Tags: Foreign Policy | Kidnapping | Terrorism

Now Is Not the Time to Start Negotiating With Terrorists

By Wednesday, 19 November 2014 12:29 PM Current | Bio | Archive

In the wake of the most recent beheading of an American hostage by ISIS, the Administration has announced it is initiating a “comprehensive review of the U.S. Government policy on overseas terrorist-related hostage cases, with specific emphasis on examining family engagement, intelligence collection, and diplomatic engagement policies."

Whether or not this review will include a re-examination of the longstanding U.S. policy, which prohibits the payment of ransom, is unclear. Speculation is rife that some more flexible approach permitting engagement with terrorist hostage takers may be in the works. Regardless of what precise recommendations may ultimately be made, the decision to undertake the review, and particularly to publicize it, is the wrong move at the wrong time.

No one with any shred of humanity can witness the gruesome murders being perpetrated by ISIS and not be affected. These are monstrous crimes carried out by creatures who are only arguably still human — deserving treatment reserved for mad dogs. Their actions terrify. They disgust. They make us fear for the future of a world in which such depravity exists. And, that is, of course, exactly the point.

Each one of these beheadings is theater. It is grotesque. It is revolting. It is still theater — orchestrated, staged and executed for one purpose, to terrify ISIS’s opponents, to cow them into submission and compliance with its demands.

At the end of each elaborate, horrifying beheading one American is dead. The American killed has no relevance whatsoever to the war underway. His killing does not in any practical sense advance the cause of ISIS. Nor is the American anymore dead than he would be if he were simply shot or hung. ISIS is in no practical, military way any closer to defeating its enemies after this one individual has been murdered than it was when he was alive.

The significance of the entire disgusting event lies in the psychological impact that it has. ISIS does not believe that it can behead its way to victory in any conventional military sense. It does believe that in this contest of wills it can ratchet up the pain threshold to such a level that the American people — disgusted and terrified — will push their leaders to abandon the fight. They believe we will blink first, that we won’t have the stomach for what must be done, and that we will ultimately abandon the field to them.

In this context, anything that even smells of weakness or a lack of resolve is potentially fatal. The President and his advisers may live in some abstract, academic environment, insulated from the nastiness of this brutish war. ISIS does not. It eats, sleeps and breaths pain and horror. Anything that encourages these barbarians to believe they are making progress or that their efforts are paying dividends must be avoided. What ISIS needs to see from the U.S. and its allies is nothing but steely resolve.

We have been down this road before. In the early 1800’s the Barbary pirates, corsairs operating out of a variety of North African ports, were the scourge of the Mediterranean Sea. These Muslim brigands raided merchant ships, stole cargo, enslaved crews, and demanded ransom in return for hostages. European nations refused to confront the menace and, one by one, entered into agreements to pay tribute to the pirates in exchange for the safe passage of their ships and the return of their crews.

Beginning in 1785 Thomas Jefferson initiated an effort to break this cycle, which ultimately culminated in two wars waged by the United States and its fledgling Navy and Marine Corps over a period of almost twenty years. In the end, the Barbary pirates were defeated. No more tribute was paid, and the world learned that the United States did not bow to any foreign state — or negotiate terms with criminals.

In writing about the choice presented to the young United States in deciding how to deal with the Barbary pirates, Jefferson had this to say, ”Weakness provokes insult and injury, while a condition to punish it often prevents it." President Obama would do well to remember these words and to ponder the example of our first confrontation with fanatics in the Middle East. Whatever his intentions in regard to this review, the appearance it gives is of a nation stung by recent beheadings — shaken enough to begin to reconsider how it responds to such events.

This is exactly the opposite of the impression we need to convey. Just as ISIS elaborately choreographs and scripts its hideous butchery, we should be equally conscious of precisely what we say and do in response, ensuring our intentions are crystal clear.

We should mourn for the dead, condemning the manner in which they met their deaths. Beyond that we should promise simply to make good on our commitment to wipe ISIS and its minions from the face of the earth.

Then we should go back to work displaying nothing more nuanced than steely resolve and grim determination. These pirates seek to instill fear. They should understand they have provoked only fury. In the end, the only language pirates understand is cold steel. We should give it to them.

Charles S. Faddis, President of Orion Strategic Services, LLC, is a former CIA operations officer with 20 years of experience in the conduct of intelligence operations in the Middle East, South Asia, and Europe. He is the senior intelligence editor for AND Magazine and a contributor to a wide variety of counterterrorism and homeland security journals. His nonfiction works include "Operation Hotel California," a history of the actions of his team inside Iraq from 2002 to 2003, "Willful Neglect," an examination of homeland security, and "Beyond Repair," an argument for intelligence reform. For more of his reports, Go Here Now.

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In the end, the only language pirates understand is cold steel. We should give it to them.
Foreign Policy, Kidnapping, Terrorism
Wednesday, 19 November 2014 12:29 PM
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