Back to the Shores of Tripoli: The Lessons of 9/11

The magic of youth can transform a nightmare into a memory. Over the past weekend, the students and the University commemorated the ten-year anniversary of the 9/11 attacks with a dizzying array of events—speeches, conferences, exhibits, interfaith dialogues, flag runs, and candlelight vigils. Ubiquitous on the Grounds were students wearing yellow ribbons: we remember 9/11.

Magic, indeed, because this is truly a melancholy ten-year anniversary. Ten years later, we are a nation at war in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya. Defense spending in constant dollars is at its highest level since World War II. Meanwhile, according to new Census Bureau information, poverty levels in the U.S. are at a 52-year high, and nearly 50 million Americans between the ages of 18 and 64 have not worked in the past year. One in five children live below the poverty line. Official unemployment has remained over 9 percent for years, and that includes only those who have not given up actively seeking work. Meanwhile, our leaders in Washington cannot agree on the problems that beset the country, and new political movements decry government involvement in social welfare, the bipartisan approach since 1933.

Looking back to 2001, Mel Leffler, a distinguished diplomatic historian in the College, argued in the current issue of Foreign Affairs that the tragedy of 9/11, among others, was an opportunity missed. In spite of campaign talk about a reinvigorated, strong defense establishment, George W. Bush was a president who, on the eve of 9/11, was focused on his domestic agenda: tax cuts, education reform, faith-based voluntarism, and energy policy. Then the disaster struck and a momentary national unity dissolved into endless conflict and bickering, over the Iraq War, over the 2008 financial crisis, and on and on. Most Americans seem fed up with Washington in particular and politicians in general.

It thus appears that 2001 was the beginning of a decade that finds us where we are today—disillusioned, dismayed, discomfited. Paradoxically, though, the second decade of this century has opened with major rays of hope in the form of the “Arab Spring” that began earlier this year. This modern political movement that has nothing to do with terrorism has made Al Qaeda’s antediluvian calls for a new Islamic Caliphate finally appear as anachronistic as they in fact are. The Arab Spring extended into late summer when a NATO coalition helped Libyans overthrow the Qadaffi regime. The rebels took control of the capital almost exactly on the 9/11 anniversary—a victory on the shores of Tripoli.

Unbeknownst to most Americans, 2001 also marked the two hundred year anniversary of a war that offers telling parallels to the current war in Libya, and a possible path toward reimagining our foreign relations in the twentieth-first century. I am thinking about the first Barbary War, fought “on the shores of Tripoli” (hence the phrase in the Marine anthem). The president at the time was Thomas Jefferson. It was the only war that he executed during his presidency, and he did so with his characteristic wisdom, courage and brilliance. It was an excellent example of the judicious conduct of foreign affairs, encountering unfamiliar enemies with unfamiliar beliefs in far away lands, but “getting the job done” without entangling Americans in their domestic affairs—or causing a civil war among Libyan tribes.

Within three months of his inauguration, Jefferson found himself in a war with the Pasha of Tripoli. As Henry Adams tells the story in his magnificent study of the presidencies of Jefferson and Madison, from time immemorial the northern coast of Africa had been occupied by pirates who “figured in the story of Don Quixote as in the lies of Scapin, and enlivened with picturesque barbarism the semi-civilization of European habits and manners through centuries of slow growth.” The four Barbary Powers – Morocco, Algiers, Tunis, and Tripoli – lived on blackmail. The United States, like nations in Europe, had purchased safe passage with all four powers, and in the ten years preceding the inauguration of Jefferson, had paid more than two million dollars in ransom, gifts, and tribute. However, when the new president rebuffed additional extortions from the Pasha of Tripoli on May 14, 1801, he declared war on the U.S. and chopped down the flagstaff that stood in front of the American Consulate. Algiers, Tunis, and Morocco were also clamoring for more tribute; there was reason to believe that they might make common cause with Tripoli.

The pirates were not worthy enemies, of course, and, according to Jefferson’s detractors, their defeat was not worth deploying expensive new frigates. Still, something had to be done to bring an end to a century and a half of piracy. And so over the next four years, in what Jefferson laconically described as a “cruise,” his navy and newly-created Marines bombarded and attacked the harbors of northern Africa. The USS Argus, Chesapeake, Constellation, Constitution (not yet dubbed “Old Ironsides”), Enterprise, Intrepid, Philadelphia, and Syren all saw service during this war, under the overall command of Commodore Edward Preble.

