Sunday, January 22, 2006

Is It Ever Wrong To Negotiate?

A couple comes home from a party to find their million-dollar Dali painting gone from the wall. A day or so later their insurance company says it has gotten a message through “channels” that the Dali can be bought back at a reasonable price. Does the couple say they “never negotiate with burglars?” I doubt they would say that and never see Dali again.

Change the story: now it is their 5 year old, taken away from the custody of the babysitter while they were at a party. Do they “never deal with abductors?” I can't imagine parents saying that.

What if the abduction is instead an ‘abduction in place’ at, say, a bank being robbed? Is it appropriate for the police to say they “never deal with hostage takers?” Do the stakes belong to the police, so they may make that decision? Is it good policy? After all, it's an abduction, like the 5 year old.

What if there is an abduction in, say, Baghdad, of a journalist, or a worker for an NGO or a non-Iraqi civilian contractor. Should the abductee’s foreign ministry or state department say it “never deals with terrorists?” Is that always a good policy? Are they “terrorists” only because they do not have their own land? If they did, would they then be “the enemy?” Does one ever negotiate with the enemy?

I am not asking political but rather moral and practical questions. What do you think are the best answers? Negotiation 101: Think long and hard before refusing to negotiate a solution.

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