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Talking nice won't stop piracy at sea

Critics of President Barack Obama will find some excuse to censure him over the rescue from pirates of an American sea captain. In fact, until the events April 12 in the Indian Ocean off the coast of Somalia, the president was being savaged on right-wing radio for failing to act. But he had acted by giving his Navy commanders on the scene the go-ahead to do what was necessary to rescue Capt. Richard Phillips, who, the officers concluded Sunday, was in "imminent danger."

U.S. Navy SEAL sharpshooters killed three pirates who were holding the American captain in a small boat. One reportedly was pointing an automatic weapon at the hostage's head. Sharpshooters took out the pirates on orders of the Navy officer in charge of the operation. As commander in chief, the president had been kept fully informed of the changing situation.

That won't be enough for the gas bags in the anti-Obama crowd, but they have no credibility on this one.

The operation was carried out while negotiations with the pirates were under way. But the talks were going badly, said American personnel on the scene. So the sharpshooter option was used with precision and obvious success. It appears the command structure from the president on down to officers and men aboard the U.S. destroyer functioned admirably.

The kidnap of Phillips and the failed attempt by pirates to seize his cargo vessel, followed by the rescue, send a clear message from Washington. The ship was the first U.S.-flagged vessel to be attacked by Somali pirates, and the first such act of piracy that went badly for them. Pirates might think twice before going after a U.S.-flagged ship and crew again. Three pirates were killed, and another is in custody and likely will be tried for piracy.

The U.S. joins France in taking aggressive action against the pirates. The two nations serve up a lesson for the leaders of other countries whose ships have been stolen and crews taken hostage. The U.S. and France, at least, do not come off as appeasing a ragtag band of seagoing brigands. Other nations have sent warships to the area but have done little more than hand-wringing and finger-wagging. Maybe now they actually will use their own forces to help put the pirates out of business.

They are pirates, for heaven's sake! They have hijacked ships and cargoes, taken hostages and demanded (and got) millions of dollars in ransom money. They find refuge in a failed state. How long will the civilized world put up with it?

After the dramatic rescue, some commentators worried it could mean more violence. Of course it will. If 21st-century piracy is to be stopped, the rogue ships should be sunk; pirate havens on land should be destroyed or blockaded. Asking the pirates to be nice (another United Nations resolution?) has not been enough.