Sunday, December 13, 2009


I just finished reading "The End of Barbary Terror" by Frederick C. Leiner. A useful perspective.

For over two hundred years, from the 16th to the 18th centuries, the African nations of Morrocco, Tunis, Tripoli and Algiers, the so-called Barbary coast, ruled the Mediterranean. In the 250 years after the Moors were driven from Spain over 1,000,000white Christians were captured and enslaved by those Islamic states.

It became the custom of European nations to pay tribute to the Barbary potentates in order to insure safe passage of their merchant ships.

The United States began following the European tradition in the late 1700's at one time paying nearly one-seventh of the national revenue to the "Turks" as they were called.

In 1812 an American merchant ship, the "Edwin" was captured by the Algerines and her captain and crew delivered into slavery.

The U.S. at that time was busy fighting with Britain. What little navy we had was bottled up in harbors along there East coast by a British blockade.

But in 1815, after the treaty of Ghent, the House of Representatives voted 94-32 to declare war on Algiers and the Senate concurred by a vote of 27-2. President Madison sent Commodore Stephen Decatur with a squadron of ships to the Mediterranean. The aim of the war was simple: break the system of state sponsored maritime terrorism and end the Islamic North African practice of enslaving Americans or forcing the United States to pay tribute.

Decatur was eminently successful. By the 4th of July, 1815, he had captured two Algerine ships, killed their admiral and negotiated a treaty with the dey of Algiers in which the dey agreed to deliver up all American slaves and desist from piracy and stop demanding tribute of any kind.

All of which embarrassed the hell out of the British, who were still paying tribute despite having the most powerful navy in the world. As a result of U.S. leadership, the Brits finally laid siege to Algiers and the Barbary pirates were put out of business.

I pondered all these things in the light of an ongoing family discussion about Afganistan. President Obama has gotten high marks on his Nobel prize speech, and his defense of the concept of just warfare. By trying to focus on destroying Al Qaeda, he has connected the Afgan war to the 9/11 attack. My grandson, Tom III, said it best: he was ready to enlist on 9/12/01.

But the problem is that 9/11 was not an act of war in any classic or traditional sense. Whether it was inspired by fanatic religious jihad or some other motive, the attack was not the act of a nation against which a traditional war can be declared and waged. And the conundrum faced by our nation is how to respond if it happens again.

When crimes are committed in the United States by foreign nationals, we demand that they be arrested and extradited to face trial and punishment in our courts. If the criminals are not surrendered to us, or are deliberately given asylum in another country, we should take that refusal as a hostile act. Then our dispute is not with some amorphous gang of criminals, but with the nation which harbors them.

That would be the scenario for a just war.

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