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.
Used heavily during the Revolution and the War of 1812, letters of marque serve as official warrants from the government, allowing privateers to seize or destroy enemies, their loot and their vessels in exchange for bounty money.
He is absolutely correct that this is a good idea if you want to have some sort of naval presence off Cape Horn for minimum cost. That this idea is being floated at all is fascinating to me given that we are living in an age of mercenary rebirth and proliferation; it seems everything old really is new again in the realm of privatized violence.
The trouble with privateers is that they date from a time when states weren't very powerful. They couldn't afford to police their own waters, so they allowed privateers (whose mission was not only to police but significantly to hand some booty over to the Crown) to operate more or less unrestricted. Privateers disappeared, just as mercenaries did, when states developed the power, capacities, and institutions to perform these functions themselves.
We have had states powerful enough for this for a long time. International law and custom has evolved based on a framework where states control and are responsible for the actions of their citizens, by and large. To willfully set a bunch of bloodthirsty Americans free somewhere across the world will not be well-received. Piracy is messy. It is unprofessional. There will be unpalatable deaths, probably rape, the wrong sort of plundering, etc. The U.S. will still be held accountable for such occurrences in a way that the French monarchs in the 16th century simple could not be. Furthermore, it is my opinion that resorting to piracy will make the U.S., whose superpower status is in many ways based on its military superiority--and I mean that conceptually, not historically--look weaker than if it had not gotten involved at all.
That such ideas are being floated may represent how much smaller Ron Paul wants the U.S. military and government to be. Or they may represent how strapped for cash and truly weakened they are. I actually find it bizarre that Paul, generally quite consistent when it comes to smaller government and military nonengagement, thinks we need do anything off of Cape Horn at all; there is no direct, let alone existential, threat to the U.S. Perhaps I'm missing something here, or maybe Ron Paul just really wants to be able to vote for a letter of Marque before he dies.
Meanwhile, Blago is trying to get on reality TV: "Ten celebrities will be dropped into the Costa Rican jungle 'to face challenges designed to test their skills in adapting to the wilderness,' a network statement said."
I admit it. If Blago is on it, I think I'd watch.