The regime in Tripoli, however, remained defiant and even succeeded in capturing the USS Philadelphia in 1803. The blackmailers feared that if they buckled under foreign pressure, their own subjects might revolt. In 1804, in the most heroic episode of the Barbary War, Captain Stephen Decatur Jr. sailed into Tripoli, set fire to the captured Philadelphia (to deny her use to the enemy), rescued the crew from imprisonment, bombarded the fortified town, and boarded the Pasha’s fleet at anchor, in what Lord Nelson himself would call “the most bold and daring act of the age.”

As the summer of 1805 approached, however, despite the success of the naval action and blockade, it was still not clear that the Pasha would sue for peace. William Bainbridge, the captain of the Philadelphia, believed that President Jefferson had to choose between paying a ransom in gold or blood. He thought it would take ten thousand troops to take the Pasha’s castle in Tripoli.

As it turned out, victory was won without invasion. William Eaton, a Connecticut Yankee with a classical education at Dartmouth, was hell-bent on regime change in Tripoli by whatever means necessary. No fan of Thomas Jefferson, he scoffed at the idea of a political millennium “ushered in upon us as the irresistible consequence of the goodness of heart, integrity of mind, and correctness of disposition of Mr. Jefferson,” and ridiculed the notion that “all nations, even pirates and savages, were to be moved by the influence of his persuasive virtue and masterly skill in diplomacy.”

As T. E. Lawrence would do in Arabia a century later, Eaton put himself at the head of a most improbable army. As Adams writes, “so motley a horde of Americans, Greeks, Tripolitans and Arab camel-drivers had never before been seen on the soil of Egypt.” Eaton led his mercenaries across five hundred miles of desert until they reached the city of Derne. Three American cruisers bombarded from the sea as Eaton and his men stormed the walls of the harbor fortress and took the city. After a failed attempt to win it back, the Pasha finally threw in the towel.

The battle on the shores of Tripoli was the first time that US Marines fought on foreign soil. It would not be the last. Still, there are lessons to be learned. The limited objectives that Jefferson pursued are a pristine example of what the political theorist and philosopher Michael Walzer has called a “just war,” in the modern sense. It was a war with all the requisites: it began in self-defense, it had a good cause and right intention, a high probability of success, and the important measure of proportionality. Finally, war came as the last resort, after both bribery and diplomacy had failed. It was also modern in a less edifying sense: Jefferson did not request a declaration of war from Congress.

Apart from that lapse, which now seems routine (no American president since 1941 has gone to war according to the provisions of the Constitution), the Barbary War had a moral basis that goes beyond attacking terrorists, which the pirates certainly also were. Between 1530 and 1780, over one million Europeans and Americans were enslaved in Islamic North Africa, captured by pirates whose corsairs raided as far north as England and Ireland; in 1631, in the famous “sack of Baltimore” an entire Irish village disappeared into slavery in a single night.

A proportional response to the havoc caused by the terrorists on the fateful day of 9/11 was to capture and punish those who perpetrated the act—as we eventually did ten years later, picking off Osama bin Laden in his hideout in Pakistan, a stealthy and successful action that spilled as little blood as possible, using not local mercenaries but a small, coherent, highly-trained force of Navy SEALS. Across the border in Afghanistan, ten years after 2001, our efforts to dislodge the Taliban and deny a haven to Al Qaeda still grinds on, with 100,000 American boots on the ground.

Somehow, our strategy in Libya seems more Jeffersonian: the limited use of force (in this case to save civilian lives), support for a modern (and we hope democratic) movement against dictatorship, limited objectives, and keeping American boots off the ground. The Arab Spring has brought forth reasons to hope that the future will be better than the decade-long remains of that terrible September day.

40 Responses to “Back to the Shores of Tripoli: The Lessons of 9/11”

  1. Josh Wilcoxson says:

    “If tyranny and oppression come to this land, it will be in the
    guise of fighting a foreign enemy.” – James Madison

  2. Mark Riley CLAS1973 says:

    An outstanding article – thanks

  3. Jeff Wilde says:

    Hello Ms. Woo,

    I very much enjoyed reading your article, very timely and informative – plus I learned many details from that period that I did not know.

