Monday, January 22, 2007

To the Shores of Tripoli

The scene is surprisingly familiar. America is under attack by Arab terrorists. The President wants to fight, but Congress, believing that fighting terrorists would embitter Muslims forever against America, votes to capitulate. But the news story isn't set today, but 220 years ago. Sam Ser at the Jerusalem Post retells the story from the vantage of Michael Orren's book, Power, Faith, and Fantasy: America in the Middle East: 1776 to the Present.

The meeting in London was doomed from the outset. The Arab strongman's envoy held all the cards - three craft had already been hijacked, their passengers and crew held hostage in an inhospitable and almost unreachable land. The American ambassador knew the ransom demand would be high, but even he could not have imagined just how exorbitant it would be. To meet it would require one-tenth of America's annual budget.

Lest the adventurous Yanks dare to contemplate a military attack to rescue their captured comrades, Abd al-Rahman al-Ajar provided a most unpleasant revelation: the Koran declares that any nation that does not bow to the authority of the Muslims is sinful, and it is the right and duty of Muslims to make war upon it and take prisoner any of its people they may find. Further, any Muslim slain in battle against such an enemy would be promised a place in Paradise.

"We ought not to fight them at all unless we determine to fight them forever," the furious but helpless ambassador relayed to his government. Congress would authorize no such fight, however, and voted instead to pay the ransom.

It's now forgotten that capitulation didn't work. Simply didn't work. The Barbary Pirates raised their demands until the Pashas were taking nearly 20 per cent of Federal Revenue. But in the beginning the policy of appeasement seemed perfectly. The initial extortion demand of $70,000 was far smaller than the astronomical $2 million dollars requested by Thomas Jefferson to build a Navy. In the end it proved cheaper to crush them.

Rather quickly, American ships bring the North Africans to heel, cementing the United States' role as a power broker in the Middle East. Before he revised it in the War of 1812, Francis Scott Key's "Star-Bangled Banner" - which would become the American national anthem - described "turbaned heads bowed" to the "brow of the brave." No longer weak, then, America invites no more insults. Strengthened, in fact, it begins to deliver a few of its own.

But Orren also argues that while capitulation to extortion proved futile two centuries ago, so did attempts to "bring democracy to the Middle East". Sam Ser continues his narrative.

It is here that the second theme of Oren's book, faith, takes over. As the Middle East opens up to American commerce, it also becomes the destination of choice for Christian pilgrims enthralled with the opportunity to convert the Muslims - that is, to spread a mix of religion and independent spirit that is uniquely American, and that is founded on a conception of America as not only a "New Canaan" but as a light unto the nations as well....

At the height of this benevolent arrogance, missionary William Gooddell tells a crowd of unreceptive Lebanese, "We have come to raise your population from that state of ignorance, degradation and death [to] which you are fallen, to do all the good in our power." Not surprisingly, the missionizing flops.

"Might as well attempt to convert bricks into bride-cake as the Orientals into Christians," author Herman Melville snipes in his account of his Middle East travels.

Orren is quoted by Ser as saying doubting that America had the necessary savagery to civilize the Middle East, an ironic line of argument if ever there was one.

"I was against the Iraq war on several levels," Oren confided in conversation. "I didn't agree with the people who felt the Iraqi people were deeply yearning for democracy, and that they were just waiting for America to come and bestow it on them. "But I also didn't think America could pull it off, because America is a country of faith. And to make Iraq Iraq, America would have to do what Saddam did, which was to hold it together with a preponderance of cruel power... arrest thousands of people, torture people, kill people. I didn't think the American people were that savage."

With hell behind and before, was there no course of action that did not involve force and intimidation? Why yes, at least not direct force. It was always possible to enlist harsh and possibly despotic regimes to suppress the Pirates for us. Ser quotes Peter Beinart, a senior fellow at the Council for Foreign Relations.

But as the United States struggles to regain its legitimacy in the Middle East, it finds itself dependent on its ability to create and sustain an alliance with savage and anti-democratic regimes in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Iran. That's not the way Americans envisioned things working out when they first ventured into the deceptively calm waters of the Mediterranean. "There's always a trade-off you find in foreign policy," says Peter Beinart, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations who specializes in US security and foreign policy. "But in the Middle East it's somewhat simpler: There is a need to secure access to oil."


