by Rick Bretz
The United States has always had issues with the Middle East. For that matter, so has the rest of world. Some of the issues are due to conquering and occupying nations and their policies but a majority can be traced back to dictator egos and their need for flaunting power. The fall of the Ottoman Empire after World War I created many problems as well.
The United States has had problems with that region from the beginning. Presidents George Washington, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson dealt with pirates, hostage takers and terrorist demands for ransom. This reality forced them to make difficult decisions so that the nation could build itself into a stable group of unified state governments with a federal power structure to deal with foreign policy and constitutional issues.
The troubled violent Middle East history as it pertains to the United States begins with the Tripoli Pirates and continues to this day.
A list of Middle East issues is a long one:
The Brian Kilmeade and Don Yaeger book, Thomas Jefferson and the Tripoli Pirates, covers just one of the issues the United States had to solve at the start of the 19th Century. The subtitle, The Forgotten War That Changed American History, makes a point that the Tripoli Pirate issue is largely buried or glossed over in history books but remains significant concerning the rest of world’s outlook toward the then young country of the United States of America. The book tells the story about four Muslim countries extorting the United States by capturing ships and enslaving the crews until a ransom was paid by the United States government. Tripoli, Algiers, Tunis, and Morocco saw the kidnapping and ransom process as their religious right to capture vessels on the Mediterranean high seas to fill their financial coffers.
George Washington and John Adams tried to use diplomacy while they were building a Navy and a nation while paying back war debt to countries supporting the colonies’ war for independence. As a secretary of state and diplomat, and Vice President during those years, Thomas Jefferson had seen how diplomacy never worked. It was this experience dealing with the pirates that compelled Jefferson to send the US Navy’s recently built warships to the Middle East for a blockade. The Barbary Wars and the outcome sent a message to the world that the young country of the America would defend itself if needed. This sent the country on a journey where its elected leaders had a say on the world stage, and later used to full effect by President Teddy Roosevelt.
The book does a good job of writing about the courage of the captured ships’ sailors held in prisons. It also tells the story of Lieutenant Stephen Decatur’s night raid and General William Eaton’s five hundred mile march from Egypt to the Port of Derne for a surprise attack by US Marines. The result of this became a well-known line in the Marine Corps Hymn, “From the Halls of Montezuma to the Shores of Tripoli.” All together now! This book is worth reading because the authors describe the difficulty of beginning a new nation, building a Navy, and defending America’s prestige on the world stage while keeping government politicians contented back home.
From the early 1800 Tripoli Pirates, the United States has dealt with a number of Middle East issues including, regime changes, oil embargos, Palestinian/Israeli conflicts, The Yom Kippur War, the Iraq invasion of Kuwait, the Soviet Union invasion of Afghanistan, The Iranian Revolution, government-funded terrorism, and many others. The Middle East and each administration’s malleable foreign policy that goes with dealing with this region, as well as the United Nations attitude toward Israel compared to the surrounding countries, is a nightmare that keeps coming back when you want to get a good sleep. In this case the nightmare has lasted more than a couple hundred years.