Then who do you negotiate with?

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.

I'm a fourth-year doctoral candidate in the Doctor of Public Health program at the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health. All opinions posted here are my own, of course, and they do not necessarily reflect the opinions of my school, employers, friends, family, etc. Feel free to follow me on Twitter: @EpiRen

One thought on “Then who do you negotiate with?

  1. That is one of the oldest BS lines around, “We do not negotiate with terrorists”. We’ve negotiated with terrorists for many decades.
    As you said, one does not negotiate with unreasonable people, who are trying to make an insane point through violence.
    Ignoring the Iraq thing, as I still have no clear notion on why we *really* invaded, other than to hook up some defense firms, let’s look at the Afghan war.
    Al Qaeda attacked a dozen US embassies over the years, causing massive numbers of casualties to the local populace and minimal to no harm to US embassy personnel.
    They then got a few maniacs to fly airplanes into the WTC towers, killing all on the planes and 3000 men, women and children.
    So, who is Al Qaeda? They were old buddies of ours, them and the Taliban, for we financed and trained their predecessor organizations during the Soviet-Afghan war. Indeed, one of the agents who was there had related to me, long before 9-11, how the POTUS was advised to eliminate the lot of them after the war with the USSR was over, “because, they hate the Russians and they hate us, they only hate the Russians a little bit more. They’ll eventually come back and bite us.”
    The response from Carter was, “We do not do business that way”.
    So, let’s review the leaders of Al Qaeda, who are causing all of this trouble to force the US to abandon bases in Saudi Arabia, where we were invited to do so.
    A Yemeni man, who has since suffered from a severe case of high velocity lead poisoning.
    An Egyptian physician, who were jailed many times in Egypt for his extremist behavior and who has a reputation for torturing prisoners.
    A Palestinian man.
    Those are the top of the top of Al Qaeda, there are other figures. Interestingly enough, few Saudis are at the top.
    So, a few non-Saudi men decided to organize a reign of terror in order to force the US and Saudi Arabia to close a US base there. Rather than being rational people and negotiating or pleading their cause before both governments, they attacked US embassies all over Africa.
    Now, here is the strange part. They firmly believe that they will win. More interesting and strange is, they are not stupid men. They are extremely bright men, as dummies would’ve not survived the Soviet-Afghan war or their later reign of terror.
    Meanwhile, the Taliban are also part of the veterans of the Soviet-Afghan war, people we trained and financed during that time. They had their own thing about a theocratic society, where even Saudi Arabian religious scholars were sent running home in fear for their lives when they had went to Afghanistan to educate the people on Islam.
    The upside to these men is, they don’t want the US to do anything but leave them alone, but they had a cultural duty to protect their guests, Al Qaeda.
    So, the Taliban *are* capable of being reasonable and rational, within certain limits (largely cultural and religious limits).
    So, we negotiated with them to get a soldier released, the prisoners are now out of our custody and in the custody of our good friends in Qatar.
    And yes, Qatar and the US have a very cordial relationship. Even to the point of giving us two military bases there (though, it’s being discussed closing one, as it is on the edge of the Doha industrial area and that area has been expanding.
    How cordial is that relationship? We had a Patriot missile crew accidentally launch a missile, which dutifully destructed and landed in the literal back yard of the minister of defense. We still have the missile battery there.
    The installation commander would not let that unit touch another missile again, but when they rotated out, the new unit was allowed to man their missile launchers.
    The reaction was a bit of anger, largely due to the surprise, but later, the minister of defense laughed and still laughs about it. Nobody was injured, so it became an embarrassing joke at our expense.

    And yes, I was there when that event happened. I was off duty and in my villa when it happened, but I was called and told of it, then heard it in detail when I got to work the next day.
    It is fortunate that the Qatari people have a good sense of humor. 🙂

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