Green Room

Pirate Episode Hurts Obama’s Negotiating Cred

posted at 11:49 am on April 13, 2009 by

I’m thrilled that the Somali pirates were killed, and the Maersk ship captain is safe. The Obama administration is claiming credit for giving the go-ahead for military action. But this presents Obama with a problem.

There are two choices when negotiating with hostage takers/pirates. One is the Israeli model of no negotiation. The only thing to be negotiated is the life of the hostage taker. Money, free passage, and other benefits are not on the table. The purpose of this approach is to deter further hostage takers, even if it means the death of the hostage.

The other model is the model of negotiating over almost any benefit, as long as the hostage is freed safely. This is the model Obama initially appeared to follow with the pirates. But if one believes the spin coming out of the White House, then negotiation was a ruse to buy time.

The problem is not in this case, which ended successfully, but in the next hostage taking situation. If one is going to follow a negotiation approach, the trust of the hostage takers in the negotiation process is key. If hostage takers believe negotiation is a ruse, then the hostage is in more danger. Words cannot be just words in a negotiation.

So negotiating as a ruse is the worst of all alternatives. It does not have the deterrent effect of the Israeli approach, or the hostage-safety effect of the negotiation approach.

Cross-posted at Legal Insurrection Blog

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Clever analysis. The rest of the world is learning the lessons of nuance.

Vashta.Nerada on April 13, 2009 at 12:02 PM

The big problem I’m having with the Obama position here is: why does the Administration believe it’s OK to have killed three pirates outright – to save an American life – but they condemn waterboarding (where the subject emerges 100% healthy) to save any number of American lives?

Maybe that’s not the topic here, but I’m puzzled …

ManUFan on April 13, 2009 at 12:07 PM

You forgot the AoSHQ model:
Give them whatever they want and when they hostage/s are clear shoot ‘em.

Rocks on April 13, 2009 at 12:08 PM

I doubt Obama has the balls to take on the Reagan doctrine of dealing with terrorists, and apply it to pirates. At the same time, he knows any dead hostages, regardless of his messianic powers, will be political landmines.

Will he start saying that pirate incidents are at full discretion of the generals, or will he decide it’s time to open a dialogue with these “disgruntled seafarers”?

MadisonConservative on April 13, 2009 at 12:12 PM

nice post, but I think you’re too worried about it. Remember, the adults are in charge now. I’m sure Rahm has put on his very bestest ‘thinking leotards’ to out wit those dastardly pirates by sending mixed messages and no doubt back-channel communication to the ‘elders’ to tell them to keep on business as usual, just don’t pick on a US flagged ship ‘wink-wink’

gatorboy on April 13, 2009 at 12:22 PM

This is the model Obama initially appeared to follow with the pirates. But if one believes the spin coming out of the White House, then negotiation was a ruse to buy time.

This spin is garbage by the way. Every news article on this says that Obama authorized force in case of “imminent danger of the Captain”. Since Obama didn’t consider being a hostage as being in imminent danger the shooting wasn’t supposed to happen. It only did because the flimsiest of excuses presented itself. The Navy should never have been put in this position and they should have had the authority to take out the “pirates” at the first good opportunity.

Rocks on April 13, 2009 at 12:25 PM

So negotiating as a ruse is the worst of all alternatives. It does not have the deterrent effect of the Israeli approach, or the hostage-safety effect of the negotiation approach.

Great analysis…but what you say here is so obvious it really shouldn’t need to be said.

Unfortunately, in our current era of apologizing appeasement, it does need to be said.

ladyingray on April 13, 2009 at 12:30 PM

Good analysis, but there is one premise missing…

Obama does not consider words to have any binding meaning unto themselves, to him they are just a tool.

Thus, any Words used do not mean we are bound to any single course of action, such as the old “we don’t negotiate with Terrorists” doctrine which has been in place for many years.

To Obama, they are just words with no meaning… a means to an end, not a binding statement of philosophy used to guide the Nation…

Romeo13 on April 13, 2009 at 12:39 PM

The fact that the Navy hoodwinked and bamboozled the pirates is not going to sit well with the remaining pirates in the den. Meanwhile, while the Nazy was jive talking the lead pirate, they killed the rest. That has got to be one sad pirate for getting so easily lured in by jive talk.

tarpon on April 13, 2009 at 12:57 PM

Do you really think the hostage-takers are thinking about what they do rationally?

