Wednesday, October 25, 2006

You Would Weep

[posted by Callimachus]

A little more than 200 years ago, a bombastic U.S. agent named William Eaton (today he would be special op) led a handful of U.S. Marines, several hundred foreign mercenaries scraped from the taverns and brothels of Alexandria, and a pack of hired bedouins in a march across a desert that hadn't been crossed in force since classical times. They captured Tripoli's second largest city, then defended it against counter-attack and won a tremendous victory.

The tyrant of Tripoli had captured a U.S. warship and enslaved its 300 sailors. When they died in captivity, the Bashaw Yussef threw their bodies to the dogs in the street. The Jefferson administration wanted them free. America in those days had not entirely forgotten what "honor" meant.

The White House approved Eaton's mission, but didn't expect it to succeed. Until then, the only thing the Marines had going for them was a Washington, D.C., marching band which the citizens loved but the violin-playing Jefferson despised. Instead, he trusted the wily diplomats, who played the game the European way. Headlines in the administration mouthpiece newspaper blared "Millions for Defense but not a Cent for Tribute," but secretly Jefferson authorized ransom for the sailors.

So with a rival for the Tripoli throne, Hamet Bashaw, in tow, Eaton and his rag-tag army surprised everyone, Jefferson included, and conquered the city of Derne. It provided a line for the Marine song every boy used to know:

From the halls of Montezuma
To the shores of Tripoli
We will fight our country's battles
on the land as on the sea.
First to fight for right and freedom ...

And so on. It also provided the curved Memeluke sword on the Marine dress uniform that still commemorates what was, no matter what else, a glorious and honorable victory.

But the Marines' victory, when it came, was almost an embarrassment to the administration, since the diplomats were working things out smoothly with the tyrant, agreeing in principle, haggling over prices. They made sure Eaton and his followers never had a chance. The administration not only paid ransom, it accepted a treaty with a clause that set a going ransom rate for U.S. prisoners, thus encouraging the pirates to try to take more of them.

Worst of all, it sold out every honest ally the U.S. had in Libya. All the North Africans and Bedouins who had cast their lot with the Americans, all the residents of Derne who had helped the Americans defend it, the Arab women who had slipped between the lines and warned Eaton of their enemies' plots and plans, were left to their fate. Everyone knew the town would be looted and the inhabitants massacred when the Americans left. Eaton wrote from Derne to a friend describing his feelings when he read the diplomatic order to withdraw the American forces and the details of the deal that had been cut:

You would weep, Sir, were you on the spot, to witness the unfounded confidence placed in the American character here, and to reflect that this confidence must shortly sink into contempt and immortal hatred; ... but if no further aid comes to our assistance and we are compelled to leave the place under its actual circumstances, humanity itself must weep: The whole city of Derne, together with numerous families of Arabs who attached themselves to Hamet Bashaw and who resisted Yussef's troops in expectation of succour from us, must be abandoned to their fate -- havoc & slaughter will be the inevitable consequence -- not a soul of them can escape the savage vengeance of the enemy.

When the Associated Press opens a "news" story with the clause, "In a somber, pre-election review of a long and brutal war ..." you know we're going to drop it, we're going to "leave the place under its actual circumstances." You know there's no power of influence in Bush's White House that can cut past that, even if he decided now, too late, it was worth really trying.

Thanks to a pusillanimous political class, an attention-deficit public, an inept administration, and a malice-blinded media, we are going to leave.

The good people of Iraq will have to stand and face the bad people of Iraq and many other lands, on their own. It always was going to have to be them who won this war, not us. We went to Iraq to lose, to be told to go home. It was the only way to make the place what we wanted it to be: A strong, free, prosperous, and law-abiding country ruled transparently by its people. The question was, whether we would stay long enough to help build that country and receive its orders to depart, or whether it would be jihadis and thugs -- sorry, "insurgents" -- who would force us to leave too soon.

That answer is becoming clear. There will be consequences. The Kurds will feel them. But so will we. Weakness displayed before a weaker enemy is an invitation to further disaster. Just read Bin Laden.

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