Barbary Pirates: A Lesson in American Foreign Policy


Michael Medved’s article Foreign Policy Lessons from Fighting Muslim Pirates is an excellent piece of information as well as a lesson in the history of America. As he writes, many people are unaware that the very first foreign war fought by Americans occurred in the region called the Barbary States, [Barbary Coast] and thus the Barbary War, of which there were actually two of them. Most importantly, Mr. Medved directly addresses and examines the common rhetoric coming from the politically Left camp, where they take advantage of those who are not familiar with this particular point in history, and for some no clue at all about American history.
Michael Medved addresses the following comments made by Americans and others concerning the war against Islamic fascism, America, its history and its leadership, which is protested by the American political left as well as Libertarian idealists like Rep. Ron Paul (who belongs to the Republican Party):

  1. The U.S. often goes to war when it is not directly attacked. One of the dumbest lines about the Iraq War claims that “this was the first time we ever attacked a nation that hadn’t attacked us.” Obviously, Barbary raids against private shipping hardly constituted a direct invasion of the American homeland, but founding fathers Jefferson and Madison nonetheless felt the need to strike back. Of more than 140 conflicts in which American troops have fought on foreign soil, only one (World War II, obviously) represented a response to an unambiguous attack on America itself. Iraq and Afghanistan are part of a long-standing tradition of fighting for U.S. interests, and not just to defend the homeland. 2. Most conflicts unfold without a Declaration of War. Jefferson informed Congress of his determination to hit back against the North African sponsors of terrorism (piracy), but during four years of fighting never sought a declaration of war. In fact, only five times in American history did Congress actually declare war – the War of 1812, the Mexican War, The Spanish American War, World War I and World War II. None of the 135 other struggles in which U.S. troops fought in the far corners of the earth saw Congress formally declare war—and these undeclared conflicts (including Korea, Vietnam, the First Gulf War, and many more) involved a total of millions of troops and more than a hundred thousand total battlefield deaths. 3. Islamic enmity toward the US is rooted in the Muslim religion, not recent American policy. In 1786, America’s Ambassador to France, Thomas Jefferson, joined our Ambassador in London, John Adams, to negotiate with the Ambassador from Tripoli, Sidi Haji Abdrahaman. The Americans asked their counterpart why the North African nations made war against the United States, a power “who had done them no injury”, and according the report filed by Jefferson and Adams the Tripolitan diplomat 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 [Muslim] who was slain in this warfare was sure to go to paradise.” 4. Cruel Treatment of enemies by Muslim extremists is a long-standing tradition. In 1793, Algerian pirates captured the merchant brig Polly and paraded the enslaved crewmen through jeering crowds in the streets of Algiers. Dey Hassan Pasha, the local ruler, bellowed triumphantly: “Now I have got you, you Christian dogs, you shall eat stones.” American slaves indeed spent their years of captivity breaking rocks. According to Max Boot in his fine book The Savage Wars of Peace: “A slave who spoke disrespectfully to a Muslim could be roasted alive, crucified, or impaled (a stake was driven through the arms until it came out at the back of the neck). A special agony was reserved for a slave who killed a Muslim – he would be cast over the city walls and left to dangle on giant iron hooks for days before expiring of his wounds.” 5. There’s nothing new in far-flung American wars to defend U.S. economic interests. Every war in American history involved an economic motivation – at least in part, and nearly all of our great leaders saw nothing disgraceful in going to battle to defend the commercial vitality of the country. Jefferson and Madison felt no shame in mobilizing – and sacrificing – ships and ground forces to protect the integrity of commercial shipping interests in the distant Mediterranean. Fortunately for them, they never had to contend with demonstrators who shouted “No blood for shipping!” 6. Even leaders who have worried about the growth of the U.S. military establishment came to see the necessity of robust and formidable armed forces. Jefferson and Madison both wanted to shrink and restrain the standing army and initially opposed the determination by President Adams to build an expensive new American Navy. When Jefferson succeeded Adams as president, however, he quickly and gratefully used the ships his predecessor built. The Barbary Wars taught the nation that there is no real substitute for military power, and professional forces that stand ready for anything. 7. America has always played “the cop of the world.” In part, Jefferson and Madison justified the sacrifices of the Barbary Wars as a defense of civilization, not just the protection of U.S. interests – and the European powers granted new respect to the upstart nation that finally tamed the North African pirates. Jefferson and Madison may not have fought for a New World Order but they most certainly sought a more orderly world. Many American conflicts over the last 200 years have involved an effort to … enforce international rules and norms as much as to advance national interests. Wide-ranging and occasionally bloody expeditions throughout Central America, China, the Philippines, Africa and even Russia after the Revolution used American forces to prevent internal and international chaos.
