Foley’s Impossible Ransom, Ctd

by Dish Staff

Bucking the pundit consensus, Leonid Bershidsky argues that the US should not dismiss out of hand the option of paying terrorist groups ransoms for civilian captives like James Foley and Steven Sotloff:

Not leaving the ransom option open fits the logic of war. Either the U.S. Marines will drop out of the sky and destroy the hostage takers — in the case of photojournalist James Foley that didn’t work out — or the terrorists will kill their infidel victim and distribute the fortifying video to their supporters. Yet this approach may not be smart for detective work. Keeping the ransom option open may create opportunities to track down kidnappers and free hostages — and a growing number of successful hostage liberations would be as powerful a deterrent to terrorists as declarations that no money will be paid out. So a policy of refusing to pay isn’t so obviously superior, after all. One thing is for sure, though: More deaths like Foley’s will just raise the savages’ morale.

Michael J. Totten wonders if there isn’t a middle way:

Washington can’t pay ransoms, but it could and probably should offer a large cash reward for intelligence that leads to a successful rescue. Kidnappers might try to collect the reward money themselves, which would make it a ransom by other means, but there’s an easy way around that—kill all the kidnappers. Do not arrest them and send them to Guantanamo. Kill them.

I have no doubt Washington is looking for Sotloff and the others right now. They’ll send men if they think they know where he is. They’ve already tried at least once. We can only hope they’ll succeed before it’s too late. In the meantime, to all of my colleagues: for God’s sake, stay the hell out of Syria.

And Sandy Levinson brings up the uncomfortable truth that a human life isn’t really as “priceless” as we like to think it is:

We know, when we decide to build skyscrapers or major bridges, etc., that people are going to die.  Ditto, incidentally, with regard to raising speed limits on automobiles or continuing to allow the sale of alcohol in bars, etc., etc.  To be sure, we don’t know exactly who is going to die, and that makes all the difference, just as Barack Obama doesn’t know exactly whom he is sentencing to death when deploying troops or allowing the use of drones that will generate “collateral damage.”  For many, that non-specificity makes all the difference. … There is absolutely no excuse for what was done to Mr. Foley, but perhaps we have to treat war journalilsts the way we treat soldiers:  i.e., they voluntarily enlisted in a very dangerous occupation, for a mixture of reasons, including patriotism and devotion to the public weal, but part of the deal is that their lives will be on the line, to be protected only at “acceptable” cost.

Even if it is true that most of us consider our own lives “priceless,” no society has ever operated on that basis, and none ever will.