One area where the comparison with the 1780s runs into obvious problems was the lack of rapid travel, mass migration, international media and global trade in Jefferson's world. Birmingham had not yet been inhabited by large numbers of Muslim migrants, nor was there any possibility that the Barbary Pirates might detonate a device which would lay waste to Philadelphia or London. Today we are told that it is America's support for despots and authoritarian regimes in the Middle East that incites hatred against it. In the next breath one is assured that a military response to today's terrorists will raise all of Islam against us. Finally we are assured that the certain cultures are irredeemable and that any attempts to "bring Democracy to the Middle East" are an exercise in folly. Those are Plans A, B and C. Are there any Plan D's?


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I find this similar to what was posted on the Slate.
"And here's a tradition worth inaugurating: The Quran repeats and plagiarizes many passages of the New Testament, including some of the most fantastic and mythical ones. Is it not time to apply the razor and produce a reasonable Quran as well?"

Plan D: Continue to not listen to the critics becuase this is the most over anaylzed war ever. Make Thomas Barnett Sec. of Defense. Shut down CAIR. Don't Build a wall(yes that right) we don't need to punish Mexico when we should be more open to them and the rest of the South America. Then we can give Chavez the soft kill with capitalism.

1/22/2007 10:07:00 PM  
Blogger john marzan said...

It's now forgotten that capitulation didn't work. Simply didn't work.

But it turned out alright for Arroyo on Iraq. Arroyo was able to distance herself from America and Iraq, with China's help. And now, RP-US relations have never been stronger.

1/22/2007 10:30:00 PM  
Blogger dla said...

If the ancestors of the cheese-eating-surrender-monkeys could stop them at Tours, then the US, the lone super-power, can stop them now. China, when it assumes it's role, will stop them later.

Islam is a flawed ideology. Just the facts ma'am.

1/22/2007 11:14:00 PM  
Blogger Cosmo said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

1/23/2007 04:35:00 AM  
Blogger Cosmo said...

" . . . deceptively calm waters of the Mediterranean."

What planet has Beinert been on these past few decades?

Multiple WMD aspirants, Lebanon dismantled, Kuwait subjugated, then liberated, Palestinian dealth cult, a decade-long war between Iran and Iraq, another decade of no-fly zone sorties, non-stop war between Israel and its neighbors . . . I could go on. Stability, ho!

Cue Michael Moore's kite-flying Iraqis.

John writes:

" . . . it turned out alright for Arroyo . . ."

It always seems to . . . in the short run. But it doesn't seem to have bought her nation any respite from a growing Muslim 'insurgency.'

dla writes:

"China, when it assumes it's role, will stop them later."

After a decade and a half doing business, traveling and living in China, I can assure you, China will do only what is best for China, and no more.

There will be no continents liberated from tyranny with Chinese blood. No GPS systems bequeathed the world. No participation in global endeavors which are not calculated in the coldest terms.

Were China ever to find itself in America's role as global hegemon, the world would learn just how cheap its anti-Americanism has been when China reacts to made-for-television street protests, demonizing editorials and moral posturing by threatening to withhold commercial contracts worth billions of Euros(?) and tens of thousands of jobs.

As with the self-censureship that followed the Mo-toons, the paper thin morality of the world's elites would be revealed once again for the fraud it has always been.

We'd be cautioned about 'Sinophobia' and scolded about 'provocative' 'insults' by the same people who today are packaging intellectualized cowardice and craven rationalizations as wisdom on Iraq.

Sorry to rant OT.

1/23/2007 04:45:00 AM  
Blogger Cosmo said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

1/23/2007 05:36:00 AM  
Blogger Cosmo said...

Papa Bear:

Amen. Talk about blood for oil. If the U.S. were in bed with a genocidal regime like Sudan, or enabling Bobby Mugabe's 'Year Zero' redux in Zimbabwe, we'd never hear the end of it from the world's self-appointed scolds.

But, as is the case with the middle east, we'll get more bigotry of low expectations from our exquisitely multi-cultural betters. Nothing more is expected of China. And, of course, they'll miss the irony altogether.

1/23/2007 05:38:00 AM  
Blogger desert rat said...