Michael Medved concludes:
The Barbary Wars cost limited casualties for the United States (only 35 sailors and marines killed in action) but required the expenditure of many millions of dollars – a significant burden for the young and struggling Republic. Most importantly, these difficult battles established a long, honorable tradition of American power projected many thousands of miles beyond our shores. Those who claim that our engagements in Iraq and Afghanistan represent some shameful, radical departure from an old tradition of pacifism and isolation should look closely at the reality of our very first foreign war—and all the other conflicts in the intervening 200 years.
And, with Mr. Medved’s article examined, I would like to expound on the Barbary Wars, representing the first foreign war of the United States of America …
It begins in the nations of Algiers, Tunis, and Tripoli circa the 17th century, where those three states were governed by the Ottoman Empire, overseen by a theocracy of Islamic nature. In the state of Morocco was well known for its support of piracy as an ends to a mean beginning in 1666.
Britain and France traded in this area of the world and confronted pirates there, as well as other places where they were establishing colonies, the most famous pirate operational area being the Caribbean Sea, and in the area known as the New World, which comprised of the Americas – North, Central and South. Lesser known was the pirates of China and those in the seas of the Arabic states, and nothing that was not uncommon in the history of the Mediterranean Sea and the ocean off the coast of North Africa.
Britain afforded protection for merchant ships with its large Royal Navy, but pirates attacked and extorted ships on the trading routes that flew both the Union Flag of Britain and the French tricolor of France. During the American Revolution and after the 1778 Treaty of Alliance between the united American colonies and France, French trips attempted to protect American trading ships in the region from pirates. America was not strong enough yet to provide a sufficient navy to sail the seas as Britain and France had been doing.
By 1783, America became responsible for its own commerce and the protection of its citizens as a newly formed nation. Because of the weakness or the lack of a proper navy, the United States Congress in 1784 allocated money for payment of tribute to the Barbary pirates, as was customary by then, and informed the American ambassadors to Britain (John Adams) and France (Thomas Jefferson) to seek any opportunity to negotiate peace treaties with the Barbary nations aforementioned. However, the price demanded far exceeded the congressional budget.
Both Thomas Jefferson and John Adams went to London in 1786 to negotiate through the Tripoli envoy to Britain, Ambassador Sidi Haji Abdrahaman (as Michael Medved wrote in his article) under the themed subject of an inquiry …
Concerning the ground of the pretensions to make war upon nations who had done them no injury.
Of which the ambassador of Tripoli 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 [Muslim] 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. [Wikipedia [2] [3]]
Jefferson, upon return to America, reported what was said to the Secretary of State, John Jay, who then submitted the report with the Tripoli Ambassador’s comments to Congress. It was decided that the circumstance required that the United States pay tribute until the United States Navy could be built to perform the operation required. In addition, because of the long war that occurred in order to secure freedom from Britain’s rule in the form of the American Revolutionary War, America was in debt and arguments were ensued concerning needs of the new nation and its tax burden between the Federalists and Anti-Federalists.[Also see Federalists & Anti-Federalists]
Thomas Jefferson was part of the leadership with the Democratic-Republican political entity, whose members, on the most part, believed that westward expansion concerning the American frontier was more important than spending funds on a navy that would surely be expensive to build, maintain and operate against the Barbary Pirates (and other pirates of other locations) who were disrupting the important trade routes. Those that opposed funding for a navy in the size and capacity required also didn’t want to spend funds from the treasury or utilize energy in any war that concerned the Old World. Thus, the United States paid Algiers a ransom up to $1 million per year over 15 years for the safe passage of American ships and the return of any American hostages the pirates had taken. The payments of ransom and tribute amounted to 20% of the US government’s annual revenues of 1800.
