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.

America’s Next Boogeyman, Part I of II

edit: As I was writing this article, the tragedy at the Wisconsin Sikh temple struck. My thoughts are with the families of everyone involved.

Watching the Olympics got the wheels in my head turning. Not about doping, or if the U.S. will win the most gold medals. Not even the absurdity of having NBA players taking the court under the U.S. banner. Naw. I’m more interested in the fact that our Olympic delegation accomplished the impossible. They were able to bring two polar opposites into my little world–the middle. John Boehner, Nancy Pelosi, and Harry Reid, along with other key Republican and Democrat leaders united to chastise the decision to dress our Olympians in Ralph Lauren designed, Chinese-made uniforms.

A recent article in The Diplomat written by Minxin Pei explores whether or not it is sound political policy to attack the Chinese as America’s new boogeyman at this time.

These American politicians may think bashing China during hard times in the U.S. before an election is good political strategy. By showing America’s unemployed workers that they feel their pain, they could get their votes in November. In reality, however, the same politicians must know that blaming China for America’s economic woes will not alleviate the suffering of ordinary Americans.

Such gratuitous China-bashing is, needless to say, hypocritical. The loss of blue-collar workers in general, and workers in the textile industry in particular, is caused primarily by technological progress and market forces, and not by China. Even if Team USA’s uniforms were not made in China, they would be made in Vietnam, Indonesia, or India, but not in North Carolina.

If China isn’t our current boogeyman, who is then? Terrorists? With the death of Bin Laden, Al Qaeda has been crippled. Iran? North Korea? Right now, it would appear this administration would prefer to have international organizations handle them rather than assert global hegemony. Our boogeymen are reactionary to U.S. behavior. Iran and North Korea may posture and showboat, but as our new threats they have a way to go.

For America’s next boogeyman, we need only look as far as ourselves.

 The Groups

America has certainly had its share of boogeymen in the past. Some more hostile than others; some external and some homegrown. We’ve had some important trends that we  can certainly glean information from with regard to how the U.S. cultivates its enemies. In order to better understand our real and perceived threats I have created three categories, three groups that define the ways that the world perceives America and its special interests.

The first group is obvious to anyone living today: The Reactionaries. This group consists of a wide swath of people who have been pushed to their limits of tolerance toward the United States, and include the modern-day Jihadist, but also include various Native American tribes and smaller nations like the Philippines and Mexico.

The second group comprises nation-states. The Hegemons are world powers that sought to challenge the United States in global dominance, or attempted to create their own new world orders. Communism, Nazi Germany, and Britain all fall into this category.

The final group is the most frightening of them all. The Nativists.This group could alternately be called the McVieghs, the Browns, or the Klan. The boogeymen in the Nativist grouping all have one thing in common: A firm belief that their view of America, and, more importantly, themselves as true Americans, is the purest definition. They envision slights by the Federal or state government toward their view of America. They find fault in the democratic-capitalism system and seek to amend it. On the whole, this group is born and bred in the United States. They could be your neighbor. They live under the protections of Bill of Rights. And, they are our next boogeyman.

History’s Lessons

Unlike U.S. foreign policy which has had nice ebbs and flows from isolation, to imperialism, to collective security, the exploration of America’s boogeyman is harder to plot on a timeline. There have been periods where the United States has had to deal with more than one (1840-1877 for instance), and there have been quiet lulls. Since our fear-mongering isn’t a cyclical event, we need to look instead at the origins and causes of these various groups.

 The Reactionaries

In simple, broad terms, the Reactionaries are pushing back at an implied or direct threat from the United States. From there, the groups become as diverse as the fabric of America itself.

Our first group of Reactionaries were the people here first, the Native American nations. As colonial migration pressed westward, the tribes felt it necessary to defend their natural homelands. As early as 1622 in Virginia, white settlers feared that which lurked in the woods just beyond the ramparts of their villages. The Native American boogeyman would slip in and out of the collective American consciousness until the Battle at Wounded Knee in 1890 with the last uprising of the Native Americans. Our next set of Reactionaries follow on the heels of ending of the Indian “troubles.” As America finished its Manifest Destiny across the continent, a world beyond the seas awaited us. Driven by what Rudyard Kipling called “the white man’s burden” Americans entered into a brief period of intense imperialism. Pushing back against our interjections of Judeo-Christian beliefs and capitalism/democracy were the Hawaiians, Filipinos, and Mexicans to name a few. Groups like Al Qaeda comprise yet another Reactionary specter. Since the creation of Israel and expansion of western ideals into the Middle East, various incarnations of Islamic terrorists have darkened our thoughts. (Yet, it must not be forgotten that the United States has had a long history of poor relations with Middle Eastern nations harkening back to Thomas Jefferson’s administration and his handling of the Barbary Coast).

 The Hegemons

It cannot be forgotten that America was born through terrorism. As a part of the British Empire, our Founding Fathers knew that they were committing high crimes and treason against the crown. From the viewpoint of the British, the Boston Tea Party could be seen as a terrorist act. Beyond the Revolution, our relationship with Britain was a tenuous one throughout our early history, and earned the British the right to be considered our first hegemonic monster. Germany will take the honor from Britain in both World Wars, and Americans will rally to thwart the Huns in their quest for world domination. However, it isn’t until the fall of Europe in 1945 that the U.S. peers deep into the dark closet to find yet a more frightening creature–Communism. There can be little doubt that the former Soviet Union shook America to its core. All aspects of American life changed because of the red menace. Hollywood came under fire in the 1950s; Dominos were sure to fall in Asia. More wars were fought to stem the perceived encroachment of communist ideologies than all wars America engaged in prior. With the collapse of the Soviet empire in the early 1990s, the United States has been adrift. We needed someone to threaten us. We needed a reason to maintain the military industrial complex. Threats keep people in jobs, kept the economy stimulated. And now, our politicians are looking to shift the red spectrum onto China. This is short-sided at best.

Tomorrow, I will conclude with the final group–The Nativists, a case study of homegrown horror, and my conclusions.