Is It Time To Bring Back Letters Of Marque?
Despite Boko Haram’s purported pledge of fealty to ISIS, apparently neither organizations’ bloody rampages have reached the level of egregiousness that stirs the executive branch to crush the evil gobbling up Iraq and surrounding territories. President Obama has told us repeatedly that there will be “no boots on the ground” save for “advisers, trainers, and security personnel.” Regardless of whether the advisory missions happen to put those advisers in a combat role, the goal, apparently, is to keep us “out of another ground war.”Note: Privateers portrayed here may not be exactly historically accurate. . .
Whether this be on principle of non-interference or sheer ignorance of an organization that will, if unchecked, eventually threaten global stability, the result is inaction (save for a few airstrikes).
The US had a long history of using privateers, up until at least until the war of 1812. One such privateer, Otway Burns, used a vessel made in West River, Maryland, and raided British shipping in the war, and retired to the political life in North Carolina as a state senator.
An Alternative: Letters of Marque
The U.S. military wears a heavy boot, but at the moment it does nothing more than cast a shadow over the growing terrorist threat. However, the U.S. Constitution allows another way for citizens to combat threats to life or property: a letter of marque.
Letters of marque are expressly granted in the Constitution (Article I section 8): “The Congress shall have the power…to declare War, grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal.” Letters of marque are essentially permits for private individuals to use force against enemies of the state on its behalf. In the early eighteenth century, these letters began tofunction as a way to supplement national navies. “Privateers” were given letters of marque permitting them to capture and plunder enemy ships; an admiralty court adjudicated on the legality of the capture.
Here’s How This Would Work In Modern LifeI'm still grasping at how the modern privateers would be paid. Would they be collecting cash and valuables from ISIS? That may work, as ISIS has been using oil, ransom and just general theft as a means to fund their movement. Turn about should be entirely "fair play". However, collecting said funds would be more difficult than flying a few bombing sorties over them. It would probably require the dreaded "boots on the ground."
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Pulled out from under a dozen other tactics and strategies, dusted off, and cast onto the table where “war” and “diplomacy” are the only options on display, letters of marque could be the centuries-old concept that aids a modern armed-forces effort.
Letters of marque allow the government some measure of control over the conduct of the recipients, allowing for prosecution if individuals are found in violation. Lack of accountability is in no one’s best interest, and letters of marque provide a way for private individuals to serve the interests of their country and global communities while still being accountable to a formally recognized authority.
One can think of letters of marque as an old solution fashioned anew to meet the unique challenges of an ideologically motivated organization bent on destroying the West and any regions touched by its influence.
Answers to ObjectionsSince when do we make it a point to listen to what the founders actually wrote?
Some superficially acquainted with this tool might raise legal objections to its use, namely that the Treaty of Paris “banned” letters of marque. Although we have honored the treaty during military conflicts with countries that acceded to it, the United States never formally acceded to the 1856 Paris Declaration.
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Some less rational factions will undoubtedly hail this as a crazy right-winged conspiracy to privatize the military. But Founders did not design a Constitution with powers that undermine other powers. If letters of marque were a tool of privatization, what good would it have been to include provisions, just a few lines below this, “to raise and support armies” and to “provide and maintain a Navy”?
It is not certain that such a mechanism would significantly aid a pushback against the Islamic State, but it’s difficult to argue that we should not let those who are willing and able at least try. If this attack were directly on our homeland, and it were our own neighbors being burned alive or beheaded, would we thrust our arms out to hold back our brothers and sisters who were trying to stop it? Would we exclaim our dismay at an upset of the status quo, or would we be relieved the mobilization of decent people to action against veritable evil? . . .At this point, could it hurt?