Thomas Jefferson continued to protest against paying tribute and soon had the support of George Washington, as well as other Founding members of the American government. The American navy was re-commissioned from its days of revolution in 1794 and its firepower on the seas and oceans of the then known world provided the opportunity to decline from paying tribute just to have the opportunity to trade safely.
An interesting side note concerning the background of the history of the Barbary nations was the fact concerning the entity known as the Knights Hospitaller (Knights of St. John) who had occupied Rhodes since 1309, which provided them the name of the Knights of Rhodes, and who had engaged with the Barbary Pirates as part of the war against the Ottoman Empire. However, in 1798, Napoleon’s forces seized Malta on his way to the Egyptian campaign, and in an unexpected and treacherous move, fired upon the Knights of Malta who were actually their ally against the Ottoman Empire and Barbary Pirate forces. The Knights of Malta were then forced to depart the region, which the Barbary Pirates took advantage of.
When Thomas Jefferson was inaugurated as the third President of the United States, the Pasha of Tripoli, Yussif Karamanli, demanded $225,000 from the new White House administration. According to Wikipedia, in 1800 the Federal revenues totaled to just over $10 million. Thomas Jefferson then, as President, enacted his long held belief and refused to pay the tribute. In May of 1801, the Pasha declared war on the United States, not on official paper, but in a symbolic act of cutting down the flagstaff in front of the United States Consulate of Tripoli. Morocco, Algiers, and Tunis soon followed suit.
President Jefferson then sent a group of American frigates to defend the American interests in the Mediterranean, and informed Congress of his decision. The following coincides with the point made by Michael Medved’s article aforementioned in the following text from Wikipedia entry:
Although Congress never voted on a formal declaration of war, they did authorize the President to instruct the commanders of armed vessels of the United States to seize all vessels and goods of the Pasha of Tripoli “and also to cause to be done all such other acts of precaution or hostility as the state of war will justify.”
The frigate, USS Enterprise, defeated the large, 14-gun corsair, the Tripoli, in a fierce battle on August 1st, 1801. After that the American navy was never challenged again in the region, but the matter was not completely settled, so President Jefferson requested an increase in military force for the deployment of the best ships in the American fleet to be used in the year of 1802. Those ships were: USS Argus, USS Chesapeake, USS Constellation, USS Constitution, USS Enterprise, USS Intrepid, USS Philadelphia, and USS Syren – all under the command of Commodore Edward Preble. During the year of 1803, Commodore Preble set up and maintained a blockade of the Barbary ports, which included raids and attacks against the cities that contained or harbored the Barbary fleets.
In October 1803, Tripoli’s fleet captured the USS Philadelphia after the frigate ran aground while patrolling Tripoli harbor. Its captain was William Bainbridge and he, as well as the officers and crew was taken ashore as hostages. The Philadelphia was then used by the Barbary Pirates as a harbor gun battery.
On February 16th, 1804, in the middle of the night, the Philadelphia was recaptured by Lieutenant Stephen Decatur, Jr., and US sailors, who then set the Philadelphia on fire so it no longer could be used by the enemy.
Commodore Preble attacked Tripoli on July 14th, 1804; however, the turning point in the First Barbary War came in the Battle of Derne (April-May 1805), where 500 US Marines, led by First Lieutenant Presley O’Bannon and Greek, Arab and Berber mercenaries marched from Alexandria, Egypt to the city of Derne in Tripoli – marching across the desert to get there. The expeditionary force, with the help of the American fleet, captured the city.
A treaty was signed on June 10th, 1805, and while the US Senate did not approve the treaty until one year later, the First Barbary War ended.
The American navy now received world-wide attention and a reputation, representing the United States of America, and the United States Marines (and US Navy) became a permanent military entity, part of the American government, with Lieutenant Decatur becoming the first hero since the American Revolutionary War.
