By Carol Rushton
In the 1790s and early 1800s, the United States was a very young, very small, and very weak country compared to its counterparts in Europe. Despite defeating the British military, the greatest military in the world at that time, the U.S. found itself broke and in debt. It had no army and no navy. Although the fledgling nation had just replaced the deficient Articles of Confederation with a new constitution and had elected a president and Congress – something not done in the entire history of the world up to that time. – the U. S. was in no position to defend itself in case of attack, much less challenge any other country militarily, on land or at sea.
The new country desperately needed to establish itself in the world in order to grow and prosper financially, and trading with other countries was an important way to do that. Even though American businessmen had already done a certain amount of that before the War of Independence, they needed to increase their business with other countries, and that meant sending more ships to countries across the world – to Europe, Africa, and Asia.
Besides the natural perils of sailing ships in the 18th and 19th Centuries, Americans ships faced an additional danger – being seized by Islamic nations in North Africa, more commonly referred to as the Barbary Coast.
The seizure of American ships by Muslim rulers in the Mediterranean had been going on for some years. In American history, it was mentioned as early as 1778 in the Treaty of Amity and Commerce brokered by Benjamin Franklin with France in which the new U.S. ally was supposed to employ his good Offices and Interposition with the King or Emperor of Morocco or Fez, the Regencies of Algier, Tunis and Tripoli, or with any of them, and also with every other Prince, State or Power of the Coast of Barbary in Africa, and the Subjects of the said King Emperor, States and Powers, and each of them; in order to provide as fully and efficaciously as possible for the Benefit, Conveniency and Safety of the said United States, and each of them, their Subjects, People, and Inhabitants, and their Vessels and Effects, against all Violence, Insult, Attacks, or Depredations on the Part of the said Princes and States of Barbary, or their Subjects.
Europe had experienced worse at the hand of the Barbary pirates, as they were sometimes called. For more than 100 years, Muslims had terrorized European nations, seizing men, women, and children from ships and selling them into slavery. Some even ventured to sail to England to kidnap Christians. White Gold by Giles Milton relates the harrowing tales of how some British citizens were brutally tortured to try to force them to convert to Islam. Some were beaten until they died; others were dismembered while they were still alive. Still others were shipped off to slave markets for sale. Rarely were the white slaves ever recovered. Rarer still did anyone escape and live to tell about it.
The Islamic rulers of North Africa were experts at extorting tribute from European countries so their ships would not be seized and their citizens kidnapped. These ruthless despots did not always keep their word and sometimes would break a treaty if they felt they were not paid enough, returning to their plundering ways if they felt it was more lucrative.
For some years, the United States also complied, paying annual protection money to be left alone. But of course, the Muslims did not always keep their end of the bargain. Fed up with paying bribe money and still having ships and Americans brazenly snatched, Thomas Jefferson resolved to do something about this situation when he became president.
The first Barbary War lasted four years, 1801-1805 and bought the United States a temporary respite from the Muslims pirates. But it did not last, and President James Madison had to send an American naval force in 1815 to finally end the Islamic terrorism that continued to plague American ships and citizens. In order to keep the Islamic rulers honest and prevent the U.S. having to fight any more wars with them, President Madison thought it wise to keep an American naval force in the Mediterranean to make sure no one bothered American ships in that part of the world again. Recognizing the instability in that part of the world, the U.S. has kept Navy ships in the Mediterranean continuously for 200 years.
What was the result of all this? According to The End of Barbary Terror: America’s 1815 War Against the Pirates of North Africa by Frederick C. Leiner, “The Mediterranean squadron kept watch, but the Algerines never seized an American ship or seaman again . . . The American 1815 campaign against Algiers demonstrated that the rising republic across the Atlantic was willing to act to protect its trade and people.” Leiner continues:
Having survived its second “war of independence” against Britain, [the United States] proved able to defend its far-flung interests. The interests were both mercantile and nationalist. A vague contempt for America had arisen in Europe and North Africa as a land of calculating “Jonathans,” good traders and merchants, but imbued either with Quaker principles or those of the counting house, calculating that paying tribute was cheaper than fighting. The Algerine corsairs expected to nab American merchant shipping and seamen, selling the vessels and extorting bribes to release the sailors. Algiers made fundamental miscalculations about Americans’ willingness to put aside their commercial culture and fight (Frederick C. Leiner, The End of Barbary Terror: America’s 1815 War Against the Pirates of North Africa, Oxford University Press, 2006, pgs, 173-174),
What did the United States do to provoke these attacks by Muslims in North Africa? Nothing – nothing at all. How did the United States threaten these Islamic states? The U.S. did not threaten them at all. The U.S. was too weak and too far away – thousands of miles away in fact – to threaten them. All the United States wanted to do was to peacefully trade with other countries. All the Muslims wanted to do was to steal, rob, enslave, torture, blackmail, and murder.
In the 20th and 21st Centuries, some things have changed. It doesn’t take months to reach a destination thousands of miles away in large sailing ships. It only takes a few hours by plane. In the 18th Century, the most powerful weapon a man could arm himself with was either a musket or a rifle. Today, it would only take a few hours to engulf the world in a nuclear conflagration.
But some things have not changed. The desire of some men and nations to want to attack and enslave others is still very much alive and well.
