In the early 1800s Barbary Coast pirates were attacking shipping in the Mediterranean Sea. Some of those ships were U.S. ships and American sailors were often abducted and then sold back to the U.S for a ransom. President Thomas Jefferson ordered U.S. Navy vessels to the Mediterranean Sea to stop this nonsense. In 1803 the United States Marines were ordered to attack Tripoli. In 1805 the United States won a major victory when U.S. land forces in North Africa supported by the USS Argus and the USS Hornet along with U.S marines captured Derna and deposed Yusuf Karamanli. Marine Lieutenant Presley O’Bannon commanded the victorious Marines and was awarded a special sword. That sword now serves as the pattern for swords carried by Marine officers and most of us recognize “to the shores of Tripoli” from the official song of the Marine Corp.
The point is that the United States has always been more than a little prickly about people who attack our ships in international water. In 1798, at a dinner in honor of John Marshal, Robert Goodloe Harper made a toast: “Millions for defense, but not a cent for tribute.”
Iran would be wise to study this history. It is extremely unlikely that Great Britain will ignore the seizure of two tankers today. One was sailing under the flag of Great Britain; the other was under another flag but was staffed by British sailors. Many pundits are talking about a measured response and a bump in the road. I fear they are wrong about that. I doubt that Trump or anyone else will go to war over this, but they also won’t ignore it. My guess is that military action is already being planned and at a minimum any further stunts like this will result in an immediate and overwhelming response.
It wouldn’t be surprising to learn that the leaders in Iran neither approved of this action nor even knew it was happening. Some local militia commanders may have thought this a sterling plan. If that is true, there Iran may already be desperately negotiating a face-saving resolution behind the scenes. It would literally be suicidal for them to allow this to escalate any further. Just recently they offered strong hints that they wanted to negotiate their way out of this mess.
Rand Paul has been authorized by Donald Trump to meet with Iran Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif next week. Paul may be a brilliant choice, because he has been a long and frequent critic of foreign intervention by the U.S. This may be the ultimate good cop, bad cop routine. Paul is there to advise them there is a way out and to offer to negotiate with them. But he will also warn them that Donald Trump is more than willing to take them on, and if he is unable to reach a deal, they will be dealing with a highly unpredictable Donald Trump.
These are dangerous times, made more dangerous by the irresponsible rhetoric from the liberal left and the MSM. This is one time we should all unite behind our President so that Iran will have the strongest possible incentive to negotiate a solution to this.
In the meantime, things have crossed a line that cannot be ignored. No U.S. President will be willing to tolerate attacks on our ships in international waters. I take it back, Barack Obama did exactly that. But this President is not Barack Obama and he is unlikely to take this lying down. More importantly, it looks like Boris Johnson is poised to be the next Prime Minister of Great Britain. If that happens, he is extremely unlikely to start his term in office by letting Iran commandeer British vessels in international waters.
This is 2019, and not 1798, but some things never really change. This is one of them.