Jan 272010

Governments typically come into office swearing they will never talk to their enemies, yet within a matter of months or years often find themselves sitting across a table from the very people they had previously vilified.

For example, Vice President Cheney remarked that “We don’t negotiate with evil. We defeat it.” Yet the Bush Administration talked with both Iran and North Korea, even after the President had labeled them as part of an “axis of evil.”

Talking with terrorist or insurgent groups poses even greater challenges, especially for democratic societies. Governments need to explore whether these groups have limited grievances that might be addressed through a political process or whether they harbor maximalist, millennial, nihilist or apocalyptic goals that cannot be.

The risk of miscalculation is high — governments, and lives, depend on these determinations.

For the past fifteen months, traveling around the world, meeting with government ministers, military, security and intelligence officers, counter-terrorism experts and former terrorists, discussing these issues and examining the cases, such as the IRA, ETA, the Anbar Awakening, the Tamil Tigers, Hamas and the Moro Liberation Fronts.

A study, which will be published this fall under the title Negotiating with Evil, uncovers important new information about different counter-terrorism approaches.

Understanding when it make sense to talk to terrorists and when is it folly, or worse, has significant implications for shaping U.S. policy in America’s “Long War” against violent extremists. The reality is that Washington will not be able to kill or capture all the bad guys; it may have to sit down and talk to some, as General McChrystal has just recently argued we should do, with the Taliban in Afghanistan.

Negotiating with Evil explains how other countries have managed this challenge, when they have succeeded and when they have failed. The lessons could not be more timely.

The editor thanks Ambassador Mitchell B. Reiss for his contributions and look for his new book in coming months.  “Negotiating with Evil “

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