The Barbary Wars: America’s Most Successful Foreign Intervention

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The Barbary Wars: America’s Most Successful Foreign Intervention

The Barbary Wars: America’s Most Successful Foreign Intervention

Since its foundation in 1775 the United States has become well known for its tendency to intervene in foreign countries when its national security is threatened. But while much has been written and discussed about the recent errors of Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan, very little attention has been given to the United States of America’s adventure to North Africa in the 19th century. The earliest and perhaps most successful example of American interventionism, the Barbary Wars, raged between 1801 and 1815, pitting American seamen and marines against fearsome Mediterranean pirates. However, unlike many of their later invasions, and viewed in its proper historical context, it seems American actions here were fully justified.

A Barbary pirate, by Pier Francesco Mola, (1650) (Public Domain)

A Barbary pirate, by Pier Francesco Mola, (1650) (Public Domain)

The Barbary Pirates

To most, the 1492 expulsion of the Muslims from Granada by Spanish crusaders is most famous for marking the final act of the Reconquista, but it is also incidentally where the story of the Barbary pirates begins. In the fallout a pirate captain called Barbarossa, wishing to capitalize on the resulting political chaos, led a series of daring sallies against the North African cities of Djerba and Algiers. Barbarossa’s actions did not go unnoticed and he was soon talent-spotted by the Ottomans, a major regional player, and made commander-in-chief of their navy.


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