The myth offered by the US is that “We never negotiate with terrorists.” The reality is that we always do.
Sometimes that negotiation is with words and sometimes with deeds. Sometimes a form of negotiation is to apply pressure, force, or violence.
When al Qaeda hit the US on 9.11.2001, a great deal of the motivation was to retaliate for grievances core to Osama bin Laden and his Wahabi followers. One of the prime motivators was the US support for the corrupt royal regime in Saudi Arabia.
The US sent billions in weaponry to Saudi Arabia then and now. That was a form of negotiation, what the professionals call a BATNA, the best alternative to a negotiated agreement. Sending messages like this is another form of negotiation.
When domestic terrorists lynched civil rights workers in the Deep South, Richard Nixon wooed the white supremacists and, with his “Southern strategy,” convinced the Dixiecrats to jump to become the new Republican base. His form of negotiation with terrorists was to give them a home in his political party. They are obviously still there.
Vladimir Putin commits acts of terrorism on a routine basis, as even Trump ally Lindsey Graham asserts. But when Putin’s henchpeople grab basketball star Brittney Griner, imprison her, try her in a kangaroo court, convict her, and sentence her to a decade in prison for a victimless “crime,” the US is actively negotiating with Putin’s people for her release.
In short, whether done for excellent reasons or to manipulate others for dubious ends, some form of negotiation is always occurring with terrorists, so, at the very least, we should drop the artifice and just begin negotiations in good faith, even with people who have done deeds most foul.
After all, when the US has committed acts of terror, such as slaughtering legions of civilians in Vietnam, we expected the North Vietnamese and the VietCong to negotiate with us in the Paris Peace Talks. Bombing hamlets, committing massacres of villagers, and dropping millions of gallons of poison on the greenery and all living creatures in the country are all acts of terror. As the lead state terrorist in that negotiation, the US got many POWs released.
Winston Churchill was a self-described terrorist, literally advocating using chemical weapons in the Mideast against “recalcitrant Arabs” to introduce a “lively terror.” This buck-naked racist terrorist advocacy seemed Just Fine to Brits and Americans in the 1920s.
Consider how many lives could be saved by ending the pretense that “we never negotiate with terrorists.” We could start by eliminating all terrorist activities from our repertoire and turn to that imperialist racist terrorist Winston Churchill for his more mature (1954, more than 30 years after his call for terror) sage advice, “It is always better to jaw-jaw than to war-war.”
Dr. Tom H. Hastings is Coördinator of Conflict Resolution BA/BS degree programs and certificates at Portland State University, PeaceVoice Senior Editor, and on occasion an expert witness for the defense of civil resisters in court.