Chuck Hagel: Dangerously ignorant of history

It is a tragedy that Chuck Hagel professes worry over morale in the military when he has contributed to the “pessimism that many troops feel about how the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have turned out.”

A few weeks ago Chuck Hagel showcased this pessimism at the Marine Corps Air Station in Miramar, California. During his speech to several hundred Marines, the Defense Secretary uttered a statement dishearteningly dishonest: that they should expect to return to their service's maritime roots and said future missions will not involve forcing American values "down anybody's throat."

At a time when Iraq is engulfed by sectarian warfare in light of President’s Obama’s retreat and when the Taliban is on the rise again in Afghanistan, it is utterly ridiculous to spin redeployments as some kind of victory. This “Mission Completed” will prove to be just as premature as “Mission Accomplished.”

It is also the height of irony that Hagel declares that the Marines will return to their maritime roots in the very same breath that he denounces their most recent service as forcing American values “down anybody’s throat.” There is nothing more in keeping with the tradition of the Marines than fighting to promote American values. The very first conflict fought abroad by the United States, the wars against the Barbary pirates, was fought against the same enemy we fight today.

As a quick historical primer:

The First Barbary War was an undeclared war waged by the United States against the North African states of Morocco, Tripoli, Algiers, and Tunis. The principle cause of the war was that those states harbored and supported the actions of pirates against American shipping vessels in the Mediterranean Sea. The war, which lasted from 1801 to 1805, did not completely end the acts of piracy against American vessels, but it did prove that the United States was capable of waging war, if necessary, in places far from its own shores.

In the context of the early 1800s, Pirates are today’s terrorists. The wars fought now in the Middle East (however grudgingly and incompetently by the Obama administration) were started under the banner of President Bush’s War on Terror, the principle cause of which was support for terrorism against America by the rogue states of Afghanistan and Iraq. Piracy was not ended with the defeat of Tripoli, and American engagement in the Middle East has not been able to end terrorism. America was unequivocally victorious because President Jefferson could name the enemy. President Obama, along with much of the West, still refuses to name the animating force behind America’s first transnational foe. Thus we continue to hear lies about the ‘religion of peace’ and condemnations of generic extremism in the face of killing, raping, and pillaging by Muslims.

In France, Jefferson asked Tripoli's ambassador what right Tripoli had to extort money and take slaves. According to Jefferson, the ambassador answered that such a right was founded on the Laws of the Prophet: that it was written in the Koran that all nations who did not recognize their authority were sinners; that it was their right and duty to make war upon them wherever they could be found; and to make slaves of all they could take as prisoners; and that every Muslim slain in battle was sure to go to heaven.

The common theme motivating the crimes of the enemy both then and now, whether called piracy or terrorism, is Islamic supremacism. An excuse of colonialism or any other kind of grievance rings hollow when justifications given by the ambassador of Tripoli should sound familiar to anyone who follows the depredations of the Islamic State. The constant proclamations by the group are meticulous in their adherence to traditional Islamic standards. In their pamphlet covering the topic of female captives and slaves, the Islamic State continues the proud tradition of Muslim slavery practiced by both Muhammad and the Barbary Pirates.

Hagel maintains that "human rights, freedom, people having rights to decide their own lives for their own families and opportunities.” is universal, but that “How they do that, how they structure that, that should be up to them, not to us or anybody else.  What he and so many others miss is that Islam’s fundamentals, Sharia law as a political institution, are incompatible with freedom and human rights. There is no Islamic country anywhere in the world that is free, according to Freedom House: “the Middle East and North Africa registered the worst civil liberties scores of any region.”

That “partner nations and allies should have the capabilities and institutions to defend themselves” is not questioned. In fact, the very goal that America has been working toward in both Iraq and Afghanistan, the very reason our troops have stayed in those countries is to build up local institutions. Yet in the context of a wholesale retreat from the Middle East, that “should have” is nothing more than wishful thinking. Iraq has already collapsed as a functioning nation-state, and it is a denial of reality to chide “American-made solutions” when American military presence was the only thing preventing the complete victory of evil in the form of Islamic fanatics.

If American values are truly universal, then the Marines and all of our military are liberators who deserve to be lauded, not scolded for “making a huge mistake”. The ideals of human rights and freedom are quintessentially but not exclusively American. They are worth fighting for and our military, the ones who fight on our behalf, deserve better than budget cuts, condescension, and blind leadership. It is no surprise that morale is low when our soldiers are treated as the enemy, and our real enemy is not mentioned.