Does The U.S. Government Really Need Pirates?
To authorize the President of the United States to issue letters of marque and reprisal for the purpose of seizing the assets of certain Russian citizens, and for other purposes.
Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled,
SECTION 1. ISSUANCE OF LETTERS OF MARQUE AND REPRISAL FOR PURPOSE OF SEIZING ASSETS OF CERTAIN RUSSIAN CITIZENS.
(a) Authority Of President.—The President of the United States is authorized and requested to commission, under officially issued letters of marque and reprisal, so many of privately armed and equipped persons and entities as, in the judgment of the President, the service may require, with suitable instructions to the leaders thereof, to employ all means reasonably necessary to seize outside the geographic boundaries of the United States and its territories any yacht, plane, or other asset of any Russian citizen who is on the List of Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons maintained by the Office of Foreign Assets Control of the Department of the Treasury.
(b) Security Bonds.—No letter of marque and reprisal shall be issued by the President without requiring the posting of a security bond in such amount as the President shall determine is sufficient to ensure that the letter be executed according to the terms and conditions thereof.”
That is the text of a bill currently before the Congress of the United States. Letters of marque commission privateers. A privateer is a pirate with a license from some nation to engage in piracy. The British used this to great effect in robbing the Spanish of immense quantities of gold and silver centuries ago. The last time our country authorized privateers was the War of 1812. Now apparently, we are to seriously consider empowering privateers to seize and confiscate Russian vessels and aircraft wherever they are found around the world.
All pirate jokes and memes aside – this is madness, and it is very dangerous madness. It is part and parcel of a growing, grossly overly simplistic demonization of Russia and Putin and corresponding glorification of Ukraine and its President Zelensky.
The Russians are lawless. Russia is a rogue state. Russian citizens have no rights and deserve no legal consideration. Anything goes.
The world is not so simple. International affairs are not so black and white. We have paid a heavy price in the last two decades for indulging these kinds of cartoonish images. It is long past time for a more adult approach to foreign policy and national defense.
Vladimir Putin is a sad, thuggish figure. Somewhere deep in his soul, he yearns to recreate the Soviet Union and rule a new Russian superpower. He crushes his political opponents. He has all but killed a nascent Russian democracy.
Putin’s war against Ukraine is unjustifiable. No matter his concerns about the eastward expansion of NATO he does not get to seize an independent nation, shell its citizens and slaughter its inhabitants.
None of that makes Ukraine pure as the driven snow. Only days ago, President Zelensky, Ukraine’s Winston Churchill, invoked emergency powers to impose martial law in his country. Eleven political parties including the largest political party opposing Zelensky, Platform for Life, were outlawed. Platform for Life, which Zelensky claims is a threat to Ukraine’s sovereignty is on record as demanding the Russians immediately end their invasion of Ukraine.
Zelensky also seized control of all press outlets in Ukraine. There is no longer any such thing as a free press in Ukraine. The government formally controls the dissemination of all information.
Zelensky began his attack on opposition parties well before Russia ever attacked. He placed Platform for Life’s leader, Viktor Medvedchuk, under house arrest in May 2021 over accusations that he committed high treason. He also banned three news channels at that time, because they were sympathetic to Medvedchuk.
Things are a lot more complicated in Ukraine than many want you to believe. This is not a Hollywood western. It is often hard to tell the good guys from the bad guys and make clear moral judgments.
What we ought to be doing is pursuing a sober, rational foreign policy, which – while it seeks to prevent a Russian takeover of Ukraine – also looks for ways to defuse the situation and bring the fighting to an end. Every day that this conflict drags on simply increases the danger that this conflict will spread, that it will suck in others and that it will further damage an already fraying international order.
We need clear-eyed statesmanship. We need informed policy. We need to do everything in our power to end the bloodshed.
And, we most definitely do not need pirates.