THE PIRATE COAST: THOMAS JEFFERSON, THE FIRST MARINES, AND THE SECRET MISSION OF 1805 by Richard Zacks (Hyperion), 431 pages, $21.95 paper. Rating: NNNN Rating: NNNNN
American intrigue in the middle East is almost as old as the republic itself.
Thomas Jefferson, one of America's most venerated presidents, was signing off on secret operations in the region 200 years before neo-cons in George Bush's Washington were dreaming and scheming regime change in Baghdad.
Those early days of covert action are brilliantly retold in Richard Zacks's The Pirate Coast.
At the heart of this swashbuckling tale is William Eaton, the former consul to Tunis who was outraged that the potentates of the Barbary States (modern-day Tunisia, Algeria and Libya) were capturing Americans in towns and on ships and using them as slaves.
While the black slave trade in the U.S. was very vibrant, the thought of white Americans being sold at auction drove the country wild with anger.
The United States and European powers paid these rulers large sums of cash for protection to keep local pirates at bay.
Eaton, an Ollie North-style patriot, convinced Jefferson to allow him to take a small squadron of U.S. marines and sailors to Libya and,by means of a military campaign, install an American puppet in the palace in Tripoli.
The book follows Eaton as he tries to build a mercenary army behind Hamet, the cowardly, ineffectual former ruler of Tripoli, who was chased into exile by his psychopathic usurping brother, Yussef.
Eaton's army of Christians and Muslims becomes a microcosm of the distrust and eventual hatred that came to exist between the two worlds.
This is an exciting book filled with political intrigue, murder, courage, cowardice, betrayal and arrogance. And, most importantly, it's a look back at a forgotten moment in American history when the Stars and Stripes flew over occupied foreign territory for the first time.
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