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.
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.
Why the “Top Eight?” Because there are too many “Top Ten” lists published on the web today. If you can’t say what you have on your mind in eight then don’t even try to strain your wrists typing, I say. This is a fast paced, take no prisoners culture we live in. My contribution is to save you some time by eliminating two places on the list. With that stated, I know people have many decisions that need to made throughout the day. Here are my most influential decisions that changed America’s destiny.
The document states, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” These are just words until people back it up by putting names to it. I consider this to be the most significant of decisions because it was made by a group of founding fathers that put the country on a course toward separation from England and the monarchy. Fifty six people signed the document including two future presidents, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson. Benjamin Franklin at 70 years was the oldest to sign. John Hancock was the most famous. Several other lesser-known signers had just as much to lose, if not more, by signing the document. Many authors have penned various reasons why this group signed the declaration. Some did it for freedom, others for business and financial incentives, and still others signed it because they were aware they were creating something that would last through the centuries Signing the declaration achieved several purposes. The declaration moved the colonies in the direction towards independence. And as a bonus, it agitated the British even more. If the declaration wasn’t signed, the colonies may have eventually won its freedom from England but it might have taken many more years and the results may not have been as generous.
2.The decision to pass and sign the Civil Rights Act. Most citizens are aware of, and some even remember, the 1964 civil right acts signed by President Lyndon Johnson. President Johnson used some of his trademark Johnson charm to get it passed through the legislature. It continued what Congress started years earlier. Congress passed the original civil rights act in 1866 and it declares that, “all persons shall have the same rights…to make and enforce contracts, to sue, be parties, give evidence, and to the full and equal benefit of all laws…” This was followed by the 14th Amendment in 1868 that stated, “”All persons born or naturalized in the US…are citizens…nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person…the equal protection of the laws.” This led to the 19th Amendment, passed in 1920, giving people the right to vote regardless of sex.
President Johnson signed the 1964 Civil Rights Act that provided more rights. These, among others, are, “prohibits employment discrimination based on race, sex, national origin, or religion. Prohibits public access discrimination, leading to school desegregation.” The 1866 Civil Rights Act started America down the righteous path toward true equality..
3. The decision to secede from the union. This is more of a collective decision by several powerful people. The Southern states’ decision to secede from the union produced a chain of events that eventually led to the abolishment of slavery, a stronger Federal Government, General William T. Sherman’s march through the south, and finally, the actual end of the Southern slave holding culture. According to most civil war scholars, at the end of the war, Americans began referring to themselves as being from the “United” States rather than from a particular state such as Virginia or New York. If secession hadn’t happened, it could be argued the South would have negotiated to retain some of their states rights and kept slavery in tact. Instead, southern leaders voted for secession and lost their way of life.
4. The decision to buy the Louisiana Territory. America’s RV enthusiasts wouldn’t get the thrill of driving across the fruited plane today if it hadn’t been for Thomas Jefferson taking advantage of Napoleon’s urge to conquer Europe on a shoestring budget.
At 3 cents an acre, Thomas Jefferson struck a great real estate deal at 15 million dollars for more than 800,000 acres in 1803. The deal covers what is now Louisiana, Arkansas, Missouri, Iowa, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska and parts of Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, New Mexico, Texas, Montana, Wyoming, Colorado and two Canadian provinces. What is intriguing about the deal is that President Jefferson originally intended for the team of James Monroe and Robert Livingston to just purchase the Port of New Orleans from France for 10 million dollars. However, Napoleon Bonaparte wanted to limit England’s influence in America and he needed money to refill his government coffers after his wars. For these reasons, he offered the Jefferson team the whole territory for 5 million more. Sometimes the stars align and a business deal just falls into place.
