It's Not Over: What About the Rest of the Hostages in Somalia?

Captain Richard Phillips was the first American to be kidnapped by pirates at sea in 200 years. On Easter Sunday, at 7:19 pm local time, after a swift and deadly firefight, U.S. Navy SEAL snipers set Captain Phillips free. Three of the four pirates who held the American at gunpoint adrift in a life raft are now dead. The fourth pirate, allegedly negotiating with the FBI from somewhere else, is in U.S. custody. It's a storybook ending -- sort of. The real ending doesn't come until the 200 mariners still being held hostage in Somalia's lawless ports are set free.

Now is the time for action. President Obama should take command and control of the situation and spearhead a multinational operation to free these men and women -- victims first and foremost of piracy, but also now victims of international inertia.

In December, the U.S. State Department issued an edict saying its top priority in Somalia is "to ensure the protection of shipping lanes and to bring pirates to justice."

In reality, it is doing neither.

By sending the U.S. Navy to the aid of Phillips after he was taken hostage, the message to the pirates was don't mess with Americans. Bravo.

Prior to this, the U.S had done a great job setting policy, but very little to enforce policy. If we're willing to rescue our own citizens but unwilling to assist in rescuing 200 others just because they're not Americans, then what we have is a failure in American principle as well as a failure in American policy.

In 1993, few Americans had any idea where Somalia was or why U.S.-led action there was important to the international rule of law. Warlord Mohamed Farah Aidid was senselessly starving his own people. In October of that year, U.S. forces tried to capture Aidid. In doing so, 19 U.S. soldiers were killed and another 84 were wounded. The incident, called the Battle of Mogadishu, would become known in popular culture as "Black Hawk Down." When the bodies of U.S. soldiers were dragged through the streets of Mogadishu, many Americans were horrified. If the average citizen suddenly knew where Somalia was on a map, its far away location seemed to underscore the idea that what went on inside a coastal African nation mattered little to Americans in front of their television sets back home.