[Guest post by DRJ]
America’s first foreign war, as well as its first unconventional war as a nation, was initiated in 1801 by President Thomas Jefferson because he refused to accede to decades of demands for tribute by the Muslim pirates of North Africa’s Barbary Coast:
“In 1795 alone the United States was forced to pay nearly a million dollars in cash, naval stores, and a frigate to ransom 115 sailors from the dey of Algiers. Annual gifts were settled by treaty on Algiers, Morocco, Tunis, and Tripoli.
When Jefferson became president in 1801 he refused to accede to Tripoli’s demands for an immediate payment of $225,000 and an annual payment of $25,000. The pasha of Tripoli then declared war on the United States. Although as secretary of state and vice president he had opposed developing an American navy capable of anything more than coastal defense, President Jefferson dispatched a squadron of naval vessels to the Mediterranean. As he declared in his first annual message to Congress: “To this state of general peace with which we have been blessed, one only exception exists. Tripoli, the least considerable of the Barbary States, had come forward with demands unfounded either in right or in compact, and had permitted itself to denounce war, on our failure to comply before a given day. The style of the demand admitted but one answer. I sent a small squadron of frigates into the Mediterranean. . . .”
This week’s hijacking of the French
luxury yacht small cruise ship Le Ponant is the most recent evidence that pirates remain a threat off the coast of Africa. In fact, more than two hundred years after seeing action on the shores of Tripoli, the U.S. Navy is still fighting pirates in the region:
“Pirates seized more than two dozen ships off the Somali coast last year.
The U.S. Navy has led international patrols to try to combat piracy in the region. Last year, the guided missile destroyer USS Porter opened fire to destroy pirate skiffs tied to a Japanese tanker.
Wracked by more than a decade of violence and anarchy, Somalia does not have its own navy, and a transitional government formed in 2004 with U.N. help has struggled to assert control.”
The world is not always a civilized place and the people of the world sometimes fail to respond to the soft words and well-intentioned rhetoric of diplomacy. It’s a good policy to offer diplomacy but America must also be ready to act militarily. In the words of President Theodore Roosevelt, “Speak softly and carry a big stick; you will go far.”