Our Two Wars with Radical Islam
Robert L. Wichterman
Robert L. Wichterman writes from Lancaster, Pennsylvania.
It is generally accepted that history tends to repeat itself. But, it is not as well known that our current conflict with al Qaeda and the Taliban is the second war we have fought with radical Islam. For, from the end of the 18th Century, and extending into the first five years of the 19th Century, we were embroiled in an undeclared (by Congress) war. It has been labeled "The Barbary Pirates War." Many features of that strife are similar to our current engagement with them.
One hallmark is how our Radical-Islamic enemies view the fight. It was then, and is still now, a "holy war." It began in 1785. George Washington was President; the Vice-President was John Adams, and Thomas Jefferson was the Secretary of State. The Mussulmen, as Muslims were then identified, from the North African coast of Morocco, and the Ottoman regencies of Tripoli, Tunis, and Algiers, were our adversaries. They played a deadly game. If a nation did not pay them tribute, they would capture its merchant ships, brutalize the sailors, then send them to the slave markets, and sell the cargo.
At that time, our navy was not strong enough to protect our ships. President Washington felt "the highest disgrace" at seeing America "become tributary to such banditti who might for half the sum that is paid them be exterminated from the Earth."
John Adams was sent to negotiate with a representative of the pasha of Tripoli. He offered $200,000 if they would allow our ships safe passage in the Mediterranean Sea. Mr. Adams was appalled and shaken to be told that the Koran demanded that all nations acknowledge Mussulman authority. In addition, the Islamic countries had:
. . . the right and duty to make war upon whoever they could find, and to make slaves of all they take as prisoners, and that every Mussulman who should be slain in battle was sure to go to Paradise.
In 1790, Secretary of State Jefferson asked Congress for a formal declaration of war against them, in order to defend our interests in that area. However, the U.S. Senate rejected his request, and instead authorized $140,000 to be sent as "Tribute."
In 1801 though, our navy now had the frigates to successfully challenge the Mussulmen. President Jefferson knew that Congress would not approve a conventional declaration of war. Thus, he ordered a "policing action." ( la Harry Truman and our "police action" in Korea.) It was during the Barbary Pirates War that the slogan "Millions for defense, but not one cent for tribute" was coined. It was also in North Africa that, while the U. S. Navy blockaded the harbor and bombarded Tripoli, the U.S. Marines marched around the city, and attacked. The Marine Corps hymn memorialized that feat with the phrase "to the shores of Tripoli."
President Jefferson had followed the advice of William Eaton, our consul in Tunis, who had learned that, "In the Middle East, power alone was respected." Paying Tribute had backfired, earning America only the Mussulmen's disdain.
It cost over $3 million from 1801 to 1805 to defeat the Mussulmen, but it gained us the respect of the world. In 1826, our 50th birthday, the U. S. Navy still had a squadron on permanent duty in the Mediterranean.
Fast forward to December 27, 1979. On that day, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan and set up a Communist government in Kabul. Previously, no government in Kabul had ever been able to actually control the country, and the Soviet's puppet was never able to do so, either. The Afghan people all belong to different tribes, each one ruled by a warlord. These tribes often feuded with each other. But, if another country would send its army in, attempting to conquer them, their intramural conflicts were put "on hold" while they took up arms against the common enemy.
It was at that time when the radical Islamic movement coalesced and Osama bin Laden became their leader. Their plan was to establish a regime where sharia law was supreme. They also wanted to end the Western culture's influence on their life. It would be a return to radical Islam. The ultimate goal though for al Qaeda is the creation of a global Islamic caliphate where sharia law is enforced around the world.
Supplied, trained, and advised by our CIA, the mujahideen fought the Soviets for over nine years. Then, on February 15, 1989, they retreated from Afghanistan with their tails between their legs. Shortly thereafter, a new civil war developed as the Taliban overthrew the puppet Communist party in Kabul, and sought to unite the country beneath its radical Islamic doctrine. One example of that creed declares that women are the property of their father or husband, and they are never to be educated in a school. Even more menacing, those who refuse to accept Islam as the only legitimate religion, those who leave it, or those who convert to another faith, may be executed by a member of their family.
The wars being waged by the United States and the West in Iraq and Afghanistan have, fortunately, weakened al Qaeda and the Taliban. However, they are still able to recruit suicide bombers to blow up themselves and 20 to 30 others. Yet, as deadly as these incidents are, they will not convince the Iraqis or the Afghans to willingly submit to theocratic or autocratic domination. The key word here is "willingly." Yes, it is possible that after NATO and the American military leave Afghanistan, the Taliban may be able to overthrow their elected government and resume control. Given Afghanistan's record of not surrendering to an invader though, they will probably only govern Kabul, and the rest of the country will be run by each local warlord.
The political scenario in the Islamic Middle East is so unsettled, any prediction as to its end is not worth the paper on which it is printed. Mr. Assad may, or may not, survive the confrontations in Syria; in a perfect example of "the pot calling the kettle black," Saudi Arabia recently denounced him for his brutal crack-down on the Syrian demonstrators who are calling for his ouster.
The U.S. and NATO's intelligence services have succeeded in the past year. Our killing of Osama bin Laden, the al Qaeda chief, on May 2, was followed by a successful predator drone strike on August 22, which killed Atiyah Abd al-Rahman, and American-born al-Qaeda operative Anwar al-Awlaki on September 30 in Yemen. They and bin Laden were the top al Qaeda leaders. We have learned from the materials we took from Osama bin Laden's compound bin Laden and al-Rahman had been trying to plan a spectacular attack for the 10th anniversary of 9/11. Al Qaeda has been seriously wounded, but we don't believe the injuries are, at this time, fatal.
We also have to be wary of the Muslim Brotherhood. Documents removed from another Islamic organization have linked them to Hamas. The Brotherhood's Arabic title is "al-Ikhwan al-Muslimun." Referring to the Muslim Brotherhood, this report said,
The Ikhwan must understand that their work in America is a kind of grand Jihad, in eliminating and destroying the Western civilization from within and sabotaging its miserable house by their hands and the hands of the believers, so that it is eliminated and God's religion is made victorious over all religions.
As every platoon leader knows, when you're in a dangerous area, you must have troopers out protecting your flanks. We may have hit a few home runs, but the game has not yet ended. We are still vulnerable.
We must not forget, either, that in al Qaeda's name, Osama bin Laden sent a declaration of war to the United States Department of State on August 23, 1996, stating that because we were "occupying two holy places in Saudi Arabia." And if we did not leave Saudi Arabia a state of war would exist. In 1998, he followed with a Fatwa of Jihad against us. "Jihad" has been portrayed as "Not violence for its own sake, but it is to pave the way for the imposition of sharia."
Only time and technology have changed since we had to battle radical Islam at the beginning of the 19th Century. It remains a threat to our freedoms and life style. Even though it has been quoted countless times, it is still true that "The price of freedom is eternal vigilance." *