We now learn that President Reagan's efforts to secure David Jacobsen and the other hostages held in Beruit apparently went beyond anything imagined by Eric Jacobsen when making his speech. Reagan not only violated his announced policy of not negotiating with terrorists, but he also negotiated with America's bitter enemy, Iran, supplying it with arms to fight a war with Iraq in order to free Jacobsen. Lest anyone denounce President Reagan for negotiating with terrorists, a little history is in order.
During the Nixon era, Secretary of State Henry Kissinger announced that American public policy was one of no negotiations with terrorists. Privately, Department of State personnel acknowledged that this not only was poor policy, but also was not consistently applied.
Thus, despite its public policy, the U.S. government attempted to get the Uruguayan government to grant concessions to the Uruguayan Tupamaro guerrillas who kidnapped American officials in July and August of 1970.
In March 1973, the United States simultaneously implemented its two antithetical policies. In response to the kidnapping of two American diplomats at the Saudi Embassy in Khartoum, Sudan, the Department of State sent a negotiator. While the negotiator was en route, however, President Richard M. Nixon went on television and reiterated the policy of nonnegotiation. In response, the Black September terrorists executed the American diplomats.
Even Israel, despite its public policy of nonnegotiations, has negotiated with terrorists. Thus, in May 1974, Israel negotiated for the children at Maalot, publicly admitting that it would not wage war over the heads of the children. Israeli officials even conceded that they had agreed to terrorists' demands and the situation went awry only because the terrorists refused to extend their deadlines.
More recently, Israel freed over a thousand terrorists held in Israeli jails in order to obtain the freedom of a handful of its soldiers.
The lesson to be learned from these events and Reagan's latest action is that the only sensible anti-terrorist policy is one that is flexible; one that allows the decision makers ultimate discretion and puts ultimate responsibility on them for the execution of their decisions.
An anti-terrorist policy that publicly announces that certain alternatives will never be used, such as the policy of nonnegotiation or no concessions, has not proved to be a deterrent to terrorism. If anything, a government that chooses to announce a rigid policy only invites a test of its credibility when an actual terrorist incident takes place. Such a policy will only cause terrorists to plan hostage situations in which the government will be forced to negotiate.
Unfortunately, kidnappings and other terrorist incidents will continue in the future. Sometimes we can successfully capture the terrorists, such as in the aftermath of the Achille Lauro hijacking. Sometimes we need to bomb terrorist targets in order to prevent a future terrorist attack, such as the American bombing of Libya in April 1986. And sometimes we need to negotiate with terrorists in order to free American hostages.
To publicly announce that we will never negotiate with terrorists is as
imprudent as announcing that we will never intercept aircraft carrying terrorists to their freedom, or that we will never bomb terrorist targets. Only a policy that allows our decision makers these alternatives and others can be effective in dealing with the threat of terrorism.