A lot of news this morning covered the release of an American soldier taken as a prisoner of war in Afghanistan in 2009. After 5 years of captivity, the United States secured his release in exchange for five Taliban prisoners held in Guantanamo Bay. As I heard about the news, I immediately knew that the political opposition would decry this deal as something that should not have been done. I must admit that I myself wondered about the wisdom of this move. On the one hand, I was happy to know that the promise to “leave no man behind” still stands. On the other, five very dangerous people are free, even if they are to be in the custody and care of Qatar.
Almost just as soon as I thought about this, I told myself that I am not in the loop at all in what goes on behind closed doors at the White House, the Pentagon, etc. They know a lot of stuff that I don’t know, and that I’m happy to not know. And I’d like to give them the benefit of the doubt that they know what they’re doing and that the Taliban who are going to Qatar will have realized that fighting that fight is not worth the time they spent detained and, very possibly, on the receiving end of “enhanced interrogation.”
So I was troubled to hear other people who are not in the know were genuinely angry that we (Americans) “negotiated with terrorists” because we “don’t negotiate with terrorists.” And I do mean angry. Some are angry to the point that they’re behaving un-American, asking for some very un-American things.
I was reminded of what one British general said when he was criticized for wanting to negotiate with the Taliban in Afghanistan. He said that he had been part of the negotiations with the Irish Republican Army, and that he had lost a lot of men to the IRA’s actions. In the eyes of the British people and government, the IRA was a terrorist group. After all, they had committed acts of terrorism to further their agendas. With all that, he still negotiated, and he was happy to bring peace to Ireland (including Northern Ireland) and Britain. After explaining that, he asked his critics to tell him with whom he should negotiate if not his enemies?
Isn’t that the truth? We don’t negotiate for peace with our friends and allies. We negotiate with our enemies. Even if their tactics are despicable, they’re doing what they’re doing for a reason, and, if we are to achieve peace, we need to get to the bottom of it all and negotiate a peace. That, or we can obliterate them.
I’m not much for obliteration and more loss of life, but I do understand why there are times when certain actions that incur the loss of life must be taken. I think of the captain who was held by pirates in Somalia. After extended negotiations to secure his release, the pirates would have nothing of it and threatened to kill him. They were killed first.
So I think that you don’t negotiate with unreasonable people, people who just want to watch the world burn. (Or with children, for that matter.) You negotiate with people who, like you, are looking for peace, for a fair shot at living a peaceful life, raise their families, and have food to eat. I don’t know if the people holding the soldier for that long are looking for those things, but they did keep him alive this long… So it’s hard for me to believe that they want to watch the world burn.
Only time will tell if all this war for the last 13+ year has been worth it. But it needs to end, and negotiating with our enemies will be one of those bitter pills we’ll need to swallow. We can’t kill them all.
René F. Najera, DrPH
I'm a Doctor of Public Health, having studied at the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health.
All opinions are my own and in no way represent anyone else or any of the organizations for which I work.
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