Sunday, June 12, 2011

Why We Go To Tripoli


Congress and the American public want to know why we fight in Libya. While President Obama might have a hard time explaining it, to me it is quite clear.

Those against US and military action seem to view Muammar Gadhaffi as a benevolent dictator, whose behavior is none of America’s business, a view that fails to take into account our mutual history. Ghadaffi is more reminiscent of Yusuf Karamanli, the Tyrant of Tripoli who pirated American merchant ships, enslaved their passengers and crews and demanded payment in millions of dollars in tributes and ransom.

Americans responded with the motto, “millions for defense but not one sent of tribute,” and a reluctant Congress approved funds for the construction of ships and the founding of a Navy to fight the pirates.

Under the command of Capt. John Barry, the “Father of the US Navy,” Stephen Decatur and Richard Somers were two of the first Midshipmen to enter the service, and became national heroes for their actions against the Barbary pirates. Other officers who distinguished themselves were Lt. Andrew Sterett, of the schooner Enterprise, who soundly defeated the pirate ship Tripoli in the first engagement, and Capt. William Bainbridge, who ran the frigate USS Philadelphia aground while chasing a pirate corsair into Tripoli harbor. Bainbridge spent the rest of the war with his 300 man crew as Karamanli’s prisoners in the dungeons of the old castle fort.

Today these heroes are remembered by the ships named after them - the USS Sterret is patrolling off Africa, the US Navy SEALS shot pirates from the deck of the USS Bainbridge and the USS Barry launched missiles in the first round of the UN backed NATO attack against Gadhafi forces in Libya.

Cynthia McKinney once represented Decatur, Georgia in Congress, while Condi Rice visited Ghadafi in Tripoli two hundred and four years to the day that Richard Somers was killed in the explosion of the USS Intrepid in Tripoli harbor. The aircraft carriers Enterprise and Intrepid were named after their Barbary war counterparts.

The old castle fort is now a museum that includes, beside ancient Roman artifacts, the Volkswagon that Col. Gadhafi drove into Tripoli during his 1969 coup.

We are historically doomed to compare the revolution in Libya to Iraq or Afghanistan, as the US military has made it quite clear that the lessons of Iraq will prevent them, at least in our lifetime, from invading any country with the intention of occupying it, as that is a mission they will not accept.

What we will see is an increase in the number of missions like the one undertaken by the US Navy SEALS to kill Osama Bin Laden, small special operations with clear and achievable missions. Not unlike the one undertaken by William Eaton and Pesley O’Bannon, eight marines and a ragtag army of volunteers and mercenaries that resembles the rebels fighting Gadhafi today.

Just as T. E. Lawrence and his motley band marched across the desert and took Akaba from the defenseless rear, Eaton’s small army took the eastern port city of Derna in a battle that lasted a little over an hour. After repulsing a counter-attack by loyalist forces, they were about to march on Tripli, when American diplomat Tobias Lear agreed to a treaty with Youseff Karamanli to free Capt. Bainbridge and his men for a payment of ransom.

That treaty went against the principles they were fighting for, betrayed those Libyans who fought with us, and left Karamanli in power. When the Navy held a ceremony at the graves of the Intrepid men in 1949, Prince Karamanli was part of the proceedings.

Now the United States, which had previously supported the entrenched dictatorial Arab regimes because of their support of America’s foreign policy, is pledging support for the revolutionaries, possibly completing the unfinished march on Tripoli that Eaton and Presley began over two hundred years ago.

America goes to Tripoli, not for oil or bases, but to support the principles that were the basis for the American Revolution, principles that have been taken up by the Arab youth today – economic freedom, liberty, justice and democracy.

When the revolution gets to Green Square, and it is renamed Martyr’s Square, in honor of all those who have died fighting for these ideals, the only real martyr’s actually buried there are Americans - US Navy Master Commandant Richard Somers and the men of the USS Intrepid.

We go to Tripoli to rejoin the American revolution.

By William E. Kelly, Jr.

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