The US and Islam: 200 Years of Bad Foreign-policy

Top Photo:Burning of the Frigate Philadelphia in the Harbor of Tripoli by Edward Moran (Public Domain). Second Photo: Protest led by Pastor Terry Jones by Mark Taylor (Creative Commons)

One of the major talking points people use against libertarianism is that we are soft on radical Islam (or simply soft on Islam altogether). While many on the American right-left spectrum will bring up treatment of women, homosexuals or a supposed stubborn resistance to western culture, most libertarians will simply say “as long as he/she isn’t hurting anyone, I don’t care”. Our stance on foreign policy (in regards to the Middle East) is met with equal amounts of criticism. But of all the reasons why people say we should NOT pull out of the Arabian peninsula, none aroused my suspicion more than the phrase “we have been at war with Islam since the Barbary Wars!” 

For those of you who don’t know, the Barbary Wars were two separate wars fought between the United States of America and the Barbary states (modern-day Tunis, Algiers and Tripoli). Occurring between 1801 and 1815, war was first declared by Yusef Karamanli, the Pasha of Tripoli, by way of cutting down the flagstaff in front of the United States Consulate.

The cause was simple: the pirates of these regions (empowered by their rulers) demanded tribute for safe passage through their waters. If tribute was not paid, the pirates would attack the ship, steal the goods and often (though not always) enslave the crew and/or hold them for ransom. Seems pretty cut and dry, right? They attacked us first, we responded… but wait a second…
As libertarians, do we not hold that a country has a right to impose whatever laws it sees fit to foreigners traveling through its territory? We may not like it, but libertarian foreign policy has always been pretty clear about this – or so I thought anyway. If we do not like it, we do not go there. Simple!

The fact is, we (The United States) decided we didn’t like a sovereign countries laws and customs but we did like the goods and resources they possessed, so we said “no, screw you guys… it’s fighting time”. (Sound familiar?)

And so we fought. President Thomas Jefferson (a hero among libertarians) revitalized our decommissioned Navy to protect our ships. The Barbary States actually managed a few successes against our fledgling Navy, but ultimately lost and (after the Second Barbary War) granted the United States safe passage through their waters.

Fast forward to the present: nothing has changed it seems.

We are still deciding what laws we like, which ones we don’t like, and then exerting our will (via force) against states that have either shown us no aggression or have done so in response to our previous aggression.

It seems more than 200 years of one-sided foreign policy has taught us nothing. In fact, it’s almost as if we have become more stupid when it comes to fostering better relations. Jefferson refused to abide by the laws of a sovereign country, but at least he tried to keep peace by sending gifts and tokens of good will. Today, we send ominous, scorched-earth threats that end with “do this or else”. Imagine if another country said that to us, imagine if someone said that to you; would you just roll over?

We have treated Islam with a boogeyman foreign policy mentality and it clearly does nothing more than tick off people we could otherwise be doing business with.

So to those supporting travel bans with apologetic defenses of supposed Western values, I would suggest you pick up a history book… it helps!

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