However, the issue was not permanently settled because by 1807, Algiers had reestablished the practice of taking over American ships and its seamen and passengers as hostage. The United States became involved with the War of 1812 and could not respond until 1815, which marked the beginning of the Second Barbary War.
Wikipedia provides an historical side note in respect to the War in Tripoli or the First Barbary War …
The Tripoli Monument [5], the oldest military monument in the U.S., honors the heroes of the First Barbary War: Captain Richard Somers, Lieutenant James Caldwell, James Decatur, Henry Wadsworth, Joseph Israel, and John Dorsey. Originally known as the Naval Monument, it was carved of Carrara marble in Italy in 1806 and brought to the United States as ballast on board the USS Constitution (Old Ironsides). From its original location in the Washington Navy Yard it was moved to the west terrace of the national Capitol and finally, in 1860, to the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland.
Anyone who is for involvement in foreign affairs that is directly or indirectly pertaining to American interests, or anyone who understands that by encouraging democracy in other parts of the world, even that aid involves military to help those who wish to be a free nation, are called neoconservatives or neocon for short. In effect, as the meaning behind the term in regards to the political left – it is a warmonger and a person who believes that American policy is in tune with the rhetoric that might is right; whereas in reality, it is the principles that Ronald Reagan established during his two-terms as President of the United States that American must have a strong military in order to keep peace and that rogue national leadership should never be allowed to be sustained. This does not mean that diplomacy is not required, but it means that diplomacy does not always solve the issues, nor threats of sanction by the present world body called the United Nations, an ineffective international entity whose membership includes those who are aggressors and aggressive towards the establishment of freedom and liberty wherever possible.
The issue and the presentation of the history of the Barbary Pirates and the wars against them and the supportive state leadership by Michael Medved clearly is relevant to today’s issues concerning the Islamic fascist movement.
While it is true that the Barbary Pirates cared less about politics in their endeavor to terrorize the seas in search of riches in the form of plunder, extortion, ransoms and tributes; they, nevertheless were instruments of political states under the barbaric rule of theocracy under the religious banner of Islam – much of what is happening today. However, it is also recognized that there are Muslims that do not believe in this aggressive and violent form of their Islamic beliefs and seek to fight against those who intend to create a world theocracy in the image of their twisted ideology concerning Islam. With that thought in mind, we must ensure that the fight against Islamic fascism does not escalate into making enemies of those who do not believe in the violence demonstrated by the counterparts of Islam – this is not a modern version of the Crusades. On the other hand, we must also not be naive to believe that there are not Muslims present in the free nations of the West who seek to undermine the establishment of democracy and the subversive action of takeover that will lead to the destruction of those democratic republics and states who have established a free nation and free people. We must tread softly and think wisely and logically – using logic before the passion of emotions; and at the same time let the enemy of free nations know that their ideology does not belong in the 21st century, where people should be afforded the opportunity and the governments insist that there be freedoms for the People and a government By the People.
We cannot win this war or any war when American citizens believe that their own nation, specifically its leadership is evil or more evil than the enemy we fight – and believe that America’s foreign policy has caused the hatred of those I identify as Islamic fascists. It would be like saying that America caused Germany in the 1930s to turn to Nazism. It was a series of events and circumstances, mainly the horrible economic situation in Germany, that was also affecting the rest of the world in the 1930s that provided the moment and time when a character like Adolf Hitler could achieve being the leader of the German nation.Unfortunately, Moonbats in America are actually trying to convince people that Nazism, or a form of it, is forming – when actually they are parroting phrases and rhetoric right from the American socialist movement and/or the mantra of the Communist Manifesto.
It should also be noted that during this time America had developed a sense of removing itself from involvement with the Old World, and like during the times of Thomas Jefferson this proved to be not a good thing for American interests – economically or otherwise. America cannot, or never could, sit by while the rest of the world turned to chaos, self destruction and anti-democratic forces because eventually it would be standing by itself – a moment in time I hope we never see.
