Yes, We do Negotiate With Terrorists

Yes, We do Negotiate With Terrorists June 7, 2014

There are two tired cliches that have been repeated ad nauseum over the last few days. The first is “America does not negotiate with terrorists” (yes we do). The second is “America never leaves a man behind” (yes we do). Politifact calls out Ted Cruz for saying that Obama has changed American policy and “we now negotiate with terrorists.” In fact, we always have.

The United States has a long history of negotiating prisoner trades in times of war. But does it have a history of negotiating with terrorists, as some might classify the Taliban?

According to experts we spoke with, it does. (For his part, Cruz didn’t respond to a request for comment by our deadline. We’ll add their response to this item if we hear from them.)

“There’s little that’s actually new here,” said Mitchell Reiss, who worked in the State Department under President George W. Bush and served as national security adviser to Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney. “It may be new to certain individuals. Whether it’s new or not is not as important as whether it’s sound policy and promotes national security. That’s the ground where there’s a more legitimate debate.”

In his book, Negotiating with Evil, Reiss wrote that America actually has a detailed history of negotiating with terrorists and rogue regimes that support terrorist activity. How long? Even the Founding Fathers struck agreements with terrorists of the time: pirates.

George Washington, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson “accommodated what today would be viewed as terrorists,” Reiss wrote. “They each authorized payment to the Barbary pirates, and the U.S. Senate even ratified a treaty that enshrined the annual provision of naval supplies as ‘protection.’ ”

A century later, President Teddy Roosevelt granted demands from the descendants of those pirates to secure the release of captured American resident Ion Perdicaris.

To his credit, Cruz said the policy of not engaging terrorists was decades old, not centuries. But there are more recent examples where, as Reiss wrote, “American presidents have negotiated with terrorists and rogue regimes to secure the release of hostages, to arrange temporary cease fires and to explore whether a more permanent truce might be possible.”

Here’s a few, according to Reiss’ book:

After the North Koreans captured the U.S.S. Pueblo in 1968, President Lyndon Johnson apologized for spying as part of negotiations to secure the release of 83 American prisoners.

In 1970, President Richard Nixon pressured Israel, Switzerland, West Germany and Britain to release Palestinian prisoners after two airlines were hijacked by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.

During the Iran hostage crisis of 1979 to 1981, President Jimmy Carter agreed to unfreeze $8 billion in frozen Iranian assets after more than a year of negotiations with the Iranian revolutionaries.

In perhaps the most famous swap, after seven Americans were captured in Beirut, Lebanon, President Ronald Reagan agreed to send missiles to Iran in what became known as the Iran-Contra scandal.

President Bill Clinton’s administration sat down with Hamas in attempts to negotiate peace with Israel. His administration also worked directly with the Taliban nearly two decades ago on several occasions to see if the group would hand over Osama bin Laden and other al-Qaida leaders.

Reiss also noted that President George W. Bush engaged in negotiations with Iran and North Korea even after decreeing them part of the “Axis of Evil.”

James Jeffrey, a former ambassador to Iraq under Obama and deputy national security adviser for George W. Bush, agreed that “there have been many cases of negotiations with terrorists or rogue regimes for the return of Americans.”

If I never hear this phrase again, it’ll be too soon.

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  • D. C. Sessions

    And that’s aside from the fact that the five Gitmo detainees were not there as “terrorists:” they were there as members of the then-government of Afghanistan, which we captured in a purely military operation. Prisoners of war by just about any definition.

    Of course, we’re not bound by any conventions such as the so-called “Geneva Accords,” and we don’t have to accept anyone else’s definitions of “prisoners of war” because American Exceptionalism.

  • Yes, but other presidents negotiated with terrorists from a position of strength. This one does from a position of weakness. So it’s totally different.

  • mkoormtbaalt

    Ideologues usually enjoy their absolute truths.

    We don’t negotiate with terrorists!

    These colors don’t never run!

    You don’t leave a man behind!

    There is a lot of negativity found by these sleuths.

    One might think that they need some therapists.

    Where else can they find their fun?

    For purity, for mankind!

  • Erik

    Nevermind our long history of negotiating with domestic terrorists by even tolerating, much less legislating in the favor of the likes of forced-birth radicals, open carry nuts, and even economic terrorists like teabagger Republicans just to name a few.

