2014 Symposium: Should we negotiate with terrorists? If so, how much is too much when bargaining with them?

Raleigh: The rise of terrorist organizations in modern world is undeniable. The U.S. Department of State designates tens of organizations worldwide as terrorist; some of them are well-known to the general public (ISIS, ETA, Hamas, Hezbollah, etc.), some of them less so. What should the position of any government, including the U.S., be on the question of whether to negotiate with terrorist organizations?

Traditionally, the United States government has always stated, “We do not negotiate with terrorists.” However, as the most recent example when Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl was exchanged for five Guantanamo prisoners demonstrates, even longtime principles can sometimes be bent to achieve an objective. In fact, it has been long known that many governments, including the U.S., negotiate with the terrorist organizations despite their official policies of non-negotiation. Some examples include Great Britain and IRA, Spain and ETA, USA during Iran-Contra. These cases are well-known; however, one can only imagine how many secret negotiations happen without ever becoming known to anyone except those involved.

What are the cons of negotiating with the terrorists? First of all, it might give them the sense that their modus operandi (violence) indeed brings results. Second, it provides an air of legitimacy to their organization and their cause—after all, government entities are recognizing and negotiating with them. Third, the negotiations can inspire other terrorist organizations to become even more active in order to be also recognized for their causes and be dealt with. Fourth, other political actors who have tried to get some attention in a peaceful manner might be tempted to follow the example of a terrorist one, seeing that they were successful in achieving at least some results. Lastly, negotiations with terrorists contradict the very principles of governance and statehood on which most democratic countries, including the USA, were built.

However, despite many factors against negotiations with the terrorist organizations, the ultimate answer should be, “Yes.” Why? Because it might bring significant results and ultimately save thousands of human lives—consider the history of negotiations with IRA. However, there should be strict guidelines and policies as to with whom, what, when, and how much can be done in the process of negotiations. It’s necessary to carefully consider whether the terrorist organization is, in fact, capable to hold the negotiations and carry out its promises. Is it a rational organization with some achievable goals (not like ISIS with an improbable idea of Islamic Caliphate) so that some exchanges can be made? Most of all, any promises to them should be realized only after the terrorist organization fulfills all of its agreements (for example, immediate and permanent cessation of violence). Of course, the list is much more inclusive and should be individualized according to each specific situation.

The decision to engage into the negotiations with the terrorist organization is never an easy one but it can ultimately bring innumerable benefits.

Asheville: History will recall President Bush’s “with us or against us” rhetoric surrounding the Iraq war as one of the greatest mistakes of his presidency. Such polarizing language put American foreign policy in a difficult position. The time for talk had ended; we had been committed to a policy of total war. The results were several years of violent conflict, thousands of dead soldiers, and billions of dollars in debt. We refused to use one of the greatest tools in our arsenal: diplomacy.

When American foreign policy is at its best, it is fostering peaceful talks between bitter enemies. President Clinton’s efforts to broker peace between Israel and Palestine, though ultimately unsuccessful, were an exercise in diplomatic capital. The Camp David Accords represented the closest the Middle East had been to peace in centuries. President Regan accomplished a similar feat in bringing the world back from the brink of annihilation with the START talks with the Soviet Union. Our greatest successes come when we allow the strength of our ideals to appeal to the better angels of our opponents.

The struggle against terrorism can be no different. The argument that negotiation “emboldens” terrorists is erroneous. To engage in an act of terrorism already requires considerable boldness. Negotiation demonstrates that we are not the great empire of evil. It shows we are reasonable people willing to cooperate with others. It shows courage, not weakness, to meet with enemies and discuss our grievances in a measured, civil way. More than that, though, it shows the power of deliberation, one of democracy’s greatest assets, to solve real problems. If we are serious about spreading the ideals of the American Revolution, we must be serious in our resolve to negotiate and collaborate with all parties.

Prescott Valley: Negotiating with terrorists is most often a losing proposition, particularly for the party or parties challenging the terrorists, whether it be with a terrorist figurehead, terrorist groups, or a terrorist run state or government. The process appears to be a matter of capitulation or succumbing to the demands of terrorists with sacrifices and few tangible rewards to the challenger.

Bargaining with terrorists serves to protract and complicate any legitimate negotiating agenda that has been structured and sanctioned under nebulous spoken and unspoken rules of negotiation. It is a process in which American officials in particular, and officials from other countries, have repeatedly and adamantly stated that there would be no negotiating with terrorists regardless of the circumstances. During President Ronald Reagan’s administration, he publicly stated that the United States “does not negotiate with terrorists.” Whether the circumstances do or do not warrant bargaining, direct negotiating usually stirs the juices of terrorists to engage in more heinous acts and confrontations that result in a cycle of future deals and escalation of new encounters and arrangements.

The most important aspect of any bargaining entails knowing the enemy, his ideology, and his mode of operation. The tenets of terrorism are based on a one-way objective of conquering, subjugating, annihilating and subduing the opposition at any price with no time limits. Peaceful endings and cease fires with terrorists are infrequent and seen as inconsequential. Terrorists view and interpret the process as a sign of weakness, as they only consider such interruptions as an opportunity to recoup and regroup, never for real negotiations for peace and common sense solutions. All that matters is ideology, and their view of outcomes, as it relates to any incident.

