British. This makes it an even worse idea. Russel Crowe will kick our @#$#*.

    Heh (none / 0) (#10)
    by Big Tent Democrat on Wed Apr 15, 2009 at 12:45:20 PM EST
    He is in abominable physical shape at (none / 0) (#42)
    by oculus on Wed Apr 15, 2009 at 02:43:29 PM EST
    present, but I suppose his brain is still working.

    Master and Literary Muddle (none / 0) (#46)
    by rea on Wed Apr 15, 2009 at 03:38:23 PM EST
    The movie really garbled the narrative of the books badly.  In the Book Master and Commander, Aubrey (a mere amster and commander and not a full captain) captures a Spanish frigate with his sloop, but is later denied a promotion because the frigate had been lent to private parties and was technically a privateer.

    Later in the series, Aubrey is dismissed from the navy after being convicted of defrauding the stock market, and becomes a privateer himself.

    Much of Aubrey's career is based on the real life exploits of Thomas Cochrane . . .


    That's Hollywood (none / 0) (#47)
    by Big Tent Democrat on Wed Apr 15, 2009 at 03:41:41 PM EST
    American ship (none / 0) (#54)
    by ricosuave on Wed Apr 15, 2009 at 11:39:10 PM EST
    The movie mixed up parts of two of the books, but the ship they were chasing around the South America and found in the Galapagos was an American ship.  They made it French in the movie so Americans wouldn't boycott or something.  Most Americans probably don't know that we were on the wrong side in that war--we backed the ruthless and brutal dictator bent on world domination (the other guys were mistreating our sailors, you know).

    you raise an interesting point: (none / 0) (#3)
    by cpinva on Wed Apr 15, 2009 at 12:37:18 PM EST
    Can we finally get folks to understand that the President does not have unchecked power on national security and foreign policy? If for that alone, I think this discussion would be worthy.

    unfortunately, the majority of the citizens of our fair country are totally clueless as to the actual working mechanisms of its government.

    if a poll were taken randomly on the street, i would bet cold cash that 9 out 10 respondents would state that the president has the authority to pass laws, and that congress proposes the budget. the 10th respondent wouldn't be sure what the president or congress actually is, never mind their respective duties.

    i won't even get into the supreme court, for self-evident reasons.

    whether this is self-inflicted ignorance, or just a wholesale failure of our educational system, i have no clue.

    My guess (none / 0) (#23)
    by bocajeff on Wed Apr 15, 2009 at 01:12:57 PM EST
    Is that it most people don't know because it doesn't really matter. Do you know who the Secretary of Agriculture is (don't look it up)? Or even what he/she really does?

    Most people know they are so far removed from the decision making process that they just go on with their lives doing things that impact them and let the other people sort the bigger things out. It's sort of like writing your congressperson - it feels good but rarely does anything constructive.


    because I'm interested in the certain things (5.00 / 1) (#32)
    by nycstray on Wed Apr 15, 2009 at 02:09:44 PM EST
    I do know who the SoA is and I'm watching him/her. . . .  ;)

    Where in the article did Paul (none / 0) (#35)
    by Catch 22 on Wed Apr 15, 2009 at 02:21:05 PM EST
    or anyone else suggest the the President has these powers of marque and reprisal? The article specially says:

    Paul (R-Texas) and a growing number of national security experts are calling on Congress to consider using letters of marque and reprisal

    I commented to a colleague (none / 0) (#4)
    by Maryb2004 on Wed Apr 15, 2009 at 12:38:12 PM EST
    at some point late in the Bush administration that the years since 2000 were a Con Law professor's dream because people (even non-lawyers) were being forced to pull out their copies of the constitution and focus on provisions that rarely (if ever) were the news in my lifetime.

    And now we have Letters of Marque.  lol.

    I bet Blackwater is starting a privateer division as we speak.

    Off topic (5.00 / 1) (#6)
    by Big Tent Democrat on Wed Apr 15, 2009 at 12:39:59 PM EST
    I am finally working on the preemption piece, but now it is going to be brief quality, since I have built it up so much.

    I need an extension . . .


    Granted (none / 0) (#12)
    by Maryb2004 on Wed Apr 15, 2009 at 12:46:44 PM EST
    with respect to time.  But not as to length.   Blog length please.

    Seriously, if you lost interest don't do it just for me.


    Ha. How can BTD lose interest (5.00 / 1) (#19)
    by oculus on Wed Apr 15, 2009 at 01:07:10 PM EST
    w/you keeping score?  

    Actually, they already have one (none / 0) (#11)
    by scribe on Wed Apr 15, 2009 at 12:46:07 PM EST
    and it's been looking for people to hire it for months now.

    Note the dateline in this article.


    no kidding. (none / 0) (#13)
    by Maryb2004 on Wed Apr 15, 2009 at 12:47:44 PM EST
    applications are going to be up.

    Two Questions: (none / 0) (#15)
    by CDN Ctzn on Wed Apr 15, 2009 at 12:58:10 PM EST
    1. What exactly defines the jurisdiction of the US navy, or for that matter the navy for hire (read PIRATES)? Is it USA waters, International waters, all waters?

    2. I've read somewhere that the Somali pirates were actually the Somali Navy or Coast Guard. Is this true? And even if it isn't, how would this new Paulian invention be any different from those pirates? Is it the same imprimature of the USA that differentiates "contrators" from "mercinaries", or "patriots" and "freedom fighters" from "insurgents" and "terrorists"?

    Someone please clue me in!