    Well done,

    Jeff Wilde

  4. William Harlan says:

    Interesting that Jefferson earlier had opposed a strong federal government though wishing to side with France in the revolutionary chaos decided to pursue a foreign conflict unilaterally. Was this a move toward Hamilton’s international view?
    Bill Harlan

  5. Jules Abramson says:

    Appreciate this concise and insightful merging of history and the present. I learned something today. :)

  6. Rosa Ann Thomas Moore says:

    Thanks so much for this wonderful history. When I was in about the fifth grade in Roanoke, Virginia (during WW II), we learned to sing the Marines’ Hymn:

    “From the halls of Montezuma
    to the shores of Tripoli,
    we have fought our country’s battles
    in the air, on land, and sea!
    First to fight for right and freedom
    and to keep our honor clean,
    you will know our streets are guarded by [I forget--but this sounds vaguely familiar, & it scans!]
    The United States Marine!”

  7. Jim Staats says:

    Dean Woo

    Your article would make Mr. Jefferson proud.
    You deserve to live on the Lawn

  8. James Guinivan says:

    Very interesting article, but I have to be pedantic on one point. Where it says that “no American president since 1941 has gone to war according to the provisions of the Constitution,” it would be more correct to say no American president since *1942*, since on June 5 of that year, Congress declared war on Bulgaria, Hungary, and Romania.

  9. Robert Kanich '58 says:

    A great lesson in history and values. Thanks so much.
    Bob Kanich

  10. Barry says:

    Of course, in the long run Jefferson’s efforts proved to be a failure as the 2nd Barbary wars began in 1815 under President Madison.

  11. Abdelmalek Abdesselam says:

    Dear Dean Woo,
    I read with great interest your post today about the parallels between the current events in Lybia and the Barbary War fought by President Jefferson at the beginning of the 19th century. However, I feel compelled to add some “non-western perspective” to the account by Henry Adams which you cite. While it is possible that the practice of piracy by the nations of North Africa may have degenerated into a convenient business model based on blackmail, it should be pointed out that this piracy was originally based on a just cause. It was initiated as a response to the spoliation of the properties and possessions of the Muslim populations of Spain during the Reconquista. Muslims and also Jews of Spain who did not convert to the Christian faith and did not flee have seen the most brutal treatment inflicted upon them. For those who fled, mostly to North Africa, no compensation was offered for the violent confiscation of their properties. Piracy simply was a tit-for-tat response to this spoliation. One should also note, in regard to the capture of slaves by Islamic North Africa that, revolting as it is, it was the practice of the time. It should be put in constrast with the similar practice by Europe and America which enslaved far more than “one million” African. Major cities like Bristol or Bordeaux built their economic prosperity on this commerce. One should also recall that the kindgoms
    of North Africa were among the first nations to be supportive of the revolutions in France and the United States. Among the first countries to recognize the independence of the United States are Morroco (1777) and Algeria (1783). It would be a different world today were it not for the help given to the French revolutionaries by the Dey of Algiers at the time when France was encircled by the monarchies of Europe bent on crushing this challenge to the established order. The kingdom of Algiers was then a major producer of wheat, and the Dey of Algiers supplied it to the French as an unsecured loan. Further tension between the French and Algerians which culminated in the “Incident of the Fan” were due to the French default on this loan, to use a term often heard today.
    Abdelmalek Abdesselam, UVa Math

  12. Bob Kretsinger says:


    Interesting discussion, using contemporary jargon, of an easily overlooked chapter of our history.


    - Bob

  13. Bill Luckett says:

    Well written. Thanks! Bill Luckett College ’70 Major-American Government

  14. Clark O'Bannon says:

    I am disappointed that you did not comment on Presley O’Bannon, a well known hero from there war. He is also widely known as the first american to raise our flag over foreign soil, even though this is not technically true.

  15. Randolph Pope says:

    While it may be unfair to highlight only a sentence, perhaps just a rhetorical flourish, on a beautifully written essay, I definitely hope that our leaders at UVA are not among those included in “where we are today–disillusioned, dismayed and discomfited.” I, for one, cannot be part of that “we”. I hold on to my illusions about my university and my country, and am definitely not dismayed when seeing every day our extraordinary students and colleagues.

  16. Kyle Matous says:

    There are few better ways to upset alumni and potential donors than to turn the Dean’s blog into a place for partisan political commentary, particularly when a number of its claims are based upon dubious factual and legal conclusions.

