Our Bad Habit of Negotiating with Terrorists

by Bruce Thornton // FrontPage Magazine

Photo via Wikicommons By Chris Brown
Photo via Wikicommons By Chris Brown


Every parent should be happy for the Bergdahl family, whose son was returned to them after five years of captivity among the Taliban. But every parent is not the president of the United States, whose primary responsibility is to protect the security and interests of all Americans, both now and in the long-term. The release of 5 “high-risk”––a phrase meaning they’re eager to kill Americans–– Taliban jihadists held in Guantanamo Bay is nothing more than ransom paid to kidnappers, and an invitation to the enemy to take more Americans captive and to hold them as bargaining chips for more concessions. And the release of hardened, high-ranking Taliban terrorists means there will be more dead Americans after theses soldiers of Allah return to the battlefield.

We shouldn’t give credence, however, to the criticism that Obama’s action uniquely violates the principle that “we don’t negotiate with terrorists.” Obama’s administration has already been negotiating with the Taliban in order to craft some chimeric “peace agreement” with the Afghan government after we leave. And talking with Iran, the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism, is de facto “negotiating with terrorists.” But before Obama we have negotiated with terrorists on numerous occasions, and each time we have confirmed the moral hazard that attends trying to talk with fanatic ideologues that, like Auric Goldfinger, don’t expect us to talk, but to die.

How else did we secure the release of the 52 Americans held for 444 days by the Iranians starting in 1979, other than by negotiating ransom with hostage-takers? The hostages came home after Jimmy Carter issued a series of Executive Orders that released billions of dollars of frozen Iranian assets in American banks, and that indemnified the Iranians from any lawsuits suing the regime for the destruction of American property and the abuse of the diplomats. So much for Carter’s bluster that “we will not yield to blackmail.” During the negotiations the Iranians serially humiliated the Americans. For example, Carter aide Hamilton Jordan donned a fake moustache and wig to meet with the Iranian negotiator in Paris. After weeks of negotiations, with a deal seemingly close, Ayatollah Khomeini killed it with a public speech in which he called the embassy kidnappings “a crushing blow to the world-devouring USA” and left the decision to the new Iranian parliament, which was months from being seated. Negotiations continued with a series of concessions offered by Carter, all of which were contemptuously slapped down by the Iranians. As a result, the prestige of Iran as the foremost jihadist foe of the infidel West expanded across the globe, providing inspiration and material support to other jihadist groups convinced by America’s weakness that we were a civilization with “foundations of straw,” as bin Laden put it, and ripe for destruction.

Then there’s the sorry spectacle of the 1985-86 Iran-Contra affair that unfolded during Reagan’s second term. This was a Rube-Goldberg plot to secure the release of 7American hostages taken by Iranian terrorist proxies, and to improve relations with the Iranian regime by providing them with 2200 TOW anti-tank missiles and over 100 HAWK anti-aircraft missiles in violation of an arms embargo, with the profits going to arm the Nicaraguan Contras. These were the same Iranians, by the way, that only a few years earlier had trained and funded the jihadists who had murdered 241 American military personnel in the Beirut Marine-barracks bombing, and that were funding numerous other jihadist groups like Hezbollah. The naïve belief in improved relations with these murderers and so-called “moderates” has no better symbol than a cake in the shape of a key––apparently the “key” to better American-Iranian relations–– that the American emissary brought to Iran along with a Bible signed by Reagan, both items bespeaking a criminal ignorance about the nature of the Iranian theocrats with whom they were dealing. In the end, only 3 hostages were released, only to be immediately replaced by three other kidnapped Americans.

Once again, the willingness to provide advanced weaponry to a regime that publicly and frequently expressed its desire to destroy us only confirmed the mullahs in their belief that we are weak and can be manipulated. Indeed, the intervening years suggest their insight has been correct, as they have murdered with impunity Americans in Iraq and Afghanistan, trained and funded numerous terrorist outfits, and continue to pursue nuclear weaponry even as they engage in specious negotiations spiced with contemptuous public statements.