The more things change
the more they stay the same

1/23/2007 06:28:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oil doesn't make it as simple as Beinart believes. As with everything, we are still forced to make trade-offs: when should we embrace short-term spikes (i.e. Iraq 1990-91, Iran 2008?) to ward off long-term risks (i.e. regional war btw Israel-Iran, Sunni-Shia, nukes, etc.) that would see oil prices go sky high and oil availability plummet.

The above is a really nothing more than a restatement of Philip Bobbitt's "small-war" prescription--i.e. we need to light some small fires to avoid big ones. Forest management, etc. The potential for adversarial coalitionism is a risk, of course. Another is a political phenomenon: the tendency of a sizable chunk of our polity to mirror perspectives other than our own. I imagine this has something to do with global communications in a post-modern world, though it also happened in 1930's Britain. Whatever it is, it manifests itself mostly on the political Left, whence one hears the "US-out-of-step" argument ad infinitum, as if being out of step was a priori bad.

Plan D? Before we get there, why don't we sit down and determine Principle A, B, & C? It is the latter species that seems to be endangered.

1/23/2007 07:10:00 AM  
Blogger desert rat said...

At TCS Daily Westhawk describes the current political situation in Iraq.
Seems an accurate perspective, to me.

1/23/2007 08:21:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Trackbacked on The Thunder Run - Web Reconnaissance for 01/23/2007

1/23/2007 12:49:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The ugly truth is that the US is married to Jihadi oil. America allows Jihadi Arabia to fund and propagandize Jihad throughout the world and the ME, while America spends a fortune pretending to counter this Jihadi political corruption with its own type of corruption and crony capitalism involving the oil and the defense industries.

The reason Iraq, Syria, Iran, and other ME states are dictatorships, is because that's the only way to keep these artificial countries together. If you want democracy in the ME, the lines need to be redrawn. It's that simple. America can and should serve as a catalyst for the process and encourage anti Jihadist nationalist movements with supplies of arms and air cover. But instead of using a small military force to break up the central imperial Jihadist control over the outlying territories, and allow the jihadi subjugated groups to carve out their province(s), US Generals went in with a huge military force trying to keep together a Jihadi superstate using a competing group of Jihadits.

We should have been talking about the breakup of Jihadist Iran and Syria now, and not the breakdown in Iraq, or the horrendous cost to US treasury in keeping together what should not been put or kept together in the first place.

1/23/2007 01:50:00 PM  
Blogger Mike H. said...

Presley O'Bannon to the check-in counter please. Lt. O'bannon to the check-in counter.

1/23/2007 02:30:00 PM  
Blogger unaha-closp said...

Plan D = Plan A, but with a new set of Saudi, Iranian, Egyptian despots. The current ones are ineffectual in controlling their people, toss them aside and get some new ones. Hatred, who cares? As long as the Egyptians, Saudis and Iranians are dirt poor, powerless, unarmed, repressed plebs they are free to hate as much as they like. If all they can do is whisper hatred late at night in darkened rooms afraid of the secret police it will not hurt us much. Because its not like we to be loved.

1/23/2007 02:57:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Can anyone shed any light on the accuracy of the Orren's assertion that the original version of what is not The Star Spangled Banner contained the phrase "Trubaned heads bowed"? Orren says this was later replaced with "Brow of the brave."

My search for the Turbaned phrase has come a cropper. Publications with Francis Scott Key's poem, originally titled The Defense of For McHenry, have no such wording.

Certainly Orren wasn't making this up, but where's the documentation? Help, please.

1/24/2007 05:50:00 AM  
Blogger Alexis said...


I think Orren was referring to Francis Scott Key's "When The Warrior Returns" (published on December 30, 1805), which would be sung to the same music as our "Star Spangled Banner".

1/24/2007 03:23:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Alexis, thanks. That clears up the reference but it makes Orren's statement that it was The Star-Spangled Banner in which the phrase was changed simply wrong.

"When the Warrior Returns" still contains the phrase "Turbaned heads bowed" and "Brow of the brave" concludes each stanza.

Unless someone can provide additional reference for Orren's statement we must conclude that what he wrote was simply incorrect. We're left to wonder about the reliability of the rest of Orren's book.

1/25/2007 09:13:00 AM  

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