Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Historical Response to Terrorism and its effects

Since September 11th woke America up to the reality of Islamic terrorism, most Americans assumed we have entered a new era, and that the threat of terrorism we face is a new one. In the days and weeks following September 11th, I thought the same. But as time has passed, I discovered that the US has faced terrorism before, even in the decade leading up to September 11th.

What I didn’t know was the United States response to this terrorism, and so I have decided to look at the United States historical response to terrorism. When I started my research, I decided to start in chronological order, going all the way back to the time of the founders, and to move forward from that point.

I vaguely remembered a story about Thomas Jefferson and his war on the pirates, and so I searched the EBSCO database, and found the account of the Tripoli War in an article by Dave Bartruff, a writer for World & I. In the year 1801,


“the Barbary states of Tunis, Morocco, Algeria, and Tripolitania (today's Libya) had all built their economies around the piracy of foreign merchant ships at sea and the selling of their crews into slavery. On his inauguration as president, Jefferson rebuffed the $225,000 ransom demand of the pasha of Tripoli, Yusuf Karamanli, who promptly declared war on the United States on May 10, 1801. The other Barbary States soon joined their ally as belligerents.”


What astonished me more then international ransom was the response in the years leading up to Jefferson’s presidency. “For fifteen consecutive years, the U.S. paid nearly $1 million annually to Algiers alone for the safe passage of its ships and the return of American crews held hostage. By 1800, all Barbary extortion payments accounted for 20 percent of the government's national budget.” Apparently, this appeasement did nothing but encourage the pirates and their criminal ways. Jefferson; however, took a different tact, and refused to pay the Barbary States, and was soon at war. Almost immediately, Jefferson dispatched the US Navy to deal a blow to the pirates. After months of confrontation with little success, Jefferson increase the military strength in the region, and as Lewis (US News) explains

“In 1805 in Egypt, Eaton assembled a ragtag army …the men crossed 400 miles of desert to reach, in the words of the hymn, "the shores of Tripoli." There the handful of marines led a charge that took the pirate state's second-largest city. The war soon would end."

Looking at the success of Jefferson’s response, I noticed a few things. Most notably, that the empires of France and Britain stayed out of the fray, both while the US was fighting, and during the escalation of pirate attacks in the years before. So, I began to wonder how this could be applied to our modern war on terror, and how to prevent future terrorism.

In the 20th century, the both the United States and the United Soviet Socialist Republics were the victims of terrorist attacks numerous times. Because of the restrictive controls placed on information by the Soviet Union, little is known about their response to terrorism, although from outward signs, little was done to combat it, and indeed, much of the arms used in Afghanistan were later used by terrorist groups. As for the United States, I discovered the record of President Jimmy Carter, who carries a record of a peacemaker and bearer of goodwill. David Landrith (Insight) writes a scathing summation of Carter’s policies,


“Carter's vision of "constant decency" effected astonishingly inhumane results. Carter sought to redress the wrongs done by allies in Latin America and the Caribbean in three ways: 1) cutting off or scaling back arms sales and economic aid; 2) legitimizing Soviet-backed insurgents by publicly commending their cause and denying their connections to communism; and 3) forcing host governments to concede to the insurgents' demands. This threefold policy engineered the victory of communist guerrillas in Nicaragua and Grenada. It destabilized friendly governments in Guyana, El Salvador, Martinique and Guadeloupe. Carter achieved similar results in Iran, although the shah's enemies were Islamic extremists. The shah's fall brought Ayatollah Khomeini into power and created a key sponsor of international terrorism. … The culmination of Carter's "constant decency" was seen on Nov. 4, 1979, when Iranian radicals took 90 Americans hostage.”


This surprised me, but I did not find any evidence to contradict the summation. By ceding to the demands of evil in negotiations with the Soviet Union, displaying a weak US, and his indecisiveness in dealing with the Iran situation, Carter furthered the cause of terrorism, and would greatly increase the mess we are in today.

After September 11th, President Bush reacted swiftly and decisively. Recognizing the majority of the terrorists had been trained in Afghanistan, with either active or passive assistance from the Taliban, Bush issued an ultimatum. On September 20th, 2001, he stood in front of the nation and the world, and said “The Taliban must act, and act immediately. They will hand over the terrorists, or they will share in their fate.” The Taliban did not comply, and on October 7, 2001, the US military began systematically eliminating the Taliban and its terrorist brethren. That evening, Bush spoke before the nation, saying “Today we focus on Afghanistan, but the battle is broader. Every nation has a choice to make. In this c onflict, there is no neutral ground. If any government sponsors the outlaws and killers of innocents, they have become outlaws and murderers, themselves.” The war in Afghanistan continues today, but the days of terrorists freely coming and going are long gone.

After the success in Afghanistan, American turned her attention to Iraq, and the threat posed by the renegade dictator, Saddam Hussein. The most prominent reason given to invade was the weapons of mass destruction program, which had been in violation of numerous United Nations resolutions. Other reasons not often stated, but equally valid, include the violation of the cease fire for the past 10 years, disgusting and rampant violations of human rights, and terrorist training. Although the initial strike and invasion in 2003 was one of the greatest military successes in history, the war has continued for 3 years. While there is an impression that the war is going badly, Andrew Apostolou (Knight-Ridder) disagrees,



“in just over a year Iraq introduced a new currency; adopted a progressive and tolerant interim constitution, the Transitional Administrative Law; and held indirect elections for a national council. Much remains to be done against an enemy unlike any other that the United States has faced. … This war is not law enforcement, nor low-level warfare, nor counter-insurgency, nor a conventional war, but a shifting mixture of them all. Vanquishing the terrorists globally and the insurgents in Iraq will be a slow process.”


Only history will be able to judge the failure or success of today’s policies, as it has the past reactions to terrorism. The best measure of its success may be this; we have not had another major attack on US soil since the pre-emptive strikes have taken place. The threat is still real, as the subway bombings in London and Spain have shown, yet we are fighting back and apparently with success.

The preceding was a paper I wrote for my english class this semester. I appoligize for the lack of pictures or other interesting visual stimulation, as Blogger and IE7 are not cooporating to put in pictures.

If you haven't read the paper, I don't mind, I'm putting it up as a reference, and to further Push Back the Frontiers of Ignorance regarding terrorism.

2 comments:

Detective J said...

I see some similarities between that war and our terrorism. Britian and France stayed out of the fray while the US fought. Hmm....

Palm boy said...

Hey, the United Kingdom has been solidly fighting against the terrorists throughout this war, from Afganistan to Iraq, and other smaller operations throughout the world.

France? Napolean was busy, and the French of today have their own issues.