There are some very basic historical lessons, the validity of which has been verified in conflict after conflict down through the ages, that hold equally true in this context. Such lessons are easily reduced to truisms or even clichéd slogans. For example, “Wars are best fought by Generals in the field, not Politicians at home,” “Unilateral Action is better than Multilateral Inaction,” “If you desire peace, you must prepare for war,” and the always popular, “there is no substitute for victory.” These are all quite true and substantively so, and easily emerge from the history if the Barbary conflict. There are several other, no less weighty, lessons of this sort that can be readily learned from this historical experience.
To strike a broader note, however, I’d say that first, and perhaps most importantly, we need to be honest about the enemy we face before we can seriously try and understand what they are really doing and trying to accomplish. It handicaps our efforts to presume that our enemy is like us, or shares our world-view and our cultural understandings, or, for that matter, to presume that most of the world wants “peace” and will rationally side with us, or even aid and abet us, given the chance.
The Barbary pirates were engaged in jihad first and foremost, and moneymaking only secondarily. The powerful nations of the world were content to endure this Barbary terrorism for reasons of national self-interest and out of a mercantilist understanding of the world. It was thought to be much simpler for them to bribe the pirates to stave off unwanted commercial competition than to actually neutralize the threat.
In contemporary terms, for example, was it really all that surprising that the French, Germans, and Russians stymied our efforts to go after Iraq at the United Nations? Is it really in our best interests to tread this sort of path with Iran?
You can read the rest of the interview here. So read it. Then get someone else to read it. Too many people in this country are seriously lacking a clue about the people we are fighting. And we need one. Desperately.