    Laws of the sea allow for (none / 0) (#38)
    by jeffinalabama on Wed Apr 15, 2009 at 02:29:42 PM EST
    defense against piracy. Take a look at the UN convention on laws of the sea (might have the name a little off, been a while since I looked it up).

    The main definition is that the pirates are acting as non-state actors, or using flags without authorization.

    also, check Article 1 of the constitution...codified early on that the US would go after pirates.


    Thanks (none / 0) (#49)
    by CDN Ctzn on Wed Apr 15, 2009 at 04:35:24 PM EST
    for the explanation! Any insight on the second question? If they really were pirates, they reaped what they sowed. It's just that I know we always have a way of framing the arguement in our favor.

    disaster (none / 0) (#18)
    by connecticut yankee on Wed Apr 15, 2009 at 01:05:59 PM EST
    In the end this would become a mercenary blackwater-type operation. Congress would hand them to experienced corporations. And I can only imagine the uproar when some of them lose a sea battle or get captured and mutilated.  The public would demand the navy take care of it anyway.  

    On the other hand, I like the idea of letters of marque because they are just kind of cool.

    Another attempt by Ron Paul (none / 0) (#21)
    by MrConservative on Wed Apr 15, 2009 at 01:10:23 PM EST
    to apply 18th century solutions to the 21st century.

    Query: who amongst ever heard of (none / 0) (#22)
    by oculus on Wed Apr 15, 2009 at 01:10:48 PM EST
    this particular provision of our Constitution before reading BTD's post?  At least its a diversion from worrying about the economy.

    I did -- Art. I, sec. 8, cl. 11 (5.00 / 1) (#52)
    by Peter G on Wed Apr 15, 2009 at 08:03:19 PM EST
    It's in the same clause with the power of Congress to declare war.  I heard it raised by a Libertarian (like Cong. Paul) in a debate in October 2001, where I was speaking for the ACLU.  The Libertarian rep was saying that contemporary terrorists, like al Queda, as non-state actors engaging in warlike action against formal States, were in constitutional terms like the pirates of the 18th Century, and that the constitutional response was not to wage war on a country that failed to expel or control them (i.e., Afghanistan) but rather to "grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal," authorizing private swashbucklers to go after them.  So this intellectually interesting but ultimately loony idea is not a new one with the Libertarians, it seems.

    hm (none / 0) (#24)
    by connecticut yankee on Wed Apr 15, 2009 at 01:13:29 PM EST
    I wonder if this is how they authorized the indian scalp hunting as well.  

    I know an Irish cellist who would be (none / 0) (#26)
    by oculus on Wed Apr 15, 2009 at 01:19:08 PM EST
    happy for the work.

    Hey, constitutional experts (none / 0) (#27)
    by bocajeff on Wed Apr 15, 2009 at 01:19:54 PM EST
    Has there ever been a Supreme Court case which dealt with the Separation of Powers regarding Declaration of War or the War Powers Act of 1973?

    down with (none / 0) (#31)
    by Capt Howdy on Wed Apr 15, 2009 at 02:02:49 PM EST
    Back in the real world... (none / 0) (#33)
    by jbindc on Wed Apr 15, 2009 at 02:10:22 PM EST
    Excellent (5.00 / 1) (#37)
    by Wile ECoyote on Wed Apr 15, 2009 at 02:25:05 PM EST
    another meeting.  That'll take care of the problem.

    Maybe (none / 0) (#40)
    by jbindc on Wed Apr 15, 2009 at 02:31:20 PM EST
    The would-be pirates will get a stern talking-to.

    That'll teach 'em


    on the other hand (5.00 / 1) (#43)
    by Capt Howdy on Wed Apr 15, 2009 at 02:59:19 PM EST
    if they can freeze their assets that might just get their attention.
    I doubt they are keeping all those millions they are collecting in a chest somewhere.

    My recollection was that smuggling was a (none / 0) (#36)
    by JSN on Wed Apr 15, 2009 at 02:24:36 PM EST
    better investment than privateering. But with the stock market in
    the tank it might get some folks to invest.

    the Somali pirates, though, (none / 0) (#41)
    by jeffinalabama on Wed Apr 15, 2009 at 02:31:42 PM EST
    come from a failed state, and there's little to smuggle, I would think, that could be purchased.

    International Law (shudder) (none / 0) (#45)
    by rea on Wed Apr 15, 2009 at 03:28:36 PM EST
    Privateering has been illegal by international treaty for about a century

    Ha Ha (none / 0) (#50)
    by KoolJeffrey on Wed Apr 15, 2009 at 06:41:59 PM EST
    Ron Paul for US President 1812, er, 2012

    It would probably be simpler and cheaper (none / 0) (#51)
    by lambert on Wed Apr 15, 2009 at 06:45:33 PM EST
    just to bribe them. It certainly worked in the Anbar awakening!

    Barbary Pirates (none / 0) (#55)
    by ricosuave on Thu Apr 16, 2009 at 12:06:44 AM EST
    I kind of thought that the Barbary Coast Pirates would come up before privateering, but I am ashamed to say that I expected someone to recommend privateers.  All that ridiculous talk on the news last week about whether these merchant ships should be armed got me thinking about whether that would lead to privateering and letters of marque.  But I don't think these pirates have ships that are worth capturing or booty worth selling.

    The Barbary Pirates took hostages and demanded ransom, but it was only a secondary activity.  Their primary activities were attacking merchant shipping and investing in mortgage-based derivatives.