In the past, former Texas congressman Ron Paul has questioned whether the United States should fight terrorism in far-flung places of the world, thousands of miles away from our shores. Why should we have to be the world’s policeman? The people we are supposedly fighting will never come here and bother us.
The U.S. is also trillions of dollars in debt. Not only is it too expensive and we can no longer afford to do this, it is morally wrong as well. We should not be interfering in other affairs of other countries. We should close our more than 700 military bases and installations around the world and save a lot of money.
In an appearance on Face The Nation in November 2011, Ron Paul said the following:
I believe we can defend ourselves with submarines and all our troops back at home. This whole idea that we have to be in 130 countries and 900 bases . . . is an old fashioned idea. It makes no sense at all. Besides, we’re bankrupt – we can’t afford it any longer . . . Besides, those troops overseas aggravate our enemies, motivate our enemies. I think it’s a danger to our national defense. (Tim Mak, November 20, 2011, “Ron Paul: Close Foreign Military Bases,” Politico, https://www.politico.com/blogs/politico-now/2011/11/ron-paul-close-foreign-military-bases-040970, accessed February 28, 2019).
Ron Paul also said he opposed sanctions on Iran on the grounds that they were “the initial step to war.”
Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, Ron Paul’s son, has been a strong supporter of President Trump’s decision to pull American troops out of the Middle East. In a 2014 interview with Reason, a libertarian organization, Senator Paul gave some interesting answers to foreign policy questions.
When asked about fighting ISIS and his strategy for winning the war against that terrorist group, Paul equated defending our interests with defending our embassies. “I see the airstrikes really as defending vital American interests and that would be our embassy in Baghdad as well as our consulate in Erbil.” Paul reiterated this view throughout the interview. While it is certainly in our interests to defend our embassies, this is not the only way of defending our interests around the world. Paul never explained his strategy for winning a war against ISIS or against terrorism.
Paul could not explain his conflicting positions about the war on terror not being over while at the same time asserting that we could not sustain perpetual war. He also concluded that while part of the reason Arabs/Muslims hate the United States is because “they have an aberrant and bizarre notion of religion that hates people” (which is correct) he also included his father’s reason that “they dislike us for our policy and our presence there” (which is not correct). (Matt Welch, October 28, 2014, “Rand Paul: Conservative Realist?”, Reason, http://reason.com/archives/2014/10/28/rand-paul-conservative-realist/, accessed on February 28, 2019).
According to the Global Research website, the United States has at least 1,000 military bases around the world (https://www.globalresearch.ca/the-worldwide-network-of-us-military-bases-2/5564, accessed January 7, 2019). While I will admit having 1,000 or more military bases in countries other than our own seems excessive and we could probably close some of these military installations without any negative effects, we cannot close all of them. To do so would be very short-sighted.
Evil never rests. Evil never takes a holiday. Evil never takes a vacation. Evil never retreats willingly. Evil is never satisfied. Evil is insatiable, always wanting more and more and more. Evil is always on the march.
Let’s consider Communist China, for instance. China has become a major threat to the United States and the world. They are spending millions every year on their military, constantly developing and upgrading it, trying to expand their territory and ruthlessly bullying their neighbors to the extent that even Vietnam, itself a communist country, has begged the United States for protection.
If the United States closed our military base in Japan and other military installations throughout Asia and pulled our fleet from the Pacific, do you think China would dismantle its military and destroy its nuclear weapons? Would China’s Dictator Xi Jinping think, “Oh, the Americans have left, we don’t have continue to seize islands. We can reduce our military and not have to bully our neighbors anymore”? Would Chinese computer hackers paid by their government stop launching cyberattacks against us? Would China stop expanding their influence around the world?
Iran is a major state sponsor of terrorist groups throughout the world. They have made no secret of their nuclear ambitions and how they plan to use nuclear weapons to destroy Israel and the United States. How do you think Iran would react if we pulled our battleships and carriers from the Straits of Hormuz, which the Iranians control and could close at any time. Do you think the Ayatollah would stop constructing military bases in Syria and turn over the regions in Iraq they have seized and return them to the Kurds? Do you think they would tell the Houthis in Yemen to stop threatening Saudi Arabia and leave, or stop funding Hamas, Hezbollah, and other terrorist groups?
The answer to all the above is: Not on your life.
I could give more examples, but I think you get the idea. Evil men will not leave us alone simply because we choose to leave them alone.
As far as saving money is concerned, I can think of a quick way to save billions. For 200 years, the United States somehow managed to survive without a Department of Energy, Department of Education, and an Environmental Protection Agency. These were all created in the 1970s. We don’t need them and can get along very well without them. I’m sure if I really thought hard about I could come up with more places to cut in the federal budget without too much trouble.
Certainly, the United States does not need to embroil itself in every conflict or war in the world, or any for that matter. But we do need to have a certain amount of military assets strategically placed around the world, not so that we can interfere in other countries and nations, not so that we can be the world’s policeman, but so that we can protect our interests in an increasingly dangerous and evil world. We had to do this in the 1800s with the Islamic nations in North Africa. It is more imperative than ever to do this today.
“The price of liberty is eternal vigilance.” This quote has been attributed to both Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin. President Ronald Reagan put it another way: “Peace through strength.” Whether we like it or not, we must be pro-active in making sure evil men and the countries they rule stay as far away from our shores as possible. After all, they’re only seven thousand miles away.