    For one, military spending as a percentage of the GDP is just below 5%, which is far lower than it was for the majority of the second half of the 20th century. Further, military spending as a percentage of the federal budget is around 20%, which is far lower than it was in the 1950s, when it hovered around 60%, the 60s, when it was over 40%, the 70s, when it fell from 42% to 23%, or the 80s, when it remained around 25%. Implicitly blaming military spending for poverty and unemployment rates blindly ignores decades of economic data that suggests otherwise. During the 1950s, for example, the economy roared while defense spending was 11% of the GDP and 60% of the federal budget.

    Second, the claim that the bipartisan approach has always been government intervention implies that both parties have adopted Keynesian economic approaches for 80+ years completely ignores the limited government approach that has been advocated by conservatives since at least the Reagan Administration.

    Additionally, claiming that no American president has gone to war since 1941 simply because Congress has not declared war is represents a fundamental misunderstanding of the roles that each branch has in regards to the use of military force abroad. Congress’ role is to choose if and how to fund war efforts and to declare whether or not the legal relationship between two nations has changed. The United States has been at war numerous times since 1941 despite the fact that the Senate has chosen not to declare that the state of war exists. The state of war can exist even when Congress does not recognize its existence.

    Next, presupposing that we could have captured and punished those that perpetuated the act of war on 9/11 without our efforts in Afghanistan fails to recognize the logistics of the operation that killed Usama bin Laden. The Black Hawks and Chinooks that bravely flew over Pakistani airspace for 75 minutes from Afghanistan could not have done so had we not invaded Afghanistan and put boots on the ground to eliminate the Taliban. Instead, these helicopters would have had to fly from an American aircraft carrier in the Indian Ocean, a task that simply would have been possible due to the distance from Abbottabad to the closest place where we could have placed an aircraft carrier. Afghanistan serves as our defensive sanctuary from which we can attack terrorist havens throughout South Asia and attacks like these would simply not be possible if we did not invade Afghanistan. From 1993 until 2001, the United States attempted to simply capture and punish those who committed terrorist attacks against the United States and its citizens at home and abroad with limited success. The strategic determination following 9/11 to shift our counter terrorism strategies to a global approach that included the invasion of Afghanistan was absolutely necessary to defeating and decimating al Qaeda and its global partners.

    Finally, the mere factual statement that there are 200,000 American boots on the ground is false. According to, there were 90,000 American troops in Afghanistan as of September 9, 2011.

    Unfortunately, Dean Woo shares in her blog post conventional wisdom about the world a decade after 9/11 as understood in the halls of academia. Not only are many of her statements inaccurate, but they are utterly unnecessarily as these contentious issues can be discussed and historical parallels can be drawn without making such sweeping controversial conclusions . I beg her to refrain from doing so in the future for the sake of our endowment, at minimum, and for the sake of historical veracity more generally.

    - Kyle Matous
    CLAS 2007

  17. Kimberley Beatty says:

    Thank you for this wonderfully enlightening article! A good read for my teenagers. I had previously heard also about the Treaty of Tripoli in reference to Jefferson’s declaration of religious tolerance and more specifically his written statement that America was not a “Christian nation”.

  18. John Thisdell says:

    An excellent book on the subject is Richard Zack’s “The Pirate Coast: Thomas Jefferson, the First Marines, and the Secret Mission of 1805.” I found this to be a fascinating report on an area of history that I knew virtually nothing about.

  19. Laurie Leach says:

    The line is “we are proud to claim the title of”

  20. David Swanson says:

    Our new war in Libya was admirable and Jeffersonian? In fact, Woo has compared it to Jefferson’s war in the same location, which she’s held up as “a pristine example” of a “just war.” In her descriptions of that long ago war and the current one she’s devoted not one word to the killing, maiming, or traumatizing of innocent people. She made no case for the necessity of either war, except to claim that the first one was fought in self-defense several thousand miles away against a band of pirates who had never approached U.S. shores and whom Woo scornfully mocked as unworthy adversaries. Woo’s entire case is that our Libyan wars have not yet been as bad as our Afghanistan and Iraq wars. Well those are sure high standards! What a proud UVA alumnus I am today! And wouldn’t it have been nice to see a little opposition to the Iraq and Afghanistan wars from UVA’s administration prior to this cheerful celebration of the Libya War as not being as bad as the other ones, which — by the way — are still raging?

