Editor's Note: This column was coauthored by Bob Morrison.
When Thomas Jefferson and John Adams served the infant American republic as diplomats in Paris in 1785, they were both deeply concerned about the Barbary pirates.
These pirates, Muslims living in North Africa, had been preying upon American merchant vessels plying the Mediterranean.
It was customary for the rulers of these Barbary states to enrich themselves by taking American sailors—and those as well from European ships—and holding them hostage. The Europeans paid off the hostage takers. It was thought cheaper than fighting them.
Mr. Jefferson and Mr. Adams ventured forth to Versailles to meet with America’s great friend, the Comte de Vergennes. France’s Foreign Minister had sent millions of livres his king could ill afford in order to sustain America’s struggle for independence. He also sent thousands of disciplined French troops who made all the difference at Yorktown.
Jefferson and Adams hoped to enlist France’s aid in suppressing the Barbary pirates. “God and fear, fear and gold—those are the only things they understand in those courts,” said Vergennes of the Barbary rulers. Jefferson wanted to fight them. Adams thought it would be cheaper for the cash-strapped United States to pay off the kidnapers. It was perhaps the beginning of the clash that would bitterly separate these two giants of the Revolution.
For fifteen years afterward, America paid ransom and tribute to these Muslim kidnapers. Jefferson constantly urged Americans to fight. He recommended sending Captain John Paul Jones to vindicate Americans’ honor and independence. But throughout the administrations of Presidents George Washington and John Adams, America paid up rather than fight. By 1800, the United States was paying out fully one-fifth of our federal treasury to these pirates. It was never honorable. And it was no longer cheap.
In 1801, however, Thomas Jefferson became President of the United States. He defeated John Adams in a close election. One of the many changes wrought by what Mr. Jefferson called “the Revolution of 1800” was a change in policy toward the Barbary pirates. President Jefferson stopped paying these Muslim hostage takers. He resolved to fight them instead. He sent naval Capt. Stephen Decatur to the Mediterranean. He ordered in the U.S. Marines. They fought bravely and gained fame on “the shores of Tripoli.”
Last month, President Obama had to call Egypt’s new president, Mohamed Morsi, to plead with him to protect the U.S. Embassy in Cairo. Morsi is a Muslim Brotherhood-backed leader. This is a country to whom the U.S. has given nearly $50 billion over the past three decades. We just approved another $1.5 billion in aid to what is said to be a “friend” in the Mideast. Morsi grudgingly agreed not to let the Cairo mobs overrun the U.S. Embassy. International law regards our embassies as sovereign U.S. territory.
Wasn’t that generous of Mr. Morsi?
Mr. Morsi has already demanded that President Obama take action to prevent the Prophet Mohammed from being insulted by private people making videos in the U.S. Despite the fact that Dr. Morsi lived in the U.S. and earned a Ph.D. here, he seems not to understand the basics of a free society. When Christ is insulted we respond with more speech, not an assult on free speech.
The man we give $1.5 billion feels justified in demanding that we abolish the U.S. Constitution and its guarantees of free speech and free expression. (His regime’s brutal suppression of Coptic Christians already shows what he thinks of freedom of religion.
Maybe we’ll be required to abolish the First Amendment guarantees on that, too.
Or, he might not cash our checks!
Mr. Morsi has told his followers he will demand release of the blind Sheik Omar Abdel-Rahman. The Egyptian-born Sheik is serving a life sentence for murder in the U.S. because of his attack on the World Trade Center in 1993.
So it comes to this: the media swooning for an Arab Spring devolves into a demand that we spring an Arab.
For more than twenty years, U.S. policy has been to give them gold. We have exhausted our Treasury and we are no closer to Mideast peace. It seems that burning U.S. Embassies and murdered Americans dragged through the Arab street are what we are taught we have to tolerate in the interest of tolerance.
We have tried gold. We’re out of gold. Perhaps it’s time to try fear. It worked for Thomas Jefferson. The late Christopher Hitchens credits Jefferson’s willingness to fight with making America respected throughout Europe.
But if we have to fight, let’s make sure we smash and dash. No re-building; no attempts to reform these failed states; no deluding ourselves that our mercenary friends will be loyal one minute after the money runs out. It’s time America regained her self-respect.
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