The Prosperous Face of Terrorism

Prominently rising in the Bergdahl controversy is the issue of paying ransom to terrorist kidnappers, never mind the fig leaf the Obama administration resorted to by using the Qatar government as an intermediary in negotiating his release. Releasing five high-ranking Talibani’s in exchange for a hostage is something of a precedent for the U.S. (if you omit the Iran Contra scandal, I suppose), but other countries caved long ago. In an online article for The Atlantic, Time reporter David Rohde discusses the matter cogently, including this comment (emphasis mine):

In every case I know of, the U.S. government has refused to pay ransom and, until Bergdahl, refused to release prisoners. Over the last three years, however, European governments have paid $100 million in ransom to various al-Qaeda splinter groups across the Middle East and North Africa, according to British officials. Israel released 1,000 prisoners in exchange for one Israel soldier.

credit:  www.vosizneias.com

David Rohde, on assignment. credit: http://www.vosizneias.com

Rohde’s perspective, I submit, is important to keep in mind as the Bergdahl affair continues to bleed information and the controversy swirls. We are entering a 21st century that is quite different from the 20th. Before Afghanistan, wars were between nations, political entities which could control their own populations and military forces. Nations set rules of engagement, signed treaties, accepted and promoted standards like the Geneva Convention for treatment of POW’s.  That hardly describes the Taliban government we defeated before trying, fecklessly, to reinvent it as a democracy.  But, our enemies, deprived of the semblance of government, are turning to other methods.  These politically and religiously motivated fanatics are finding success in the kidnapping business.

Rohde’s compelling story of his 7 months’ captivity by the Taliban encapsulates the political dilemma we face. In the wake of our recent celebration of D-Day victory and the old ways of war, it is important that the public now become aware of how things have changed. There is no going back.  War is not the same. Because of nuclear weapons, the major nations will no longer fight one another, or at least not in all-out battle.

Economics isn’t the same either. The global economy will not be reversed. The third world will continue to produce cheap goods by exploiting cheap labor and Europe will not any time soon divorce itself of dependence on Russian oil. We have no choice but to cooperate with all civilized nations in policing the international thuggery of terrorism, and a vital part of that cooperation needs to be a uniform policy for dealing with ransom demands. But with Israel trading 1,000 for 1, is that even possible? I can see ears and fingers arriving in the mail already.

Terrorism is an age-old police problem turned international, yet some politicians are insisting on putting the (financial) emphasis the old kind of war.  Can we adapt?  We don’t need half a million-person Army and billion-dollar jet fighters to fight terrorists, we need special forces, drones, and police skills.

David Rohde has the right priority, I think, when he says (referring to demonizing Bergdhahl)

The focus of our anger should be the kidnappers. They are the problem, not hostages, their families, or a government that meets a demand. We must unite in fighting the perpetrators of a craven crime—not each other.

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About Jim Wheeler

U. S. Naval Academy, BS, Engineering, 1959; Naval line officer and submariner, 1959 -1981, Commander, USN; The George Washington U., MSA, Management Eng.; Aerospace Engineer, 1981-1999; Resident Gadfly, 1999 - present. Political affiliation: Independent, tending progressive as the GOP recedes from its Eisenhower roots.
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11 Responses to The Prosperous Face of Terrorism

  1. PiedType says:

    I came across a discussion about this over the weekend and was surprised to hear so many other nations had already given in to terrorists’ demands. I had heard about Israeli dealings, but the 1,000-for-1 deal was shock.

    I’ve said for years that terrorism doesn’t warrant a “war” on terrorism. It’s an international law enforcement problem, not a war of nations. Terrorists are criminals, not soldiers (though they prefer to call themselves soldiers).

    Rohde’s got the right idea about directing our anger at the kidnappers, not the hostage. But I doubt that will change the minds of those screaming, figuratively, for Bergdahl’s head. And these days I don’t hold out much hope of uniting Americans over anything.

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    • Jeff Little says:

      Treating terrorism as a police matter, who has jurisdiction to cross a border and capture someone who allegedly wants to do something bad on this side of the border, but hasn’t actually done anything yet?

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      • PiedType says:

        How have international criminals been captured in the past? The military has no more or less jurisdiction to cross a border than does law enforcement. Our unilaterally declaring a “war on terror” still doesn’t make it right for us to cross into another nation, nor to capture and hold someone who hasn’t done anything.

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        • Jim Wheeler says:

          @ PT,

          I recall seeing a CBS 60 Minutes segment last year about how InterPol works. It seems to be an international clearing house for information on criminals and their operations. Perhaps this is a framework on which we can build. Also, I read from time to time of “joint (police) task forces” being formed to counter organized crime. Why couldn’t that work internationally? But don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying it would be easy. Heck, for the most part we can’t even get most U.S. states to extradite criminals to and from each other.

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          • PiedType says:

            InterPol was my first thought. Criminals have worked across international borders for centuries, and that’s what terrorists are — criminals. In the U.S. they’ve been caught by law enforcement and/or an alert public, not the military. We accord them undue respect and recognition when we speak of a “war or terror” or treat them like “prisoners of war” when we catch them.

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        • Jeff Little says:

          By the way, I agree that the idea of a “war on terror” is ridiculous. I was asking because I am genuinely curious.

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  2. Jim in IA says:

    I agree that we are living in very different times. The once familiar rules of war don’t fit. It takes a completely different mindset today. Civil discourse has given way to demonization of the other side at all costs. It doesn’t bode well for future peace.

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  3. aFrankAngle says:

    As always, many good points here. When the news first broke about the release, to the early critics I would have asked, “Should we give him back?” … but I continue to listen as more info comes forth. … I also wonder, “So we are engaging an enemy that with whom we can’t negotiate?”

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  4. aFrankAngle says:

    FYI … now some are saying US negotiators are working for Al-Qaeda.

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