Why the United States should never pay a ransom

We, not ISIS, must be the punishers.

David Rohde, a Reuters columnist and former New York Times reporter who was kidnapped in Afghanistan—and escaped after the U.S. refused to ransom him from the Taliban—accepts this framework of enemy-imposed consequences. While blaming ISIS for Foley’s death, he writes that the gap between U.S. and European ransom policies “can doom the Americans” held in captivity. The headline over Rohde’s column asks: “Did America’s policy on ransom contribute to James Foley’s killing?” On Wednesday, Foley’s brother said of ISIS’s hostages, “There’s more that can be done. The footprint has been laid by some of the other nations.” That sounds like an appeal for European-style flexibility.

James Traub, writing in Foreign Policy, argues that Obama “has an obligation to consider the consequences of his decisions.” The rationale for bargaining, he notes, is that it’s wrong “to place the life of the abductee in a balance with abstract goods, like ‘sending a message’ that kidnapping doesn’t pay.” Traub adds that “the consequences of capitulation are remote and hypothetical; the life is terribly real.”