Monday, August 07, 2006

Our Islamic Nemesis, Then and Now

Browsing through the thousands of pages of a diplomatic history of the United States commissioned by the State Department, I came across this interesting paragraph about the efforts and obstacles of the U.S. to establish civil relations with foreign powers under the Articles of Confederation, before adoption of the Constitution:

"The Confederation's lack of power was an even more significant factor in the abortive negotiations over American sailors held captive in Algiers. Unlike relations with Spain...Algiers held all the advantages. The guarantee of safe passage in the Mediterranean was always available: namely, to pay suitable tribute to the Dey [Muhammad III, Emperor of Morocco, 1757-1790]. This route was followed by European powers, who found it less expensive to pay the pirates than to fight them. Such recourse was not open to Americans. Although the issue was never as vital to America's survival as other problems in foreign relations, none was more painful. For Jefferson, who was given the task of ransoming the American captives, the solution lay in arms. He wanted to join a federation that would sweep the pirates from the sea once and for all, and was distressed over France's submitting to Algerine demands. [John] Jay's reaction was more cynical; he sensed that Europe had no interest in challenging the pirates, and would relish the prospect of a war between America and the Barbary States, from which Europe would benefit...."

(From The Emerging Nation: Foreign Relations of the United States Under the Articles of Confederation, 1780-89, Vol. 3. National Historical Publications and Records Commission, 1996)


Jefferson at this time was minister to France, and John Jay minister to Spain. What impressed me was the echo from that distant era of Europe's toleration of the Barbary pirates, in particular France's, and Europe's unwillingness to "sweep the pirates from the sea once and for all." The U.S., at the time strapped for cash to launch a navy that would have satisfied Jefferson's recommendation, could do little else but emulate the European policy and pay tribute. In 1786 the U.S. representative, John Barclay, negotiated a "non-molestation" treaty with Morocco, whose "emperor" was paid $10,000 in gifts to sign it. But Tripoli, Algiers and Tunis for the next three decades continued their seizures of American vessels and enslaving their crews and passengers. After the Dey's death, Morocco also resumed its depredations.

It should be noted here that during the American Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars, Barbary pirates would turn over seized American vessels to the British navy—for a price, of course.

As president, Jefferson took the first concrete steps to counter the Barbary looters by sending a squadron to combat Tripoli, which had declared war on the U.S. because it didn't think it was receiving enough in tribute. (For details, see the adventures of Stephen Decatur). Jefferson, struggling with a contentious Congress, was unable to deal effectively with the other Barbary States. It fell to President James Madison to finish the task of reducing Algiers, Tunis, Morocco and Tripoli and forcing them to cease their plundering of American vessels (1815).

One must observe that neither Jefferson, Jay nor Madison responded to the Barbary "crisis" by proposing to "democratize" the Barbary States for the sake of "peace" in the Mediterranean, or rebuild towns damaged by American bombardments, or pay compensation to "innocent" Muslims affected by the fighting. And all they got in the way of European response to the idea of an international military effort to subdue the Barbary States was indifference and expressions of "such is life" tolerance of Barbary extortion. Further, Jay was correct in his assessment of Europe, in that it benefited from American action at no cost to it, not even in an expression of gratitude. Today, Europe is similarly benefiting at the expense of the U.S. expending blood and treasure fighting the wrong war.

The historical parallels of and differences between that age and this one are noteworthy, not only in terms of actions taken, but in terms of a nation asserting its right to reply to force with force. Jefferson and Madison were not by nature "men of war," but they nonetheless settled on war instead of continuing to pay tribute to barbarians and submitting to their extortion. Their decisions were not governed by an unreasoning, emotional anathema to "violence." In that era, the U.S. had to wait until it was solvent enough to dispatch a navy to end the "crisis." And when the causes of the "crisis" were dealt with, there was no more crisis to bedevil the country.

When one watches the frantic, contemptible relief with which the U.S. and Europe react to the least chance for "peace" between Israel and Lebanon (re the recent U.N. Security Council resolution to end the fighting, but condescending to allow Israel to defend itself), one cannot help but sense that it is not "peace" they are seeking, but release from the responsibility of taking a moral stand, in this instance, on the right of Israel to retaliate with force against a power seeking its destruction. Thus, Hezbollah, a more vicious and dangerous band of killers than the Barbary pirates ever could be (they were not being financed with Iranian oil revenues), is being treated as an ineluctable metaphysical fact that must be dealt with on its own terms.

Somehow, think President Bush, Condoleezza Rice, Prime Minister Blair, France and other parties, the perilous conflict in the Mideast can be reduced to the level of a Hatfield-McCoy feud of "proportionate," tit-for-tat "reciprocal" actions, refereed by the United Nations, which has in the past, more than once, demonstrated a virulent hatred of Israel (and of the U.S.).

Underscoring the nature of the conflict, King Abdullah of Jordan, who has criticized the U.S. and Israel over the war, according to the BBC, "stressed the only way to achieve peace was to end the Israeli occupation of Arab lands."

Concretely, he was referring to the territories Israel won and kept after being attacked by its Arab neighbors. More broadly, he was referring to the claim by Hezbollah, by the Palestinians, by Syria, by Iran, that Israel itself "occupies' Arab land, and that its destruction would bring "peace" to the Mideast.

A moral stand in this and in any other "crisis" that involves aggression would be a refusal to sacrifice the good to evil and a "proactive" policy to preserve the good. This is not our present policy. Now we are asking Israel, the good, what one commentator called the "frontline of civilization in the Mideast," to jeopardize its existence by accommodating an unacknowledged evil, Islamofascism. This is a totalitarian movement which, as one Iranian ayatollah recently proclaimed, will one day rule from Spain to Iran, by jihad or by diplomacy.

There would be no need for a U.N. sponsored "international" force to patrol the Israeli-Lebanese border if Israel were allowed to eradicate Hezbollah "once and for all." As for the Lebanese government, it should fall. The Lebanese should learn the hard way that it should not pay to form a "democratic" alliance with totalitarian killers.

Our Islamic enemies understand us, all too well, and are advancing because they grasp that the West is unwilling to assert not only its right to exist, but its moral superiority. When will our political leaders begin to understand our enemies and act to vanquish them? Only when they grasp the fact that retaliatory violence is the only answer to force and terror.

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