Wednesday, April 25, 2007

The Barbary War - First War on Terror

If you read the Hitchens article referenced yesterday, you know what war is in question. If you didn't read the article, a brief description is at the bottom of this post.*

What was interesting in this American History lesson from a Brit, was the obvious similarities between Muslim thought then and now. As Western Civilization has progressed in its development of human rights and religious tolerance since the Dark Ages, the civilization controlled by Islam has remained stuck in a mind-set that retains all its most hateful intolerance and barbarity, both to "infidels" and to its own people. The quote from the Muslim ambassador** tells the tale. They were then and still are today at war with all non-muslim nations and individuals.

Foreshadowing the Islamic terrors of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, John Adams, after meeting with the ambassador, and who was more in favor of continuing the extortion payments than beginning war, even said "We ought not to fight them at all unless we determine to fight them forever." He felt that any battle would be "too rugged for our people to bear." As the actions of the past thirty years can attest, he was right. Once you begin the battle, it must be fought to the end.

From the initial hijacking of planes, the terror at the Munich Olympics, the assassination of Anwar Sadat, the truck bombing at Marine headquarters in Beirut, the explosion of Pan Am 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, to both World Trade Center bombings, the militant jihadist muslims have made their intentions very plain.

Our response, multilateral at times, and unilateral at others, has been both severe and weak. The first Gulf War was an impressive display of military might that was prematurely ended without accomplishing anything more than the removal of Iraqi forces from Kuwait. The aftermath proved terrible for the Iraqi minorities that were relying on the collaboration of US led forces to end Saddam's tyranny once and for all. With the abdication of this goal, right or wrong, the US achieved a moral defeat even while achieving a brilliant military victory. Mortal enemies were made with Iraqi factions who to this day and beyond will never trust the United States again.

Here we are again, another military victory, with Saddam gone, at long last, and in the intermediary decade between the two Gulf wars, the terrorist groups, such as Al Qaeda, flourished, free-floating across borders, taking refuge where possible and recruiting members as necessary. American response to numerous attacks during the Clinton administration on our properties and our interests were weak, "swatting at flies", as President George W. Bush described. These ineffectual reponses to increasingly daring attacks emboldened the already dedicated jihadists and eventually led to the most spectacular terror act in our history, the simultaneous hijacking of four planes and successful destruction of the Twin Towers as well as a good portion of the Pentagon.

This jibes with the actions of the muslim pirates two hundred years ago. When the US negotiated peace by paying the extortion demanded, the price continually went up, testing, testing the limits of American patience. At last, the limit was reached and swift naval action, decisive and strong, brought an end to the hostilities. Today, our government, at least on the Congressional side, is showing the same weakness evidenced in the early part of our history. Congress is declaring the price of the war to be "too rugged for our people to bear." For the democrats in congress, returning to negotiations for "tribute" (read concessions and financial aid) is the correct response.

Hitchens ends his article with lines from Rudyard Kipling's poem "Dane-Geld" (extortion paid to Danish kings as a result of their invasions into England from 856 to 1016, when Canute, a Dane, became King of England)

IT IS always a temptation to an armed and agile nation,
To call upon a neighbour and to say:—
“We invaded you last night—we are quite prepared to fight,
Unless you pay us cash to go away.”

And that is called asking for Dane-geld,
And the people who ask it explain
That you’ve only to pay ’em the Dane-geld
And then you’ll get rid of the Dane!

It is always a temptation to a rich and lazy nation,
To puff and look important and to say:—
“Though we know we should defeat you, we have not the time to meet you.
We will therefore pay you cash to go away.”

And that is called paying the Dane-geld;
But we’ve proved it again and again,
That if once you have paid him the Dane-geld
You never get rid of the Dane.

It is wrong to put temptation in the path of any nation,
For fear they should succumb and go astray,
So when you are requested to pay up or be molested,
You will find it better policy to say:—

“We never pay any-one Dane-geld,
No matter how trifling the cost;
For the end of that game is oppression and shame,
And the nation that plays it is lost!”

*Barbary Wars
The first war fought outside US territory by the fledgling United States was against four states in North Africa - Morocco, Algiers, Tunis and Tripoli. These "Barbary States" were Muslim countries, part of the Ottoman Empire. The build up for the war was the continuing attacks by the Muslim pirates on merchant vessels, pilgrimages, and other ships in the Mediterranean Sea and beyond. Cargo was plundered, and passengers and crew were assaulted and often enslaved or held for ransom.

The European countries victimized for centuries by these barbarians eventually decided to pay "tribute" to the Barbary states in order to be able to resume travel and trade on the open seas. As long as America was part of England her ships were covered by the English tribute, but after the revolutionary war, US ships were once again prey. Since the new nation had no resources to mount a naval defense against the piracy, the US joined Europe in agreeing to pay tribute.

As is common when obeying demands of blackmailers, the US foound their promises to be quite empty. The amount of the demanded ransom or extortion kept increasing until it was at least ten percent of the national budget. Negotiations with the Muslims proved fruitless and when Thomas Jefferson and John Adams met with Tripoli's ambassador to London, they asked him what right the pirates had to this extortion and slavery. Jefferson said he was told
**that [the right] was founded on the Laws of the Prophet (Mohammed), that it was written in their Koran, that all nations who should not have answered their authority were sinners, that it was their right and duty to make war upon them wherever they could be found, and to make slaves of all they could take as prisoners, and that every Mussulman (or Muslim) who should be slain in battle was sure to go to heaven.

In the meantime, the American navy was increasing in force and had successful skirmishes with French pirates. Once he became President of the United States, Jefferson received a demand for a huge sum of money; he followed his principles and refused Tripoli's demands. Tripoli declared war on the United States and Algiers, Tunis and Morocco soon did the same. Jefferson responded by sending ships with orders to bombard Tripoli and blockade the countries involved.

The resulting action saw the emergence of new naval heroes such as Stephen Decatur who led a daring group of volunteers to burn a captive US ship to prevent its use in Muslim piracy. The next year brought an impressive Marine victory, an overland trek through the dessert to Tripoli's harbor fortress in Derna, thus immortalizing the phrase in the Marine Corps hymn, " the shores of Tripoli." Soon a treaty was signed ending the first of the two Barbary Wars.

The second erupted when the US naval forces were summoned to fight the British in the War of 1812. The piracy resumed and was once again ended by naval victories. In 1815, the second Barbary War ended with all American, and some European, captives released and even some monetary compensation for seized property.

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