- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 9, 2003

If diplomacy does not create a unified military front against Iraq's Saddam Hussein and the United States goes to war to disarm him, it won't be the nation's first solo expedition against terrorist regimes.
Much of America's early military history was set against the background of fighting terrorist regimes without the no-shows from other nations. The terrorist regimes were located in the Mediterranean, and as part of a British colony, Americans saw the mother country begin the policy of paying tribute to the so-called Barbary nations there Morocco, Algiers, Tunis and Tripoli.
These nations claimed control over the Mediterranean Sea, and "protection" of British commerce was to be ensured for a price.
After the American Colonies gained independence, diplomatic policy continued to reflect the British option of paying tribute on the grounds that it was less expensive than fighting Barbary pirates. But because the ante continually was raised and American seamen were captured and held hostage, the United States, under President Thomas Jefferson's leadership, eventually went to war against Tripoli and Algiers.
The Tripolitan War, which began in 1801, was replete with emotional incidents and heroes. It is mentioned in the lyrics of the "Marines' Hymn" "From the halls of Montezuma to the shores of Tripoli."
Young Stephen Decatur of the schooner Enterprise captured a Tripolitan vessel, which was later renamed the Intrepid, and used it in a daring mission. The Intrepid was appropriately disguised, placed under Decatur's command and ordered to sail into Tripoli's harbor to set fire to an American frigate, the Philadelphia, that had been captured earlier and used by the Tripolitans against other American ships.
On the night of Feb. 16, 1804, the mission to set the Philadelphia afire was completed without the loss of any American lives. Decatur was awarded a captain's commission.
Later in the war, he narrowly escaped death in a dramatic capture of two other enemy ships, an episode in which his brother, James, was killed. Peace came in 1805, although the treaty was not without embarrassment because the United States was required to pay ransom for prisoners.
However, the unfinished business with the Barbary terrorists was completed after America's War of 1812 with Britain. Decatur again sailed for the Mediterranean, this time with two squadrons, to suppress new piratical incursions. Exacting treaties in which tributes were renounced, captives returned and indemnities paid to the United States, Decatur returned home a hero.
However, his appearance at a victory celebration in his honor in Norfolk in 1816 provided an enigmatic twist to what otherwise seemed a satisfactory conclusion to the Barbary wars. During the innumerable toasts of the festive occasion, Decatur contributed his own.
"Our country," he said, "in her intercourse with foreign nations, may she always be in the right, but our country, right or wrong."
Decatur's letters and other sources shed little light on the deeper meaning of his words. But Americans at the time were in no mood for questioning Decatur or the ultimate outcome. They delighted in their military course, honored their heroes and for a time did exactly what diplomat John Jay had prophesied years earlier.
A war with the Barbary nations "does not strike me as a great evil," Jay said. "The more we are ill-treated abroad, the more we shall unite and consolidate at home."

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