We must watch our American leadership closely, in Congress and the White House and the key to this success is being a responsible voter who votes not in the sense of popularity, but in the sense of voting record of the individual candidate, not the affiliation with any particular political entity, and the demonstration of his or her character in the form of their personal life actions and affiliations. There is nothing wrong with expecting the best of what is available within our society to run our government for us on our behalf, although we cannot expect to agree with everything that any elected official may act upon or provide an American policy.
Theoretically and in a logical perspective, President GW Bush has caused most of the sentiment of distrust via certain actions taken that was and is out of context with the US Constitution and the Bill of Rights. One prime example would be the agenda/movement to establish an entity called the North American Union, and to compound this issue in a worse manner, deny the program does not or did not exist. And, in another issue, the establishment of policy or perceived policy concerning the treatment of prisoners of war, commonly known as detainees, whose crimes against humanity demands a trial or a tribunal. Other problems exist, such as the dilution of what constitutes treason; Congress not declaring the war against Islamic fascism in the official approval of the use of force by the United States military under the command of the President of the United States; and other factors that have arisen within the White House administration led by a president who could genuinely be termed as dysfunctional – but not a model of Adolf Hitler like depicted by the Moonbats of the political left.
Much can be learned from history, much should be learned from history to prevent making repeated mistakes; but we the People and those elected to represent us should be watching out for new mistakes – and if they occur, correct them. Mistakes are made by the American citizen when proper legislation and actions are not carried out by members of Congress – yet they continue to let them stay in office. Mistakes are made when new candidates appear, and although they claim to represent something new or a change – they actually represent the problem. Mistakes are then made by Americans who swallow this campaign rhetoric and vote them into office just because they preach change, without fully revealing what that change would be.
Too many elections have gone by – from city and state to federal – where we elected those who are creating new problems and not solving the current problems, to the point where everything is politics as usual and it makes those undeserving politicians to hold office to remain to attempt to complete their power position and underlying agenda. Just as we the People are not perfect, neither can we expect our leadership to be so – but we can demand that our leadership conserve and protect the articles of the Constitution and the amendments we know as the Bill of Rights as the first order of the day; and all other decisions will fit in the big picture of any situation or policy. It is true that the Constitution does not specifically state that it is America’s endeavor or in its interests to become a major world police – looking out for the downtrodden and those who want to retain or seek the freedom and liberties that Americans too often take for granted, and for some, no longer want to fight for it.
We must always choose diplomacy and sanctions in dealing with rogue national leadership and aggressive elements – but we must never rule out the use of military force either. We are fighting a powerful enemy whose members have been brainwashed all their lives and know nothing else. It is an enemy that uses religion as a tool, terrorism as a weapon, and the principles of fascism that is against the elements of humanity and civilization. We are not just fighting aggression, but an ideology that has spread far because of our previous lack of knowledge of how dangerous they were and had become, and even after being attacked on American soil several times, it took a terrible disaster like 9/11 in order for American to take decisive action. Unfortunately, as time has gone by and this undeclared war goes on, some Americans have forgotten why we are doing what needs to be done. In their frustrations and fears, they have turned to those elements and entities who are against all of what American traditionally stands for and has developed an environment in which we cannot win against the enemies of free nations. They need to reevaluate themselves and the ideology the follow and turn that frustration and fear into action and controlled anger thrust upon those enemies of all free people. The worst we can do is do nothing, and leaving a battle zone before the mission is complete is nothing more than outright surrender to the demands of the Islamic fascists.
BIBLIOGRAPHY:
First Barbary War – Wikipedia
Second Barbary War – Wikipedia
Barbarossa – Lexi-Orient
Barbary Pirates – Lexi-Orient
Aruj – Lexi-Orient
Dragut – Lexi-Orient
Second Barbary War – Lexi-Orient
Barbary Pirate – Wikipedia
Barbary Pirates – Encyclopedia Britannica, 1911 – Penelope, University of Chicago
The Stolen Village by Des Ekin
Terrorists by Another NameWashington Post
Jefferson Versus the Muslim Pirates by Christopher Hitchens, City-Journal.org
The Barbary Corsairs by Stanley Lane Poole
Our Navy and the Barbary Corsairs by Gardner Weld Allen