“You know as well as I do that we can’t have Arab desperados running around kidnapping American citizens! If I had my way, I’d go in there with a couple of Winchesters, and a battalion of Marines… Threatening the lives and property of American Citizens!? It’s an insult in the eyes of the world community, you realize that! An Arabian thief, holding me up like a common desperado!? What do I want? I want respect! Respect for human life and American property. And I’ll send the Atlantic Squadron to Morocco to get RESPECT.”
“Oh, why spoil the beauty of a thing with legality? The fleet sails tomorrow. America wants Pedicaris alive, or Raisuli dead!”
Readers might be forgiven if they thought for a brief moment that the above lines sounded vaguely like something out of the mouth of President Donald J. Trump. In fact, that guess wouldn’t be far off. The lines are those of President Theodore Roosevelt, spoken to his exasperated Secretary of State John Hay, in the classic 1975 film The Wind and the Lion. It’s a movie that Joe Biden would have been well-advised to watch before announcing his disgraceful abandonment of thousands of Americans in Afghanistan. The film might have reminded him that the events now playing out in Kabul are not just an international humiliation, they are also a fundamental violation of two of the most deeply rooted aspects of American identity: you don’t mess with American citizens—and we never leave Americans behind.
Starring Sean Connery and Candice Bergen, The Wind and the Lion is a dramatized telling of a real historical event that holds important lessons for Biden in the current catastrophe. The 1904 Perdicaris Incident featured an American citizen in Morocco taken captive by the “Taliban” of his day, a horseback-riding, sword-wielding brigand known as Mulai Ahmed er Raisuli, widely regarded as “the last of the Barbary Pirates.” Raisuli and his band of thieves stormed into Tangier and captured the real-life Ion Perdicaris and held him as a hostage, making an array of monetary and territorial demands.
When informed of the kidnapping, Roosevelt was furious, and he did not hesitate to act. He sent a detachment of Marines as well as a significant Naval fleet to do whatever it took to free Perdicaris. His aides criticized him and urged him not to risk starting a war in Morocco with other European powers. Yet across the United States, Perdicaris became a household name, and Roosevelt made the hostage’s safe release a cornerstone of his 1904 presidential campaign, running on the slogan (coined by Hay) “Perdicaris alive or Raisuli dead.”
The German and Italian forces present in Morocco opposed the American military rescue efforts. But as the negotiations dragged on and it became clear that Perdicaris’s life was in grave jeopardy, Roosevelt’s Marines took the initiative. It’s a rather convoluted story—but in the end, Roosevelt’s bold use of American power ensured that Perdicaris was safely returned home.
Contrast Teddy Roosevelt’s response to the kidnapping of one American citizen with Joe Biden’s passive attitude toward the thousands of Americans trapped behind Taliban lines. You will begin to appreciate what underlies the horror and rage the American public has felt in watching Joe Biden bungle this withdrawal.
Biden isn’t just mismanaging a crisis. His actions are an insult to Americans’ very sense of who we are as a nation.
There is a reason that the fictionalized words of our 26th president in a 1975 movie sound strangely reminiscent of something our 45th president might have said on Twitter. It’s because that’s how Americans expect our presidents to respond when American lives are at risk. Our leaders are supposed to do whatever it takes to bring our citizens safely home—even if that means sending the Atlantic fleet to Morocco as a show of force over the kidnapping of a single American hostage.
Throughout his presidency, Trump made his commitment to rescuing American hostages a point of personal pride—and a concrete example of the core principle, articulated in his inaugural address, that “a nation exists to serve its citizens” (a principle Biden seems to have all but forgotten). Trump’s administration secured the release of literally dozens of Americans held captive abroad over the course of his four years. On October 14 of last year, for example, Trump secured the release of two Americans held hostage in Yemen. Two weeks later, Trump ordered American special forces into action in Nigeria to rescue another American citizen who had been kidnapped. Some of the many hostages Trump brought home featured prominently at the Republican National Convention in 2020, just as the Perdicaris Affair was a focus of Roosevelt’s nominating convention in 1904.
This week’s brazen terror attack at the Kabul airport in Afghanistan, including the heart wrenching loss of at least 13 American servicemembers, underscores that under Biden, America’s enemies evidently have no fear of America’s president. The Taliban are evidently unconcerned that Biden will take aggressive action as they effectively hold thousands of our citizens hostage to their demands. Just days after evacuations began, there is evidence the Taliban have given American weapons to Iran, abused members of the press, and murdered women and children. These atrocities will likely get worse. Now the Taliban are giving ultimatums to the United States, threatening that if we are not completely gone by August 31, it will be a “red line” for which “there would be consequences.”
Imagine them saying such a thing to Teddy Roosevelt, or for that matter, Donald Trump. You can’t. They wouldn’t have dared.
Biden’s refusal to make clear that he will move heaven and earth to protect the lives of Americans abroad will have consequences far beyond Afghanistan. He hasn’t just abandoned those left behind in Kabul. He has abandoned more than a century of tradition that taught bad guys all over the world that the title “American Citizen” demands respect—and that if they seek to hurt one of our countrymen, the most powerful nation on earth will come to track them down.
The American people know instinctively what Biden has done—and they will never forgive him for it.
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