Only with the acceptance and knowledge of true terrorist ideology can any real negotiations occur. Manipulation of and loyalty to ideological beliefs on the part of terrorists will always trump what is just and lawful, so any bargaining that does occur has to be centered around the way terrorists think and act, and the often outrageous and maniacal demands they make. Maneuvering and jockeying for position with terrorists is an arduous task, and saving face is nonexistent. Bringing terrorists to the negotiating table certainly acknowledges their legitimacy and the power they can wield, which should certainly place a restraint on any negotiations.

Intermittent negotiations with terrorists have occurred historically in specific situations and the tactics have been suspect and questionable. Such negotiations have existed historically from the time of George Washington and the Barbary Coast Pirates, to Lyndon Johnson and the Pueblo incident, and on into the future with Barack Obama and the trade of Sgt. Beau Bergdahl for the release of high level Gitmo terrorists. The list of negotiations from the past and present are numerous, and few in the public are aware of the entirety of these negotiations, but they have occurred and are occurring.

Negotiating with terrorists comes down to how far a challenger is willing to compromise to achieve end results. Again, disallowing credibility and power to terrorists is one important aspect that should be enforced. Granting permission to participate in any public forum should be off the table. If secrecy is not part of the process, further legitimization is given to terrorists. Negotiations with terrorists should also be negated with any exchange of money in support of direct or indirect future terrorist activities, as well as exchanges concerning military armaments, nuclear and biological weapons and other weaponry.

In addition, a line in the sand must be drawn in the negotiation process in respect to the overall factor of harm in which direct invasions by terrorists into sovereign territories are an imminent threat. Any grievous physical, social or economic damage directed towards a country, state, city or individual requires careful analysis, and any sort of capitulation in the bargaining process must be seriously considered.

Situations that concern negotiating with terrorists require hard line solutions and a full willingness to accept that terrorism is radical idealism and not tragedy, workplace violence, or man caused disasters. If the American government is going to continue to negotiate with terrorists, an understanding of terrorist ideology, recognition of the aspects of terrorism and necessary cessation at critical points must be a part of the choices that lead to successful negotiating.

Cartwright: I don’t think we should bargain with terrorists at all. It’s a losing proposition. If you give into them once, you’ll be giving into them forever, and you’ll never go back. Bargaining with terrorists sets a dangerously destabilizing precedent. It gives them a sense of legitimacy and makes other terrorists think that we’ll come to the bargaining table with them. Frankly, going to the bargaining table with terrorists is a sign of weakness. You can’t negotiate with people who think you’re weak; that’s a one-sided negotiation and the terrorists would come out ahead. You have to deal with these people from a position of strength. If they say we’re going to kill the hostage unless you give us ten of the prisoners from Guantanamo Bay and then we give them the prisoners, they’re going to go get another hostage and make the same deal or a better deal, and remember that there is no guarantee that we’ll get the hostage back alive. Chances are that they’re going to kill the hostages anyway. But let’s say we do make a deal; then, they’ll keep pushing the envelope. Our position should be that we’re not going to negotiate at all and that if you kill one of our people we’ll hunt you down and kill you and all your terrorist friends.

Now, here’s a sad reality. This is going to end up costing the lives of the hostages. These people don’t deserve to die. I don’t like the idea of sacrificing them, but it’s the sad reality that it’s what we need to do. They were probably just doing their jobs and got caught up in the crossfire so to speak. However, they assumed the risks of going to countries in conflict or countries that harbor terrorists whether they went their willingly or reluctantly as part of their job. They may be workers who didn’t have a choice, but I would hope that their employers would provide adequate security contractors for their protection.

Whether people want to admit it or not, we are still at war with terrorists. No matter what the liberal media says or wants you to believe, the global war on terror is still alive and well. We didn’t defeat the terrorists in Iraq and Afghanistan. They’re still there, and they’ve spread to other countries in the Middle East. Haven’t you heard about ISIS and their activities in Syria? Oh, that’s right; we’re not supposed to talk about that elephant in the room. And how about the murder of Ambassador Stevens and others in Benghazi, Libya? The terrorists were responsible for that. What did we do? Not much. I think the federal government is still investigating it.

These terrorists would destroy western civilization if they had it in their power, and they’re getting better organized and better funded all the time. The terrorists aren’t going away willingly. We need to ramp up the global war on terror, even if it is a politically unpopular issue. We know the general area where the terrorists are. Let’s bomb the hell out of them. For every hostage of ours that they kill, we should kill a thousand or ten thousand of the terrorists. Are innocent people going to be killed? Yes, and that’s unfortunate, but that’s what happens in war. Our political leaders can idealize about sanctions and working with the intelligence community and working with the people in countries that are hotbeds for terrorism, but that isn’t going to work. The Iranian hostage crisis proved that. The only language these people understand is force, and the force of the United States’ military is a mighty force to be reckoned with. Let’s use it. No more troops on the ground. Bomb them into submission.

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