Man, this is just getting better and better. Ron Paul is now suggesting what he, I guess, thinks is a libertarian solution to the growing piracy problem. Have Congress get into the idea of issuing “letters of marque and reprisal,” which as Paul notes is actually a power expressly granted in the US constitution. On MSNBC, they just had The Politico’s Erika Lovley on talking about Paul’s support. But she didn’t seem to have a really clear idea of what privateering actually was.
In any case, it’s sort of an intentionally ambiguous subject. But privateering was essentially government licensed piracy. Say, we’re at war with the French. Congress gives me a letter of marque and then I have the US government’s permission to go out and capture French ships on the high seas. I then bring the French ship back to a ‘prize court’ and if everything’s in order, it’s mine and I get to sell it.
It’s a classic stage of under-developed state power, in which we may not have the capacity to have a fully built out Navy but we can subcontract the harassment and capture of enemy shipping and commerce by setting up privateers to do the job for them.
Now, there are a few problems with this. But here’s the big one. Are you going to fit out a a group of small armed warships in order to vie for the chance of bringing in and being able to sell off some inflatable motor boats piloted by a few Somali ‘pirates’? Maybe you could even sell one of their outboard motors on Craiglist?
Actually, Paul manages to say something even stupider — which is that rather than having a powerful Navy, which keeps the oceans safe and provides a vast support to global commerce, we should leave it to the individual companies and ship owners to keep their shipping safe.
Late Update: Interestingly, this is not Paul’s first go at this. He came up with a similar proposal just after 9/11, albeit one that made slightly more sense. In the case, the government could deputize you as a private terrorist hunter. And if you tracked down a terrorist bad guy and captured him you could then take possession of his cash assets or perhaps his training camp.
Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.