Worse than even these examples are the decades we have spent negotiating with the Palestinian terrorist gang known as the Palestinian Liberation Organization, which was rebooted as the Palestinian Authority after the 1993 Oslo Agreements. A whole atlas could be filled with the cities hosting these futile negotiations, many of which delivered nothing but concessions to terrorist murderers. Camp David, Madrid, Wye River, Sharm el-Sheikh, Taba, Annapolis––all have been the sites of negotiations with terrorists for whom violence against Israeli civilians is a negotiating tactic used to complement the tactic of attending “summits” and “conferences” at which the Palestinian leadership has no intentions of negotiating in good faith, instead extracting concessions from gullible Westerners. PLO honcho Yasser Arafat, a die-hard terrorist whose creed was “jihad, jihad, jihad,” was feted and hosted at capitals around the globe and treated as a legitimate chief of state instead of as the head of a murderous, kleptocratic gang that he was. During the Clinton years he visited the White House more often than any other world leader, only in the end to betray Clinton at Camp David by refusing the offered “national homeland” he supposedly wanted, and then launching the Second Intifada that killed 1000 Israelis.

And it isn’t just talk we have shared with the Palestinian terrorists. As the Congressional Research Office documents, since the Oslo Accords the U.S. has transferred $5 billion to the Palestinians, with much of the money that escaped the Swiss bank accounts of the PA “leadership” going to fund terrorist outfits. This is in addition to funds channeled through the United Nations Relief Works Agency, the only U.N. entity committed to one refugee group and self-identified as an advocate for Palestinians. The U.S. has provided a quarter of the agency’s funds, which since 1950 has totaled nearly $5 billion. Then there’s the money given since Oslo to train, arm, and support the PA security forces, presumably to fight against terrorists. In fact, these “security forces” have participated in or facilitated terrorist attacks. As Caroline Glick writes in her indispensible The Israeli Solution, “The more aid the Palestinian authority receives from the international community, the more terror attacks the Palestinians carry out against Israel.” We’re not just negotiating with terrorists; we’re funding them as well.

There are many reasons for this compulsion to try to talk or bribe out of their hatred enemies who have no intention of peaceful coexistence. Politics, of course, is ever a factor in such bad decisions. For Obama, ransoming Bergdahl deflected attention from the VA scandal with a photogenic feel-good story. Pursuing futile negotiations with the Iranians creates the illusion of action when the administration has no intention of doing anything concrete to keep a malignant theocracy from acquiring nuclear weapons.

More broadly, the modern West clings to the hoary notion that negotiation and diplomacy are the best means of resolving conflicts and creating peace. Obama recycled this received wisdom in his recent West Point address. In addressing global disorder, Obama said, “we must mobilize allies and partners to take collective action. We have to broaden our tools to include diplomacy and development, sanctions and isolation, appeals to international law, and, if just, necessary and effective, multilateral military action.” But as his disastrous foreign policy record demonstrates, negotiation works only with those who sincerely share our goal to end violence, coexist peacefully, and create peace. The jihadist gangs from the Taliban to Iran, and our geopolitical rivals like Russia and China, have other plans. With those actors, negotiation works only when backed by a credible threat of force, something Obama has serially squandered with his “red lines” bluster and bluff. Yet ever the foreign policy naïf, Obama claimed in his statement about Bergdahl’s release, “While we are mindful of the challenges, it is our hope Sergeant Bergdahl’s recovery could potentially open the door for broader discussions among Afghans about the future of their country by building confidence that it is possible for all sides to find common ground.” If sincere, this statement represents a massive failure of imagination, ever the hallmark foreign policy failure. The Taliban have one aim: to impose once more their hegemony over Afghanistan.

Exchanging Bergdahl for 5 seasoned jihadists is a shortsighted, dangerous deal, but it isn’t unprecedented. It’s a recurring bad foreign policy habit driven by politics and idealism.


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