B26354 on April 13, 2009 at 1:02 PM

ManUFan on April 13, 2009 at 12:07 PM

I see a stay at the re-education camp in your future…

dmann on April 13, 2009 at 1:09 PM

And here I thought it was an American captain”s life at stake…only to learn it was actually Barry’s credibility all along.

/

Christien on April 13, 2009 at 1:13 PM

Snipers tend to keep the negotiations short…

right2bright on April 13, 2009 at 1:13 PM

It actually goes beyond just hostage negotiations. The Obama Administration has talked about negotiating with the Taliban and state sponsors of terror.

amerpundit on April 13, 2009 at 1:15 PM

I beleive ROE for the Navy here forbids initiating action in a hostage situation, so they waited for the CIC (BHO) to give a direct order.

The Seal snipers probably had the pirates zeroed in for hours, just waiting…

MarkT on April 13, 2009 at 1:15 PM

How clever of him to use negotiations to stall for time – I hope the Iranians don’t try that.

Queen0fCups on April 13, 2009 at 1:17 PM

I didn’t know Obama had any negotiating cred to start with.
Of course Obama is taking credit for the rescue. If some brilliant scientist came up with a cure for AIDS and Cancer, Obama would take credit for that too. The U.S. needs to maintain a no negotiating with terrorists position.

I suspect the real reason it took so long to reach a resolution is because Obama was waiting to see what the consensus among his worshipers was. He bases his decisions on polls and popularity. I’m surprised there is no American Idol style phone line at the White House yet.

ExcessivelyDiverted on April 13, 2009 at 1:23 PM

I heard on the radio that if in fact that 4th pirate is 16 years old, he will be tried in the U.S. as a juvenile. We have 16 year-olds that are tried as an adult for lessor crimes than a kidnapping at gun point. What’s the freakin’ deal with this?

ladyingray on April 13, 2009 at 1:24 PM

Searching for ways to fault Obama on this successful operation seem to me to be lame. Obama was unable to give credit to any success that Bush did. Let’s not sink to that level.

But oh it’s hard not to chuckle at the irony of

Queen0fCups on April 13, 2009 at 1:17 PM

Scrappy on April 13, 2009 at 1:26 PM

So negotiating as a ruse is the worst of all alternatives. It does not have the deterrent effect of the Israeli approach, or the hostage-safety effect of the negotiation approach.

In terms of the deterrent effect, I don’t see how negotiating as a ruse differs from the Israeli approach. The ultimate message is the same, no? And it has the added benefit of effing with them.

Infidoll on April 13, 2009 at 1:52 PM

Yeah, I don’t see how letting four guys in a little boat keep jerking around the U.S. Navy for the better part of a week is setting any kind of bad precedent. I’m sure everything will be fine now.

Jim Treacher on April 13, 2009 at 1:57 PM

Of all the money that was wasted with the negotiations. They should have just taken them out first time around. TOTUS didn’t have the courage to just let them do what they should have done. Our Navy isn’t a bunch of wimps. I bet hey were not happy with waiting for a answer. TOTUS is a push over and the World knows this. No negotiations with terrorists period!

sheebe on April 13, 2009 at 1:58 PM

I’m waiting for our esteemed Attorney General to announce indictments of the Navy snipers for murder. As well as the captain of the Bainbridge for okaying it. After all, it makes about as much sense as anything else going on in DC.

GarandFan on April 13, 2009 at 2:04 PM

My HOPE is that the one will CHANGE his current tactics and simply get to the trigger sooner when necessary. This post does bring to light that the pirates (from Somalia, not Pittsburgh) will learn from this and either start killing hostages sooner or something worse.

matthew26 on April 13, 2009 at 2:30 PM

Yeah, I don’t see how letting four guys in a little boat keep jerking around the U.S. Navy for the better part of a week is setting any kind of bad precedent.

