Why Stop at Releasing One? : Bush Sees Clearly Through the Terrorists' Cynical Game

The offer dangled by pro-Iranian Lebanese militants to release one of their three American hostages lasted only about 24 hours before being cruelly yanked back, further evidence that psychological torment and political manipulation are the basic rules of the game that terrorists play.

The Islamic Jihad for the Liberation of Palestine blamed an uncooperative U.S. attitude for the "delay" in freeing one of its kidnap victims. In fact President Bush unarguably did the right thing when he rejected the terrorists' demand that Assistant Secretary of State John Kelly travel to Damascus to discuss unspecified issues before one of the captives would be set free. There's nothing to negotiate, directly or indirectly, with Islamic Jihad terrorists. The only thing to be decided is the physical arrangements for the captives' release. That doesn't require Washington to bend its knee to the terrorists' dictate by committing a high-level envoy to open-ended talks. Such an approach would only give the event political significance that the terrorists--and of course Syria--could be counted on to milk for all it was worth.

Based on recent official comments in Damascus and Tehran, one thing seems clear: Syria and at least one faction in Iran's government appear interested for their own reasons--none of which have anything to do with humanitarianism--in getting on a better footing with the United States. Syria faces a collapsing economy, an erosion in its long-time client relationship with the Soviet Union and worrisome muscle-flexing from its ideological enemy in next-door, Iraq. Syria thus sees value in moving to broaden its international relationships. Iran, on its part, is eager to get Western credits and technology to rebuild its war-shattered oil industry. All of this provides the incentive for both countries to appear to broker the release of a hostage, probably soon. But that would still leave seven Americans in terrorist hands in Lebanon. If Syria and Iraq can bring their influence to bear to get one hostage freed, why not all?

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