We need a Third Barbary War

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September 12, 2012 by Ish

In 1805, a young Marine First Lieutenant by the name of Presley O’Bannon led a mixed force of eight United States Marines and 500 Greeks and Berber mercenaries in the assault and capture of city of Derna, it what was then called Tripoli. This was the first time in history that the United States flag was raised in victory on foreign soil. This action was memorialized in a line from the Marines’ Hymn -— “to the shores of Tripoli” — and by the Mameluke sword worn by all Marine Corps commissioned officers to this day.

This action brought to a close The First Barbary War (1801–1805), first of two wars fought between the United States the Muslim pirates of North Africa… Yes, we had a sequel in 1815 with the Second Barbary War. Same shit, same bad guys, same asskicking courtesy of the United States Navy and Marine Corps.

The groundwork for the wars were laid by the Muslim pirates decades before the United States even began its revolution. In a nutshell, the Mediterranean was filled with fat merchant ships from the European nations that the pirates plundered, sunk, or stole… as pirates are wont to do. France and Great Britain, being the superpowers of the era, had basically beaten the pirates soundly enough, often enough, to force them to stay the fuck away from French and British ships… once the Americans won independence, that protection was gone. The pirates started going after American vessels with wild abandon.

The newly formed American government bent over backwards trying to appease the pirates. Seriously, in 1795 alone, the US paid over $1 million (in 1795 dollars!) to the government of Algeria for the release of 115 sailors they held. This amount totaled about 1⁄6 of the entire U.S. budget for that year! To make matters worse, this amount was demanded as an annual tribute by the Barbary States to prevent future acts of piracy.

Oh, and don’t kid yourself that the pirates were acting independent of the Ottoman Empire or that the Islamic religion of the pirates was unconnected. Oh no, these pirates were flying the flag of the Tripolitania Eyalet (ie, the Ottoman Empire) and negotiations were handled between senior state officials from the USA and the Ottoman Empire.

In March 1785, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams went to London to negotiate with Tripoli’s envoy, Ambassador Sidi Haji Abdul Rahman Adja. Upon inquiring “concerning the ground of the pretensions to make war upon nations who had done them no injury”, the ambassador replied:

It was written in their Koran, that all nations which had not acknowledged the Prophet were sinners, whom it was the right and duty of the faithful to plunder and enslave; and that every mussulman who was slain in this warfare was sure to go to paradise. He said, also, that the man who was the first to board a vessel had one slave over and above his share, and that when they sprang to the deck of an enemy’s ship, every sailor held a dagger in each hand and a third in his mouth; which usually struck such terror into the foe that they cried out for quarter at once.

Shortly Jefferson was inaugurated as President in 1801, the Ottoman’s sent another demand for tribute. Jefferson told them to shove off, and on May 10, 1801, the Pasha of Tripoli, Yusuf Karamanli, declared war on the United States. Between 1801 and 1803, the fledgling US Navy (seven ships in all) kicked so much pirate ass that we were now wholly unchallenged on the sea. Then in 1804, we took things even more hardcore and started taking the fight to the enemy’s port cities. In 1805, we unleashed Presley O’Bannon and eight Marines.

Two centuries later, on September 11 of all days, the descendents of the Tripolitan pirates have attacked our embassy in the city of Tripoli, wounded dozens, and killed our ambassador.

A lot of people are comparing yesterday’s attacks in Tripoli and Cairo to 1979, and the Iran Hostage Crisis so bungled by Carter… and looking at the tepid response of the Obama Administration to the ordeal, I can’t fault them. But I wonder if the Barbary Wars are not a more apt comparison, certainly Obama will not respond with the strength of Jefferson… but the motives of the other side seem identical.

The murder of an ambassador is one of the oldest and most heinous casus belli in the civilized world. Piracy is probably the oldest act to be recognized by the civilized world as a crime against humanity.

Obama is probably just going to read a speech and thrust his chin in the air. That’ll show `em.


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