  21. Meredith Woo says:

    Dear Mr. Matous,

    Thank you for cogent criticisms and comments. Let me make some clarifications and comments. I was not wrong about defense spending being at its highest level since 1945 in constant dollars. For decades, the high point, again in constant dollars, had been during the Korean War. But that level was surpassed for the first time since 1953 in 2007, and when Homeland Security is added, the total amount is much higher. You are right, though, that as a percentage of GNP defense spending the current levels are lower than in the 1950s.

    It is also true that President Reagan began a trend of rhetoric about less government spending, half a century after the New Deal began, but I was referring to government involvement in social welfare of all kinds, from alleviating poverty to social security, and there was little actual or practical dissensus on this until recent years. Reagan’s cuts to social spending were modest and he was one of the biggest deficit spenders, even if his deficits correlated more with what some scholars call military Keynesianism. I think today we have a nearly complete partisan divide on government spending that bears little resemblance to anything during the Reagan years, but we may have to agree to disagree on this matter.

    I do not agree that after World War II presidents have gone to war in accordance with Constitutional provisions, which clearly state that war powers rest with Congress. I think that reflects a scholarly consensus, even though it is true there are also scholars who would agree with you.

    I did not say that the war in Afghanistan was ill-conceived or wrong; it was a necessary war. I merely observed that this war is now a decade old with questionable results (hardly a novel conclusion), and that highly trained, small-unit operations might be a better way of responding to terrorism, as with the killing of Osama bin Laden. That also seemed to be General David Petraeus’ conclusion regarding how to fight the Taliban guerrillas most effectively. Most of all, though, I wanted to draw what I think is an unusual parallel with Mr. Jefferson’s war on the shores of Tripoli.

    The 200,000 figure (for boots on the ground in Afghanistan) came out of nowhere, in that I had written 100,000 (which is accurate according to a variety of sources) in my original draft, and have no idea how the larger figure got into the final edit, for which I apologize. It has since been corrected.

    As for your final comments, I don’t think my judgments and opinions are either inappropriate or unnecessary, nor would they gain a hearing only in academe. They are not even particularly contentious, in that similar judgments are found every day in our best media and places of record that strive for objectivity, like the New York Times or CNN. Reasoned discussion is an increasingly rare thing in our contentious and even raucous public sphere, and in that sense I applaud your response. But if scholars in universities do not feel free to contribute ideas and make arguments about important public matters, to what other institutions should people turn? Should they also remain silent before the issues of the day “for the sake of our endowment,” as you suggest? I think not.

  22. Meredith Woo says:

    Dear Abdelmalek,

    Thank you for your note. Professor John Stagg in History, who is Editor-in-Chief of Papers of James Madison, has already reminded me that many modern scholars of the Mahgreb would disagree with my use of terms like blackmail, given that the tribute system was prevalent in the Mediterranean for several centuries. The fact it was the practice of the time is immaterial, however; my point was merely that the Tripolitan war had a parallel with the kinds of wars that are increasingly fought against the Taliban guerrillas, etc. Thanks, though, for other lessons in the history of northern Africa.

  23. Wally Bolen CLAS 86 says:

    I also question who the “we” are that are “disillusioned, dismayed, discomfited”. This certainly does not include me or the people I appreciate and respect. There are things in this country that I would like to see changed but I am thankful for and proud of my country and hard working Americans have no need to dismay; they will overcome.

  24. Hunter Link '12 says:

    I am a little confused by this post; are we trying to honestly remember the past or use past events to justify the wars of the present? To me, this reads as an attempt to tie our current military expeditions in the Middle East as some kind of Jeffersonian (and thus, morally correct) ideal. If this is the intent, then I take serious issue with it.

    Dean Woo; you say that the U.S.’s response to 9/11 was “proportional” in that we hunted down and killed Osama bin Laden. You are clearly trying to say that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan from were not “responses” to 9/11 and that the assassination of bin Laden was separate from those wars. This is a severely mistaken and misleading idea. The action in Pakistan that led to bin Laden’s death was not an unconnected, random, or singularly “Jeffersonian” event, as you claim. It was clearly the result of long years of military action, intelligence gathering, interrogations, bombing campaigns, etc. that goes along with any modern ground war. The assassination of bin Laden was not an isolated incident, and to claim that it is separate from larger American military strategies in the Middle East is incorrect.

