Friday, June 24, 2005

Unilateral War As Practiced By...Thomas Jefferson

I am always amused by the appropriation of historical figures by modern partisans, as if they or we have any clue as to how Winston Churchill or George Orwell would react to, say, 9/11. Sure, we can make educated guesses, but guesses they remain.

Still, I find the following passage from Christopher Hitchen's new biography of Thomas Jefferson quite instructive:
Yusuf Karamanli, the ruler of Tripoli, had been rash enough to issue an ultimatum to the United States in late 1800, threatening war if his exorbitant conditions [regarding, essentially, tribute to avoid kidnapping] were not met. President Jefferson decided to take this latent declaration of war at face value. He secured agreement from his cabinet on the dispatch of a squadron, and further determined not to trouble Congress with the matter. Its members were in recess anyway, but surely the president in time of war had the authority to act alone?* Only three months after his inauguration, the squadron was on the high seas, and Jefferson did not inform Congress until the warships had sailed far enough to be effectively beyond recall. Over the next four years*, the Barbary coast was effectively "pacified" by a unilateral American expedition, laconically described by the president as a continuous "cruise".
*[emphasis mine]

By this standard, the Iraq War had near unanimous support...

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