Opinion:Libya-An American Obsession.
by Tony Barrett
Many of us are led to believe that America’s conflict with Libya started with Gadaffi. History tells us a different story. In 1776 America declared independence, twenty-five years later in 1801 they embarked upon their first war with Libya. The first American war against Libya was the first war waged by the United States outside of its national boundaries after gaining independence and unification of the country, this war was known as “The Barbary War”.
During the Crusades (1095-1295), Muslim pirates operating from bases in North Africa had plundered ships carrying Crusaders and pilgrims and sold many Christians into slavery. By the sixteenth century, Hapsburg Spain and the Ottoman Turks were pitted in a struggle for supremacy in the Mediterranean. Piracy, which for both Christians and Muslims was a dimension of the conflict between the opposing powers, lured adventurers from around the Mediterranean to the Maghribi coastal towns and islands. Among them was Khair ad Din, called Barbarossa, who in 1510 seized Algiers on the pretext of defending it from the Spaniards. The term “Barbary” derives from Barbarosa [“red beard”].
The four Barbary States of North Africa are today known as Morocco, Algiers, Tunis, and Tripoli (Libya) had plundered sea borne commerce for centuries. Surviving by blackmail, they received great sums of money, ships, and arms yearly from foreign powers in return for allowing the foreigners to trade in African ports and sail unmolested through the Barbary waters. They demanded tribute money, if the ruling houses of Europe refused to pay their ships were seized, the crews held for ransom or sold into slavery. Needless to say the houses of Europe preferred to pay this tribute, rather than suffer the consequences, this arrangement was more of a marriage of convenience, than one of love.
By the end of the 18th Century the effectiveness of Tripoli’s Pirates had long since deteriorated, but their reputation alone was enough to prompt European maritime states to pay the tribute extorted by the Barbary rulers to ensure safe passage of their shipping through Tripolitanian waters. Barbary pirates seized American merchant ships, no longer covered by British protection, in the years after United States independence, and American crews were enslaved. In 1799 the United States agreed to pay $18,000 a year in return for a promise that Tripoli-based pirates would not molest American ships. Similar agreements were made at the time with the rulers of Morocco, Algiers, and Tunis.
In May 1801, the United States refused to succumb to the increasing demands of the Ruler of Tripoli; in return, he declared war against the States. While Tripoli was not a strong power and little effort was necessary to watch and blockade it, the fear was that the other Barbary powers would join against the United States. The United States sent naval squadrons into the Mediterranean under the slogan of “Millions for defence, but not one cent for tribute!” Under the leadership of Commodores Richard Dale and Edward Preble, the Navy blockaded the enemy coast, bombarded his shore fortresses, and engaged in close, bitterly contested gunboat actions. This conflict was not only America’s first foreign war; it was also its first attempt at “regime change” As the Marines aim was to put an ally upon the throne in Tripoli.
This first war ended in 1805 however between this time and 1815 there were several conflicts between the different Barbary rulers and America. In 1815 James Madison the then president of the United States declared victory over the Barbary Pirates.
“Madison ordered a ten ship naval expedition against the Barbary Pirate regimes of North Africa and threaten them with ‘serious disaster’ if they did not agree to a ‘Just and Lasting Peace’ The Arab leaders agreed.”
On December 5 1815 Madison began his annual message to congress with unrestrained boasts about the first war the United States had won abroad, the first war it had fought in the Middle East. Coincidently we may do well to recognise that this is the only War it has ever won outright in the Middle East. Exactly 200 years after the USAs’ first attempt at regime change in the Middle East They entered Iraq and Afghanistan, to force a change of leadership. Could 2011 eventually see the end to Americas 210 year old Arab grudge?