    Thus, if we include the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as responses to 9/11, then I utterly disagree that our response was “proportional.” I don’t need to cite the astonishing amount of data about the human suffering that these wars have caused (to both Americans and non-Americans).

    Furthermore, I am upset at your justification of Jefferson’s war with Libya on the basis that the pirates were insidious, evil, slavers: “terrorists,” as you call them. It seems almost comical that we would justify Jefferson’s military exploits as a war against slavery. The image of Jefferson (a White slave-owner who benefited from and was complicit in the “terrorism” of Atlantic slave trade) as a moral crusader against the vile slavers of Barnaby is ironic, to say the very least.

    Finally, what bothers me most about this article is that it seems to suggest that the heart-wrenching tragedy of 9/11 and the subsequent pain of the past decade can find a ray of hope and a moment of consolation in the current war in Libya.

    This deeply, deeply, disturbs me.

    The pain of 9/11 and the frustration with our government’s handling of the subsequent wars should not lead us to more military action in Libya! Do we seriously think that the solution to war, tragedy, loss, frustration with government etc. is simply more war? You seem to be saying “the Libyan war is better-run, more in line with Jeffersonian principles, and this should fill us with hope and save us from the despair that 9/11 wrought.” So the solution to the deep pain of the last decade is just “more efficient” wars in countries that had little if anything to do with 9/11? That makes no sense to me, both on a pragmatic and moral level.

    If I seem “disillusioned, dismayed, discomfited” it is because our country seems so quick to jump into new conflicts when the scars of the old are still so fresh; Do we truly think that new wounds will heal the ones we already have? The reader above me cited Jefferson’s statement that America was not a “Christian nation.” I agree, but perhaps for different reasons; responding to our own pain and grief with yet another war is about as far from the loving message of the Christian Gospel as I can imagine. As a Christian, my heart is broken by the violence of 9/11, the violence that followed, and the violence that continues today. The news that we had launched multi-million dollar missiles into Libya did nothing to alleviate that pain. In the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, “Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars… Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”

  25. Andrew Kessler says:

    With all due respect, I am neither disillusioned, dismayed nor discomfited about our future.

    We face many profound challenges and always have in each and every past decade. We will likely face new profound challenges going forward as well.

    Even a brief reflection on how bad things have been for our country and citizens in the past should remind us all that we have a lot to be thankful for. A great deal indeed.

  26. Lucie Miller André says:

    Dear Ms. Woo:

    I just wanted to applaud your article. I learned quite a bit and enjoyed considering your perspective. I am delighted that you use this space to not only share facts, but to share your analysis of them as well; for this is the core of liberal learning and essential to your post. We rely on you to be a thinker, teacher, and communicator and I am delighted that technology enables you to share your work broadly to alumni and the world.

    Certainly, and somewhat unfortunately, your job also entails some fundraising. As someone who has raised funds in higher education for over twenty years – at Columbia, Cooper Union, Emory and Georgia Tech, I have yet to encounter anyone who has inspired philanthropic investment with timidity, political neutrality, or small ideas. Rudeness and thoughtlessness are unproductive and unhelpful; always. Thankfully, your blogs never hint at either. I say brava and many thanks.

  27. Armistead Talman says:

    Provocative historical vignette. However to assert that the “Arab Spring” has “nothing to do with terroism” is shortsighted to say the least:
    It was Gaddafi’s convicted terroist,al-Megrahi, that masterminded the 1988 bombing of Pan Am flight 103 that killed all passengers and crew, including 189 Americans.
    Furthermore it was our Special Forces in Iraq that were so successful in disrupting Al Qaeda’s significant presence in a country ruled by a despot who openly supported terroism. Once Saddam was gone, other despots began falling- most likely with covert assistance from USA CIA and Special Forces.
    It is disappointing that so many in academia are reluctant to admit that the Bush Doctrine, which makes no distinction between the terroists and the nations that harbor them, plus his conclusion that “The survival of liberty in our land increasingly depends on the success of liberty in other lands” were both instigating factors in the “Arab Spring”.

