Brokering a deal between two parties with different perspectives and end goals is difficult enough. How do you arrive at an agreement with a party that not only has a radically different end goal than your own, but also has absolutely no respect for human life, doesn’t tolerate those with different ideologies and views terrorism as a means to an end? The answer is simple: you don’t.
Last December, Jordanian air pilot Moath al-Kasasbeh was captured by ISIS when his aircraft crashed during a mission over Syria. Near the end of January, ISIS delivered a message to Jordan demanding the release of terrorist Sajida al-Rishawi by sunset or al-Kasasbeh would die. ISIS also linked the release of al-Rishawi to the fate of the Japanese journalist, Kenji Goto, claiming that his death would follow al-Kasabeh’s. The world was surprised when Jordan acquiesced and said they would release al-Rishawi after they received proof that the pilot was still alive.
Tensions mounted as the hour drew near and ISIS refused to produce proof of al- Kasabeh’s survival. As the sun set on Jan. 29, the dead line to bring al-Rishawi to the border, Jordan and Japan awaited the fate of the hostages. A few days later, ISIS released its most gruesome and inhumane video to date, showing al-Kasasbeh’s incineration in a cage.
Intelligence later revealed that the video was not a response to Jordan’s failure to release al-Rishawi, but had actually been shot a month before. ISIS never had any intention of releasing the pilot; according to this information, al- Kasasbeh had been dead since Jan. 3.
This tactic, which is often referred to as information warfare, relies on manipulation and deception to weaken the enemy. Had Jordan released al-Rishawi, the decision would have caused problems for the country and increased tension between the Arab nations. ISIS knew how to play on the emotions of Jordanians and hoped that they would allow emotion to win over reason — it nearly worked.
Major powers, particularly the US, have long touted the axiom, “we do not negotiate with terrorists.” Last May, after President Obama’s controversial decision to release five Guantanamo detainees in exchange for Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, critics denounced the action as setting a dangerous precedent while supporters claimed that the exchange posed no security threat since the detainees had been out of the field for a while and were not likely to return to terrorist activity. However, recent intelligence has alerted the US that at least one of the detainees has attempted to make contact with the Taliban. Although the situation is being monitored closely and there appears to be no imminent threat, according to intelligence officials, the facts remain the same. When America and other countries engage with terrorists we stand to lose more than the terrorists do, because they do not play by the rules. While the President Obama’s negotiations seemed harmless to supporters they set a dangerous precedent, they allowed terrorists to return home and gave them the opportunity to reach out to terror groups once again, but worst of all, they made others in the international community entertain the thought that negotiating with terrorists might not be such a bad idea. Thankfully, Jordan did not fall for ISIS’s deception.
Negotiations assume that there is a set of rules by which both parties will abide — but terrorists do not adhere to rules or lofty doctrines. ISIS has shown this time and time again. While it is tempting to want to try and save one of our own, it is crucial to remember that the difference between us and them is principle. Terrorists do not negotiate with transparency and they do not deliver on their promises. It is a very slippery slope to engage these terrorist groups and treat them like we would any other nation on the international stage. They are not legitimate groups and they do not deserve to be treated as such.
Sabrina Leung ‘18 is the Digital Editor majoring in International Relations-Political Science with a minor in History. She is best reached at email@example.com or @sabrinatzleung on Twitter.