  • That’s not counting the terrorists we create. Sandanista!

  • exi5tentialist

    The U.S. ARE the terrorists

  • We do negotiate among ourselves, don’t we?

    Kind of funny, between the Carter and Reagan mentions, we missed Reagan’s totally illegal deal with Iran before he was even in office.

  • Pierce R. Butler

    … Clinton’s … administration also worked directly with the Taliban nearly two decades ago …

    For crysake. Did Reiss manage to overlook how the current “pan-Islamic” global mujihadeen movement was resurrected, recruited, guided, funded and armed by the Carter & Reagan regimes for the sake of carrying out a guerrilla war of attrition against the USSR in Afghanistan?!? Osama bin Laden was at the time considered a CIA asset, along with his whole Al Qaeda group.

    Likewise, does Reiss think that Israel came up with the idea of, and carried out the actions of, forming Hamas as a counterweight among Palestinians to put more pressure on Yasser Arafat and the PLO, all by itself?

  • Pierce R. Butler

    me @ # 8: … mujihadeen muhajideen …

  • sabrekgb

    As a service member, i’ve always chuckled at the “We don’t negotiate with terrorists.” saying that seems to be so popular with civilians. Seems that some people actually believe it…who knew?

  • steve84

    It’s extremely popular with military members too.

  • sabrekgb

    @11 steve84

    Has that been your experience? Granted, my sample population may be a bit biased, but most of the military members i am around don’t put stock in it. In fact, it’s explicitly told to us in training that the US will negotiate with terrorists for your release (though maybe not directly)…so sit tight, shut up, and don’t do anything stupid. I suppose other outfits might have different opinions on it, but it’s always been one of those things met with a wink in mine. One of the many government/military sound bites that everyone knows are false, but stick around anyway.

  • Um… wasn’t there this guy, pissed off about his cows or something, that the right was holding up as an example of everything good in the world? Wasn’t he also a terrorist?

  • We get Our Fighting Men back. It’s not until they get home that we abandon them.

  • steve84

    Maybe reading online comments (yes bad idea, I know) is a biased source, but the platitudes are very, very common there.

  • steve84

    And I mean comments on military and military-related sites.

  • parasiteboy
  • parasiteboy

    Here’s the original article from Time that I meant to post @17.

    Behind the Scenes of Bowe Bergdahl’s Release

  • rogerstanyard

    ““America does not negotiate with terrorists”

    Sure. It just funds terrorism. See Northern |Ireland and Noraid.

  • busterggi

    On the other hand we can still stand tall and say we do not terrorize negotiators.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    Speaking of terrorists, the Texas GOP is endorsing ex-gay therapy.

  • sabrekgb

    Oh, Texas… It could be such a nice state if it didn’t often insist on doing dumb stuff like this.

  • petemoulton

    Modusoperandi @ 14: “We get Our Fighting Men back. It’s not until they get home that we abandon them.”

    True that.

    On another note, as far as I’m concerned every time President Obama tries to make some kind of bipartisan deal with the GOPers, he’s negotiationg with terrorists. Terrorism doesn’t necessarily require guns and bombs; it can easily be economic too.

  • sabrekgb

    @ 23 petemoulton

    Meh… Do we really want to be watering down words like that?

  • Ichthyic

    yeah, the GoP are more extortionists and racketeers than terrorists.

    though, actually they DO use a lot of fear to get what they want.


  • “Meh… Do we really want to be watering down words like that?

    Let’s see…

    “ter·ror·ism [ter-uh-riz-uhm] noun*

    1. the use of violence and threats to intimidate or coerce, especially for political purposes.

    2. the state of fear and submission produced by terrorism or terrorization.

    3. a terroristic method of governing or of resisting a government”

    The use of the word is accurate, it’s the description of the GOP’s treacherous acts that is being “watered down”; an apparently congenital trait amongst repukes**.


    **See, “George W. Bush snorting coke, driving drunk, desertion in wartime = youthful indiscretion.

  • colnago80

    Re democommie @ #26

    See, “George W. Bush snorting coke, driving drunk, desertion in wartime = youthful indiscretion.

    Also smoking lefty luckies.

  • @27;

    A term I had not heard before!