  28. Bob Kraus says:

    Ms. Woo,
    While you and Mr. Matous can debate specifics of points, the main point is missed: your commentaries and observations, while very well written, are politically partisan. This pattern is quite clear and ends up only supporting claims that universities house educational elite that emphasize political correctness. I suggest your topics stick to the management, issues, and happenings at the University. Providing some history is educating and sometimes fascinating, but try to avoid social and political commentary. I wonder if that’s in your job description.

  29. Corey P. Gray says:

    Good points Kyle. Partisan comments like these within UVA publications certainly do not make me jump to donate. I think focusing on the great history lesson without the politcs would have better served alumni and students alike.

    Corey P. Gray
    CLAS 1999

  30. Richard Noell Coll '73 says:

    The joy of history! This was a fascinating read. Reality is in the eye of the beholder or the relector, if you will. I sincerely admire Dean Woo’s willingness to say what she thinks based on interpreting what she reads. Tiptoeing through the minefield of political correctness (there’s an oxymoron) erodes one’s personal convictions. Thanks for putting it out there, being willing to take a few punches, return them as well, and speak your mind.

    I believe especially during this week of 9/11 it would benefit us all to remember that wars are waged by rulers with ideals and/or agendas but fought by young men and women who get thrust into a survival mode in a hell-on-earth. The tragedies are felt equally as deeply in the kitchens and sitting rooms of the East and West. My father, one of the last of the “Bedford Boys,” who will be buried this week at Arl. cemetary with full honors as a result of his WWII heroics, repeatedly reminded us that in war there is no glory.

    Nonetheless, I am proud of and thankful for those willing to go and keep this nation from becoming like the Pasha’s of old or the unchanged regime of the present day Ghaddafi. Knowing there are those willing to “lay down their lives for their friends” helps to dispel the 3 D’s as well.

  31. CS says:

    Indeed, Jefferson initially opposed a federal army and navy. I would argue his actions at the time were Madisonian, rather than Hamiltonian. The pragmatism of Madison, with whom Jefferson had a special relationship as both a mentor and advisee, occasionally influenced Jefferson’s policy. Although he was in principle opposed to all forms of foreign intervention, Jefferson was, on rare occasions, willing to toss aside those principles when various compelling national interests were at stake (e.g., thepurchase of Louisiana) which conflicted with those principles. As a corollary, I don’t think Jefferson’s Barbary intervention was particularly Jeffersonian, and there are plenty of other examples of presidential behavior with which we could associate the minimalism of role in recent Libyan events.

  32. E.J.Cummins Jr says:

    As a parent of two UVa graduates, ’86 and ’88, I am lucky enough to have received this blog and the attendant comments. It was fascinating! I am a graduate in American Studies, Yale ’59. My senior paper was on Tunisia and Habib Bourgiba. Hopefully there is an equivalent discussion going on among Yale alumni.

  33. Cliff Weckstein says:

    On December 27, 1820, Mr. Jefferson wrote to William Roscoe about the University that had been chartered the previous January. The words might be familiar ones. “This institution,” he wrote, “will be based on the illimitable freedom of the human mind. For here we are not afraid to follow truth wherever it may lead, nor to tolerate any error so long as reason is left free to combat it.”

    And that, I respectfully suggest, is the greatest part of the job description of Professor Woo and every other member of the faculty and administration of the University of Virginia.

  34. Peter Verdirame A&S '76 says:

    Remarkably telling that you think, Dean Woo, that the New York Times and CNN strive to be objective. The New York Times, of Walter Duranty, of Jayson Blair the New York Times that invited its readers to dig up dirt on Sarah Palin, the CNN, which made a deal with Saddam Hussein not to disclose atrocities in exchange for being allowed to have a news bureau in Baghdad, only strive to give the appearance of objectivity. Your blog post can be summarized quickly as wars are ok so long as they are started during the term of a Democrat in the White House. The Libyan war is leading to genocidal attacks on persons of sub-Saharan ancestry, hardly a good result.

  35. Kyle Matous says:

    Dean Woo,

    Thanks for taking time to reply. While I still believe that the partisan political commentary was unnecessary in your blog, I do appreciate you addressing my concerns.

