As I write, the breaking news on the MSNBC web site is that Pentagon sources are claiming that the American crew of the cargo ship seized by Somali pirates may have reclaimed control of the Kenya-bound vessel. If this proves true, it will preempt the point of this post, which is that this might prove to be the first real foreign-policy test for the Obama administration. If the pirates continue to hold the ship, we should expect to hear American commentators pressure the President into taking decisive action to rescue the Americans and punish the pirates. Because these are supposedly Somali pirates, from the land of "Black Hawk Down," Obama's critics will scrutinize his every move in this matter for signs of "weakness" that could "embolden" anti-American elements in the same way that President Clinton's withdrawal from Somalia following the Mogadishu battle supposedly emboldened Osama bin Laden. The same critics are likely to blame Obama for the recent wave of anti-Shiite bombings in Baghdad, if they haven't started already, on the premise that "the terrorists" are emboldened by the President's reaffirmed commitment to quitting Iraq. That kind of criticism, however, presumes that Iraqis don't do anything without making some rational calculation about what the U.S. might or might not do about it. As for Somalia and its oceanic neighborhood, I had better wait for more current news before speculating further.
Update: the latest as of 2:00 p.m. is that the crew has control of the ship, but that the pirates have the ship's captain as a hostage in a lifeboat. Details remain sketchy but the USA Today blog page promises constant updates on the situation.