Jim Treacher on April 13, 2009 at 1:57 PM

That’s inside baseball. The bottom line is that the pirates undertand that attacking an American ship is a very bad idea (since the downside of being dead outweighs the benefit of being able to “jerk around” the US Navy for a few days). This post was about the deterrent effect of our strategy, not about whether you or I think we should have used force sooner than we did.

Infidoll on April 13, 2009 at 2:33 PM

An unremitting forceful response-although not without peril- is the best policy. It raises the stakes for piracy to a suitably high level.

Mason on April 13, 2009 at 2:57 PM

I’ll just comment on the fact of why I think it took awhile for this trigger to get pulled. I like many of you were a little impatient. Then I have to think that these 3 snipers, were more than likely deployed in either middle of nowhere Iraq or Afghanistan or God knows where and had to be uprooted as quickly as possible and put on a plane with their gear and parachutes. So, I’ll give O the benefit of the doubt it took some time to mobilize the right folks for the job. This coming from the son of a 21 year UDT/SEAL veteran. I still remember my father disappearing in the middle of the night to far off obscure places. Not only my hats off to the Team members, but also to their families that also sacrifice their fathers and husbands to handle the tough jobs anywhere anytime.

KineticJustice on April 13, 2009 at 3:12 PM

Searching for ways to fault Obama on this successful operation seem to me to be lame. Obama was unable to give credit to any success that Bush did. Let’s not sink to that level.

The fault with O lies not with the success of the operation but rather with the delayed success of the operation due to his stall in giving the Navy permission to do what they could have done on Wed. when Phillips jumped in the water.

GarandFan: You forgot to add “and John Murtha’s statement that they committed murder”. Along with the outrage by several other congressional members. I’m sure all of this will come up in the planned pirate hearings by John Kerry.

katablog.com on April 13, 2009 at 3:21 PM

So, I’ll give O the benefit of the doubt it took some time to mobilize the right folks for the job. This coming from the son of a 21 year UDT/SEAL veteran.
KineticJustice on April 13, 2009 at 3:12 PM

Okay, I’ll go along with that.

misslizzi on April 13, 2009 at 3:25 PM

Infidoll on April 13, 2009 at 2:33 PM

America’s performance on the world stage is “inside baseball”?

Jim Treacher on April 13, 2009 at 3:30 PM

And it seems to me that to the rest of these guys, the benefit of knowing they can get away with it for up to 5 days outweighs their buddies being dead.

Jim Treacher on April 13, 2009 at 3:32 PM

Snipers tend to keep the negotiations short…

right2bright on April 13, 2009 at 1:13 PM

Negotiations with a ghost.

Yoop on April 13, 2009 at 3:53 PM

I’m just happy that no Parrots were harmed in the crossfire when these Pirates were taken out. It would get ugly if PETA got involved in this standoff.

Uniblogger on April 13, 2009 at 3:53 PM

The Obama administration is claiming credit for giving the go-ahead for military action. But this presents Obama with a problem.

Maybe I’m swayed by the MSM’s fawning spin, which has declared it an ‘early military victory for Obama’, but this event also has a certain, very premature, ‘mission accomplished’ feeling to it.

Buy Danish on April 13, 2009 at 3:56 PM

I think you’re right about negotiations. At the Sunday press conference, it became clear(?) that while we were negotiating with the Somalis, we weren’t giving them anything. Well, now that hostage-takers know that, will they bother negotiating? Or will the next captain who gives himself up to save his crew end up taking the dirt nap at sea?

Somebody recently said “Words must mean something.”

hawksruleva on April 13, 2009 at 4:32 PM

Jim Treacher on April 13, 2009 at 3:30 PM

To the extent it isn’t obvious, I was speaking specifically to the question of whether the Alabama incident will serve as a deterrent to future pirate attacks. I think it will, in that the pirate thinking process might go something like this: “Gee, I’d sure love to prove my pirate chops by effing around with the US Navy, but that didn’t work out so well for Mohammed and Khalid. On second thought, count me out.”

The more difficult issue, and the one that you clearly have in mind, is how this incident reflects on US policy vis-a-vis terrorists. I take your point, but even if terrorists around the world perceive our response here as a sign of weakness (and I don’t think they will, given how things turned out), it’s probably unwise for anyone to assume that we’d have responded the same way if we had been dealing with terrorists instead of pirates.

