The Best Defense

The many ways in which the French gov't is dead wrong to pay ransom for hostages

Vicki Huddleston, a former U.S. ambassador to Mali, says that the French government paid $17 million to ransom French nationals in recent years. She further alleges that these payments funded al Qaeda-linked operations in Africa.

The French are wrong to do this. Not just mildly wrong, but massively wrong. Not only are they funding terrorism, they are increasing the chances that their people will be nabbed.

I say this as someone who feared getting kidnapped in Baghdad. This was at a time when Iraqi criminals supposedly were nabbing people and then selling them to al Qaeda. I was once in a group of reporters summoned to the Green Zone for a briefing from an American security official. He informed us that Baghdad was the most dangerous city in the world, that we were the most lucrative targets in the city, and that he thought we were nuts. Thanks fella!

Bottom line: I felt that my best defense was the U.S. government policy of not paying kidnappers. I still do.

Romaric Hien/AFP/GettyImages

The Best Defense

Some questions about COIN (IV): Do people prefer freedom or electricity?

By Major Tom Mcilwaine, Queen's Royal Hussars

Best Defense guest columnist

Question Set Four -- What makes us think that schools and hospitals are going to help us alter the behavior patterns of others and win people over to our way of thinking? In the magnificent remake of the classic film Red Dawn, there is an excellent scene in which the North Korean occupiers offer medical facilities and electrical power in return for cooperation with their regime. The bargain is not successful. Americans, it seems, prefer freedom to electricity. At the risk of drawing theory from the scriptwriters of Red Dawn, this seems to me to be a reasonable reaction -- it is certainly in line with the reactions I experienced to development projects in Iraq. People want electricity, yes, and they will accept development projects if they are offered -- just as the Indian people accepted and (perhaps) benefitted from railways, the telegraph, and the legal system imposed by the British during the Raj. They still wanted the British to leave, though. Why would this have changed? This does not mean that ignoring the material needs of the population is helpful nor that it cannot work if you select an endstate they do want (e.g. their independence) and couple it with development. It does follow that development is not enough and cannot be detached from politics: we must remember that politics is the art of the possible.