Thursday, November 27, 2008

What Barack Obama Can Learn from Jefferson and the Barbary Pirates

Yesterday, a caller to Rush Limbaugh briefly discussed with him the history of the United States and the pirates off the Barbary Coast. Rush correctly identified these pirates as the first Muslim terrorists in American history. In brief, Barbary Pirates would seize merchant ships from all nations, requiring yearly tributes from their governments to gain immunity from such attacks. Even the most powerful naval force in the world, Britain, found it cheaper to pay the tributes than wage war. Once America gained its independence, the United States was no longer protected under Britain tributes. George Washington and John Adams, already struggling to keep a weak government alive, gave into the demands of tribute. Thinking began to change in Thomas Jefferson’s administration. However, I disagree with Rush’s account of Jefferson’s tact with the Barbary pirates.

Jefferson was weak, at best, in his resolve to eliminate tribute payments. Jefferson was a republican who believed in a weak central government. As such he resisted efforts to construct a military, including the build-up of a navy. Consequently, he had little to work with in sending a naval force to deal with the problem.

Real credit for creating a beginning to the end of the Barbary pirates belongs to William Eaton. Eaton, with his bombastic personality and stubborn will, led a mixed army of 500 marines, Greek, Arabs, and mercenaries in a successful attack against the Tripoli city of Derna. This is what set the stage for the incompetent Tobias Lear, Jefferson’s consul general, to negotiate a treaty with the Bashaw of Tripoli. Lear, not grasping the advantage Eaton had gained in his victory in Derna, enabling a possible assault on the Bashaw himself in Tripoli, negotiated a treaty with the Bashaw of Tripoli. Lear’s treaty included a ransom of $60,000 for American naval prisoners held by the Bashaw after the disgraceful capture of the naval frigate Philadelphia, due in large part to the incompetence of Captain William Bambridge. The Philadelphia was successfully destroyed in Tripoli Harbor in an attack led by the courageous Lieutenant Stephen Decatur. This is the origin of the Marine Hymn verse, “…to the shores of Tripoli.”

Despite Jefferson’s weak resolve to truly end the problem, he must be credited as the first President to take positive action towards a resolution. These events also serve as historical proof of the need to take serious and direct action against threats to the United States. Thanks to President George W. Bush for recognizing the extent of the terrorist threat and facing it head on. Since, we have not had a terrorist attack on United States soil. I hope President-Elect Barrack Obama recognizes that threats to the United States exist and must be dealt with directly. Friends can not be made with those who wish the destruction of America. Please Mr. Obama, learn from history rather than repeat it.

For great reading on the history of Jefferson’s dealings with the Barbary pirates and William Eaton’s exploits, I encourage you to read The Pirate Coast, by Richard Zachs.

1 comment:

Jason said...