    While it is true that in constant dollars defense spending is at its highest, in comparing the amount that the government spends on a certain program to how much it spent in the past, it makes far more sense to look at the amount spent as a percentage of the overall budget than it does in actual dollars. Hypothetically, if UVa spent $1 on the dean’s salary out of the $100 that it had in its budget, but 20 years later spent $2, in constant dollars, on the dean’s salary out of the $1000 that it had in its budget, it would be absolutely fair to conclude that spending on the dean’s salary would be the highest in constant dollars that it had ever been. However, it would be more accurate to conclude that the university was spending less of its entire budget on the dean’s salary and was actually dedicating more of its resources to other programs. Drawing a conclusion of the University’s priorities solely based on spending in constant dollars and not as a percentage of the whole would not be particularly helpful.

    While you’re right in stating that we do disagree on today’s partisan divide in regards to government spending, I would also submit that it is not much different than the partisan divide that surrounded the Contract with America in 1994. I would also suggest that Tip O’Neill very well might be quite proud of the partisan divide that he placed between Congress and the White House through the first six years of the Reagan Administration.

    Predictably, I disagree with your belief that the Constitution clearly states that the war powers rest with Congress. Article I, Section 8 says three things in regards to Congressional power and national defense. First, Congress has the power “[t]o declare War, grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal, and make Rules concerning Captures on Land and Water.” Second, it has the power “[t]o raise and support Armies, but no Appropriation of Money to that Use shall be for a longer Term than two Years.” Third, it has the the power “[t]o provide and maintain a Navy.” The verbs raise, support, provide, and maintain all refer to Congress’ power of the purse, leaving their power to declare war at question. Article I, Section 10 helps clarify the difference in declaring war and engaging in war. There, the Constitution reads that “No State shall, without the Consent of Congress … engage in War, unless actually invaded, or in such imminent Danger as will not admit of delay.” If the two verbs meant the same thing – initiate hostilities – why not use the same word in both instances? Because they mean two different things. Engage means to begin hostilities – war – and declare means to recognize the existence of war.

    While the strategic response to 9/11 ten years later should absolutely be the based in part on special-ops, these operations would not be possible if it weren’t for the proportionate response that we launched a month after 9/11. The use of limited force that you seem to advocate for is the result of the nature of the change in strategy that occurs as wars are fought. Strategies build upon previous strategies and the opportunities that those previous strategies created. UBL was living in a bare room in Abbottabad at the lowest point of his power since the early 90s because of the massive global approach of the War on Terror. Let there be no doubt that our efforts, while not always strategically infallible, have been remarkably successful.

    Finally, universities, and the University of Virginia in particular, should absolutely be places for discussion and debate. Scholars and students alike should contribute ideas on the matters of the day and vigorously defend their beliefs, as you have so aptly in your blog post and reply, but that does not mean that every scholar should use every medium to do so. Some mediums and some scholars would better serve their university by staying away from highly contentious issues in blog posts that could easily find better ways to further the causes of our dear school. Just as the First Amendment’s guarantee of the freedom of speech does not mean that one is free to say whatever he or she wants to say wherever he or she wants to say it, the exercises of the freedom of the human mind and the combat of errors are not always appropriate in every single medium.

  36. G. Robert Jones says:

    I would question anyone’s judgement who finds the New York Times or CNN ‘our best media and places of record that strive for objectivity.” I’m afraid your leftist exigency once again appears through your rewarding the most liberal yellow journalism “objectivity”. Your opinions therefore become suspect to the degree that I would disallow my chidren studying under your influence.

  37. Martin Shank, A&S '80 says:

    Thank you, Dean Woo, for another informative and interesting blog post.
    I hope you will continue to offer your honest point of view on any topic
    that you see fit.

  38. Will Waller, A&S'53, Law'59 says:

    Dear Dean Woo: You may or may not wish to hear that you are aligned with the controversial writer Christopher Hitchens, but here is a quote from the New York Times review of Hitchens’ collection of essays titled “Arguably” (Sept. 11,2011):
    “In Jefferson’s decision to send the young American Navy against the extortionist Barbary pirates, Hitchens discovers a precedent for the current American engagements with Islamic fanatics, and an argument for a selecive but bold use of American power in the world.”

  39. Roger Millay says:

    Dean Woo,

    While I am slow to catch up on your writings, this is not an indication that I don’t appreciate them. Thank you for your willingness to edify and stimulate dialogue. I learn something from each of your posts and look forward to the new perspective I gain from each new entry.

    Best Regards,


  40. Beth Searcy says:

    UVa can be proud of an alumna’s current role in Libya. Joan Polashik (CLAS, ’91) is Charge d’Affaires, U.S. Embassy, Libya. View more here: