Algerian Policy: Then And Now

Paying Tribute to the Dey of Algiers

Paying Tribute to the Dey of Algiers

The recent attack and hostage crisis in Algeria is cause for some reflection on U.S. foreign policy.

In essence, President Obama’s core tenant in foreign policy, as stated and reflected in the last four years, is one of negotiation and collaboration rather than unilateralism and confrontation. The other pillar of Obama’s foreign policy is that the people of the world should be able to deal with their government independently of the United States. This harkens to the words of FDR in his Good Neighbor Policy.

I know — I know there has been controversy about the promotion of democracy in recent years, and much of this controversy is connected to the war in Iraq.  So let me be clear: No system of government can or should be imposed by one nation by any other. (President Obama, Cairo, June 4, 2009)

How has this worked?

AQ-in-SahelIn North Africa, the jury is out. Egypt is seeing the rise of a pro-Muslim Brotherhood government that is working to stem the powers of Egypt’s Constitution. Collaboration in Syria has led to a rise in an anti-Isaeli, fundamentalist Islamist state that fervently clings to power while the world watches as it destroys its citizens. In Mali, the French military is attempting to squelch the rise of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) using the African nation as a post for world-wide terrorism. In my opinion, relying on the French is like hoping that the hungry lion won’t devour the helpless gazelle.

Some political leaders praise the president for removing the threat of the war that the Bush years brought America; others condemn this policy for weakening America in the eyes of the world.

This has been the public version of the Obama Doctrine. However, despite the fact that the U.S. media really doesn’t highlight it, President Obama’s policy has been distinctly unilateral.

They are hard to find, not widely published, and I would suspect you don’t know this fact of the Obama Doctrine: Drone missile attacks are rampant in this administration.

Since the start of the 2013 year, the Obama Administration has launched six attacks in Pakistan alone (Khaama Press). [Stats: 2009–53 drone strikes; 2010–117; 2011–64; 2012–46 all in Pakistan alone. These do not count attacks in Africa and other nations]

Pakistani's protest Obama's missile policy, 2009

Pakistani’s protest Obama’s missile policy, 2009

To those who praised the president’s reversal from the eight years of aggressive Bush policies as making a better world for all miss the fact that the drones kill innocents just as often as boots on the ground.

What we have then, is akin to the U.S. relationship with the Barbary States in the late 1700s and early 1800s.

In 1795, the U.S. agreed to a treaty with Algiers in which the United States would pay a tribute to the dey of Algiers. This tribute constituted nearly twenty percent of the U.S. budget at the time. All this to keep U.S. shipping and sailors safe in North African waters.

Thomas Jefferson felt differently.

Our trade to Portugal, Spain, and the Mediterranean is annihilated unless we do something decisive. Tribute or war is the usual alternative of these pirates. If we yeild [sic] the former, it will require sums which our people will feel. Why not begin a navy then and decide on war? We cannot begin in a better cause nor against a weaker foe. (Jefferson to Horatio Gates, Dec. 13, 1784)


President Obama sits at the same juncture with Algeria today. Does the United States capitulate to the wishes of a ruthless group–pay tributes, allow foreign governments and their citizens to make decisions that impact the U.S.–or does he decide on war?

It would appear that he has opted for both.

Publicly, the president wants America, and the world for that matter, to see him as a good neighbor. The reports on his drone strikes are out there in the ether, but those of us who follow foreign policy have to dig deep for them. Mainstream media, for whatever reason, has back-burnered this news. Maybe the body count on soldiers that grabbed ratings don’t translate to drone attacks.

What has happened, though, is counter to what the Obama Administration has hoped for.

Instead of a world growing fonder of a kinder, gentler United States, radical cells in Africa see America as weak, and they know that a coalition of force will never come to fruition. The people of Europe are hard to persuade to go to war (see France in the First Gulf War, see everyone and Syria).

AQIM knows this.

Evidence: The hostage crisis in Algeria.

The British SAS, German KSK, US Navy Seals, and French GIGN would all have handled the situation much better than the Algerian forces (not to knock those soldiers for what they did). However, this was the exact time that the world needed a leader to step up, but what we had instead, was confusion and disorder. Neither the British nor the French knew in advance of the Algerian assault. The United States “monitored” the situation…

Speaking Friday at Kings College in London, Panetta said the U.S. is “working around the clock to ensure the safe return of our citizens.”

Panetta said the terrorists should be on notice they will find no sanctuary in Algeria or North Africa and said anyone who looks to attack the U.S. will have “no place to hide.”


Panetta met later Friday with British Prime Minister David Cameron. Discussion of Islamic militant operations in Mali and Algeria dominated the unscheduled meeting, senior U.S. defense officials said, though the two also discussed budget issues, Syria, Iran and how they can work with other countries to address counter-terrorism.


In Washington, the White House said President Barack Obama was being briefed Friday by his national security team. His top aides were in touch with Algerian officials as well as BP’s security office in London. BP jointly operates the natural gas plant.

Administration officials, seeking to explain the lack of information from the U.S., said the situation on the ground was fluid, and officials did not want to put the hostages at further risk by providing real-time updates. (The Guardian)

The United States is faced again with a band of pirates holding our people, and people of other nations, hostage. Our government has two options: Pay them off or declare war.

It would seem to me that this administration is trying to do both. A secret drone war and a quiet, almost tacit acceptance of a growing Islamist in Egypt and a new Constitution based on Sharia law (read more here courtesy of The New York Times). The drone war only serves to antagonize groups like AQIM while the apparent support for Islamists tells them that retaliation will be minimal to none despite what Leon Panetta said in England.

This administration needs to choose one route, stick by it, and live with the consequences.


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