From the Halls of Montezuma to the shores of Tripoli!
If Thomas Jefferson was any less of a man, or president, and did anything in 1803 other than stand up to the Barbary Pirates who were attacking American shipping for plunder and ransom we wouldn't have that line to the Marines Hymn would we?
Yet, in the evacuation of Libya this past week, including departures from the port city of Tripoli, America came off as the weakest, most insecure, whining, hand-wringing wimp on the entire international scene.
Where is the 6th Fleet - the massive US Naval presence that has reminded modern-day pirates and despots from one end of the Mediterranean to the other for decades that the resolution shown by our nation more than 200 years ago has not wavered?
Answer, it's gone. No carrier groups bristling with jet aircraft, missiles and big guns, no big cruisers, no helicopters, no landing craft, no battalions of Marines. Gone. Just a couple of small craft that can do little to enforce America's foreign policy objectives when attacked by a capable and determined aggressor.
Is our current foreign relations playbook the work of a Woody Allen wannabe suffering from a massive fit of depression? Can we be any more cloying, annoying, neurotic? Did you see the latest foreign relations debacle of the the Obama Administration?
Other nations sent in entire fleets of jumbo jets to evacuate thousands, and in the case of China, tens of thousands of their citizens lest they get caught up in the escalating internal violence between Libyan dictator Moammar Qaddafi and those seeking his overthrow. Great Britain sent a couple of warships to let The Leader know they could and would intervene if necessary; but our big tough State Department wimped out.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton explained that we didn't want to send warships because it might give the wrong message to Qaddafi, whatever that was! So Obama sent a ferryboat! A ferryboat for crying out loud!
And even after a grand total of about 600 Americans, representing most of our civilian presence there, were on board, the USS Rubber Duck sat at the dock for three days because a storm on the Mediterranean was too strong and it couldn't risk going to sea! Meanwhile, some 4,500 Chinese workers in two other ships did leave and despite the weather made it safely to Crete while Americans stayed in port, fighting off seasickness.
So why didn't we make a stronger statement to Qaddafi and the rest of the Arab world in general, considering that it is exploding in violence and rage?
Well, the once mighty 6th Fleet in the Mediterranean has a command structure that has been merged with other NATO forces, but generally all I can find on its capabilities is the USS Mount Whitney, a 40-year-old command vessel that arguably is really great on communications but not exactly what I'd pick to enforce American policies. I mean, it probably can listen in on Qaddafi's thoughts, but then what? It has only enough armament to defend itself until the big guys get there, but now there aren't any big guys.
I guess we could reassign ships from elsewhere, but that can takes days, even weeks, and it should be obvious that if we are called upon to do anything in the Mediterranean, it probably will be a "WE NEED YOU NOW" situation. So our options apparently are nonexistent.
How's that for a modern reminder of the determination that has kept our flag flying and trade routes open in that area for more than 200 years - world wars notwithstanding?
It probably was our absence from the Mediterranean that encouraged Iranian dictator Mamoud Ahmadinejad to send warships through the Suez Canal and along the coast of Israel last week. No chance of bumping into our Navy, it wasn't around.
Imagine how the career guys must feel after decades of going eyeball to eyeball with the big guns of the Russian fleet, now reduced to avoiding gunboats owned by crackpot extremists.
While the rest of the world was flexing its international muscles the US was sitting this one out complaining of a bad back. Pathetic, absolutely pathetic. I thought I'd put a little historical perspective on this so I dug up the following records on our history with Africa's north coast.
From the Library of Congress, American Memory collection, The Thomas Jefferson Papers http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/collections/jefferson_papers/mtjprece.html :
"From what I learn from the temper of my countrymen and their tenaciousness of their money," Jefferson added in a December 26, 1786, letter to the president of Yale College, Ezra Stiles, "it will be more easy to raise ships and men to fight these pirates into reason, than money to bribe them."
When Jefferson became president in 1801 he refused to accede to Tripoli's demands for an immediate payment of $225,000 and an annual payment of $25,000. The pasha of Tripoli then declared war on the United States.
Although as secretary of state and vice president he had opposed developing an American navy capable of anything more than coastal defense, President Jefferson dispatched a squadron of naval vessels to the Mediterranean.
As he declared in his first annual message to Congress: "To this state of general peace with which we have been blessed, one only exception exists. Tripoli, the least considerable of the Barbary States, had come forward with demands unfounded either in right or in compact, and had permitted itself to denounce war, on our failure to comply before a given day. The style of the demand admitted but one answer. I sent a small squadron of frigates into the Mediterranean. . . ."
Jefferson's battle with the Barbary pirates was not easy. It continued after his presidency, requiring two wars, the second one in 1815, to finally put an exclamation point on the US refusal to pay annual tribute and its distaste for ransom. Not everyone agreed with him, and as in any war, there were losses as well as victories.
But Jefferson's decision in 1803 to send naval forces, including Marines, to Tripoli was the starting point for more than two hundred years of historical precedence that apparently is now back to its starting point. We can only wonder why, because I haven't heard a thing out of any news organization in the world that explains our deterioration from a strong, reliable, world-class ally, to the sniveling Caspar Milquetoast image we now project.
Where is Thomas Jefferson when we need him? Where is Teddy Roosevelt's Big Stick? Where are Truman, Eisenhower, Lincoln? Gone. All Gone. Along with America's prestige, pride and world presence.
You know what happens to the schoolyard wimps don't you? Sure you do. They become targets of the bullies. And there always are bullies. On the world stage bullies don't respond to peer mediation. They laugh at it and kick the crap out of the facilitators.
If experience is any teacher, America better get back into the gym.
Saturday, February 26, 2011