Wednesday, October 1, 2008

America's First War on Terror: The Halls of Tripoli

The United States’ policy of appeasement only succeeded in persuading the Barbary Powers that Americans were weak. They came to see American targets as especially attractive, and attacks against the American ships increased dramatically. By the time Thomas Jefferson became President in 1801, he concluded that there were only three solutions: continue to acquiesce to the Barbary Powers’ extortion, restrict American ships to American waters, or go to war. Once inaugurated, he cut off tribute payments to the Barbary nations.

In response Tripoli declared war against the United States. Jefferson appointed General William Eaton to lead an American military expedition against the four terrorist nations. Faced with the new United States Navy and a large contingent of American Marines, all the Barbary Powers except Tripoli backed down. In 1805, after four years of fighting, Eaton succeeded in crushing the terrorist forces and freeing the captured seamen. Tripoli surrendered on America’s terms, and our troops returned home.

The region remained quiet for only a short time. In 1807 Muslim Algiers once more began attacking American ships and sailors. Preoccupied with a looming war with both Great Britain and France, Jefferson was unable to respond. When James Madison took office, the crisis that led to the War of 1812 made it impossible for him to spare naval forces to oppose terrorist attacks in the Mediterranean.

When the war with the British ended in 1815, however, Madison quickly dispatched warships commanded by Stephen Decatur and William Bainbridge against Algiers, Tunis, and Tripoli. Algiers was forced to the peace table in July 1815, where they ratified a treaty freeing all enslaved Christians and putting an end to this despicable practice. No sooner had the American fleet sailed for Tunis, however, than Algiers renounced the treaty. In short order the fleets of Great Britain and the Netherlands persuaded that country to sign a new peace treaty, which was ratified in December 1816. After thirty-two years of conflict and six years of armed warfare, attacks by Muslim terrorists against the United States and other Christian nations at last dwindled.

Throughout the conflict, Muslims viewed their terrorist actions as a holy war against Christians. In contrast, numerous treaties with the Barbary Pirates stated that the United States held no “enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquility” of the Muslims, and that even substantial differences of religious opinion would not “produce an interruption of the harmony between the two nations” on America’s part. The United States did not fight a religious war against Muslims, but rather to end the terrorism of the Muslim states against America.

For further information, go to Wallbuilders and Pirates and Privateers.

Coming next: America's First War Against Terror: Muslims in Government

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