Terrorists by Another Name: The Barbary Pirates
They considered us infidels -- and easy targets. They committed atrocious acts against civilians. They provoked war with America.
"They are odious for the constant violation of the laws of nations and humanity," as one writer put it. We saw them as bloodthirsty fanatics, sanctioned by Islamic despots, and we believed their behavior threatened the future of the modern world.
Thus the president found it necessary to launch America's first military campaign against state-sponsored terrorists. Except he didn't call them that, because 200 years ago, everyone called terrorists by another name: pirates.
For all the talk in Washington that the current battle against global terrorism represents an entirely new kind of war, against a different kind of enemy, historians say America's seen this before. Back when the nation was largely untested in the arena of foreign entanglement, we found ourselves in an extended, exasperating campaign against various Muslim states in North Africa, which harbored the notorious Barbary pirates. By most reckonings, that battle lasted 30 years.
"I've picked up a lot of parallels," says Capt. Glenn Voelz, a history instructor at West Point. "Maybe we are still fighting the same war. ... "
...in 1785, when the Dey of Algiers took two American ships hostage and demanded US$60,000 in ransom for their crews. Then-ambassador to France Thomas Jefferson argued that conceding the ransom would only encourage more attacks. His objections fell on the deaf ears of an inexperienced American government too riven with domestic discord to make a strong show of force overseas. The U.S. paid Algiers the ransom, and continued to pay up to $1 million per year over the next 15 years for the safe passage of American ships or the return of American hostages. Payments in ransom and tribute to the privateering states amounted to 20 percent of United States government annual revenues in 1800.
Jefferson continued to argue for cessation of the tribute, with rising support from George Washington and others. With the recommissioning of the American navy in 1794 and the resulting increased firepower on the seas, it became more and more possible for America to say "no", although by now the long-standing habit of tribute was hard to overturn. A largely successful undeclared war with French privateers in the late 1790s showed that American naval power was now sufficient to protect the nation's interests on the seas.
In 1786 Jefferson and John Adams went to negotiate with Tripoli's envoy to London, Ambassador Sidi Haji Abdrahaman or (Sidi Haji Abdul Rahman Adja). They asked him by what right he extorted money and took slaves. Jefferson reported to Secretary of State John Jay, and to the Congress:
... On Jefferson's inauguration as president in 1801, Yussif Karamanli, the Pasha (or Bashaw) of Tripoli demanded $225,000 from the new administration. (In 1800, Federal revenues totaled a little over $10 million.) Putting his long-held beliefs into practice, Jefferson refused the demand. Consequently, in May of 1801, the Pasha declared war on the United States, not through any formal written documents, but by cutting down the flagstaff in front of the U.S. Consulate. Morocco, Algiers, and Tunis soon followed their ally in Tripoli.... The turning point in the war came with the Battle of Derna (April-May 1805), after a remarkably daring overland attack on the Tripolitan city of Derna by a combined force of United States Marines and Arab, Greek and Berber mercenaries under the command of ex-consul William Eaton, who went by the rank of general, and US Marine First Lieutenant Presley O'Bannon. This action, memorialized in the Marine Hymn — "to the shores of Tripoli" — gave the American forces a significant advantage.
The ambassador answered us 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.
After its victory in the First Barbary War (1801–1805), the attention of the United States had been diverted to its worsening relationship with France and the United Kingdom, culminating in the War of 1812. The Barbary pirate states took this opportunity to return to their practice of attacking American merchant vessels in the Mediterranean Sea and holding their crews and officers for ransom. Unable to devote military resources and political will to the situation, the United States quietly recommenced paying ransom for return of the prisoners....
At the conclusion of the War of 1812, however, America could once again turn its sights on North Africa. On March 3, 1815, the US Congress authorized deployment of naval power against Algiers, and a force of ten ships was dispatched under the command of Commodores Stephen Decatur, Jr. and William Bainbridge, both veterans of the First Barbary War. Decatur's squadron departed for the Mediterranean on May 20, 1815. Bainbridge's command was still assembling, and did not depart until July 1, thereby missing the military and diplomatic initiatives which Decatur swiftly and decisively handled.
Shortly after departing Gibraltar en route to Algiers, Decatur's squadron encountered the Algerian flagship Meshuda, and, after a sharp action, captured it. Not long afterward, the American squadron likewise captured the Algerian brig Estedio. By the final week of June, the squadron had reached Algiers and had initiated negotiations with the Dey. After persistent demands for recompensation mingled with threats of destruction, the Dey capitulated. Decatur agreed to return the captured Meshuda and Estedio while the Algerians returned all American (and a significant proportion of European) captives along with $10,000 in payment for seized shipping. The treaty guaranteed no further tributes and granted the United States full shipping rights.
Shortly after Decatur set off for Tunis to enforce a similar agreement, the Dey repudiated the treaty. The next year an Anglo-Dutch fleet, under the command of British admiral Viscount Exmouth, delivered a punishing nine-hour bombardment of Algiers. The attack immobilized many of the Dey's corsairs and coerced from him a second treaty which reaffirmed the conditions imposed by Decatur. In addition, the Dey agreed to end the practice of enslaving Christians. ... Algiers and Tunis became colonies of France in 1830 and 1881 respectively, while Tripoli returned to the control of the Ottoman Empire in 1835 and became a colony of Italy in 1911. Europeans remained in control of the government there until the mid-twentieth century.
WE NEED TO BE AT LEAST AS HARSH AND KINETIC NOW AS WE WERE THEN. THAT'S WHAT IT TAKES TO DEFEAT THIS ENEMY AND TO ESTABLISH AND MAINTAIN THE PEACE - ON THE HIGH SEAS AND GLOBALLY.
PEACE TROUGH VICTORY.