Infidoll on April 13, 2009 at 4:48 PM

Yeah, I don’t see how letting four guys in a little boat keep jerking around the U.S. Navy for the better part of a week is setting any kind of bad precedent. I’m sure everything will be fine now.
Jim Treacher on April 13, 2009 at 1:57 PM

You must choose a course of action. You either negotiate to try and save the hostage, or you sacrifice the hostage and kill the pirates. Once you choose to try and save the hostage, you sit and wait and make it happen.

Once the Navy got the right personnel on board the Bainbridge to take out the pirates, they simply waited patiently for their opportunity. They may have had one earlier when the Captain jumped overboard, but Obama wouldn’t authorize force. Maybe not. We don’t have the documents and don’t know.

What we do know is that at least on Sunday, it appears that
the Navy was patiently waiting for the pirates to screw up. Lo and behold, eventually three of them came in view of the sniper nests on the Bainbridge and simultaneously made a threatening gesture to the Captain. When they happened, the ROE rules of “imminent danger” were satisfied and the SEALs took out 3 out of 4.

Outlander on April 13, 2009 at 4:51 PM

Ah okay… the negotiations were a ploy, and Obama gave the order to “take the shot”, of course after a few unbearable minutes of tense music.

Lol. Really?

How about this: the negotiations were completely sincere and Obama presented the on-scene commander with rules of engagement as strictly engineered as possible to prevent any military action from interfering with the diplomacy.

The commander, presented with rules of engagement specifically designed to frustrate a suitable outcome, maintained communication with the snipers he had deployed on the fantail or other strategic places on the ship, and when the unexpected happened and the three incredibly stupid Somalis exposed their heads at the same time, he cleared the snipers to fire and started making up some imminent danger bullshit.

How do I know that happened? It’s what I would have done had I been in charge, and everyone knows how Johnny-on-the-spot I am in hostage situations. What would you have done?

Do you honestly believe that the snipers were so lucky that all three snipers exposed their noggins at the precise moment that one of them decided to make overtly threatening gestures at the hostage, who was tied up inside of a big, orange, floating peanut? It beggars the imagination, this scenario of yours.

Do you honestly think that Obama could have given rules of engagement that were any MORE restrictive than the ones he gave? If so, what would they have been? “You can only act with deadly force if the hostage’s life is in imminent danger and Jesus is not present in the flesh”? Face it, had Obama restricted the RoE a hair more than he did, he would have been obviously in contempt of the safety of the hostage.

The only way that a standoff has the best possible outcome like this one did is when someone dares to take a risk. Do you really believe, knowing what you know, that the someone taking a risk was Barrack “Present” Obama?

Immolate on April 13, 2009 at 5:05 PM

I’m not sure which to believe less:
Obama claiming to have an actual plan for how this turned out, or the pirates who claim they are muslims and do not kill people.

Perhaps the issue will poll so the writers for the TOTUS teleprompter have Obama attack pirate outposts on land and blockade their boats.

Right_of_Attila on April 13, 2009 at 5:49 PM

So was this a failure of Obama diplomacy?

Kjeil on April 13, 2009 at 10:12 PM

Since when is the israeli position not to negotiate? Israel’s most famous ‘hostage saving’ incident, in Uganda, was exactly according to this model – Israel agreed to negotiate, while secretly sending soldiers to save the hostages.

Since then, Israel has agreed to negotiate, and agreed to give in quite a few times. Currently they’re agreeing to negotiate with an enemy who doesn’t even recognize them (Hamas), for a prisoner they’re holding just a few kilometers from the Israeli border. Talk about Israeli deterrence.

Phoenician on April 13, 2009 at 11:52 PM

To the extent it isn’t obvious, I was speaking specifically to the question of whether the Alabama incident will serve as a deterrent to future pirate attacks. I think it will, in that the pirate thinking process might go something like this: “Gee, I’d sure love to prove my pirate chops by effing around with the US Navy, but that didn’t work out so well for Mohammed and Khalid. On second thought, count me out.”

Or “We’d better do whatever we’re going to do within 5 days.”

Jim Treacher on April 14, 2009 at 7:10 AM