5. The decision by President Truman to use the Atom Bomb.
The diplomacy game changed when the United States used the Atomic Bomb to end WWII. It was the first time a weapon of that magnitude and it let the world’s leaders know that the US government would use this type of weapon if needed to end a War. On the negative side, the development and use of the Atomic Bomb began the build up of globally destructive warheads. This was a cloud that future generations had to live under while growing up. President Harry S.Truman wasn’t even given the knowledge that the bomb was being built until he was sworn into the office. That was kept secret from him by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, most likely due to “need to know” security procedures. Before the bomb was used, the Japanese proved to the world they would not surrender easily. The Battle of Okinawa, an island south of the mainland, proved to President Truman and the military that the Japanese military upper hiearchy would fight to the end to save their empire and their culture. The fact that the US had to use two bombs tells us that fact. President Truman didn’t take the decision lightly.He thought about the repurcussions for days. Once he made the decision though, he never second-guessed himself.
6. The decision to serve only two terms by President Washington.
President George Washington set an important precedent by stepping down after two terms as the Chief Executive. Future Presidents followed his decision to leave office after two terms despite nothing being written in the Constitution about the subject.. President Thomas Jefferson served two terms as the third President but chose to step down voluntarily. This verified the tradition. It didn’t become an issue until President Grant thought about serving a third term. Congress denounced the idea because it broke with the tradition set by Washington. He, however, stood ready to be drafted in 1875 and 1880 but the republican convention chose other candidates. President Franklin Roosevelt ultimately broke the tradition by serving a third term in 1940 due to the onset of WWII. He was elected in 1944 but didn’t finish his fourth term. Afterwards, Congress passed the 22nd Amendment limiting the President to two terms with an exemption for the current President Truman. Truman declined to run for a third term. Congress introduced bills to repeal the 22nd Amendment during President Ronald Reagan’s term and while President Bill Clinton was in office but they both failed to pass the legislative branch. President Washington was wary of monarchies and dictatorships so his stepping down after 8 years in 1797 was a product of that thinking. Besides he was tired of the criticism brought on by the office and wanted to retire to Mount Vernon. .
7. The decision to fund the Dwight D. Eisenhower National System of Interstate and Defense Highways bill. The nation’s highways as we know them today began in 1938 with the passing of the Federal Highway Act. It called for a toll based 26,700-mile interregional highway network with three highways running south to north and three more running east to west. In the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1944, the Congress acted on these recommendations. The act called for “designation of a National System of Interstate Highways, to include up to 40,000 miles “… so located, as to connect by routes, direct as practical, the principal metropolitan areas, cities, and industrial centers, to serve the National Defense, and to connect at suitable points.” These acts didn’t specifically spell out how the system would be funded so the construction was slow. Here’s where President Eisenhower comes in. He led a team that figured out how to fund the highway system to build highways as the citizens of the United States know them today. The Department of Transportation documents make it clear that The Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1952 authorized the first funding specifically for system construction. Under President Eisenhower, the system funding was created so it wouldn’t increase the federal budget much. This is where the vehicle tax and gas tax enter the picture. With the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956 it increased the system’s proposed length to 41,000 miles. From there we have several highways running west to east and north to south, with the longest running highway being I-90 at 3020.54 miles from Boston, Mass., to Seattle, Washington. The highway system has aided interstate commerce as well as the tourism industry. It has provided a means for families and individuals to view the landscape of the United States as well as being the catalyst for many a sibling feud in backseats.
8. The decision to Land on the Moon. The decision to explore space and reach to other worlds began with the Eisenhower administration and the Mercury program. The goal became focused when President Kennedy gave a speech on May 25th, 1961 to a special joint session of congress and stated the goal of sending an American safely to moon and return to earth before the end of the decade.
Much of the decision involved cold war politics with the Soviet Union but also healthy dose of American bravado spirit. However, Kennedy consulted with his vice president and the NASA chief and determined that the US had a good chance of beating the Soviets to moon. The space program created many benefits that people use today. The advancement in electronics and computers ushered in solid-state electronics. In addition to these developments, according to NASA’s official government website, insulation technology developed by NASA engineers is used for thermal blankets. These are just some of the many benefits the space program has yielded since its inception. Finally, Americans could boast that we were the first to land on the moon but in the name of “mankind” of course.
These are my top eight decisions. I am sure there are people who disagree. It was tough just to narrow it down to eight. Let me know your top eight. .