Commentary Magazine


Lessons Learned From Colombia Rescue Mission

The story of the remarkable rescue mission of 15 hostages by Colombia — with some help from America — is worth a read. There are some interesting details (including letting John McCain in on the plans the night before the raid and the Hollywood-style practice sessions), but the lesson to be learned is not limited to Colombia and FARC. The Wall Street Journal reports:

“I have to recognize that the strong hand has prevailed,” said human-rights activist Robert Menard, founder and secretary-general of Reporters Without Borders. “Our insistence on the need to negotiate with the FARC, hoping they would release their most valuable card, was foolish.”Governments from Havana to Caracas to Paris moved closer to backing Mr. Uribe’s campaign against the FARC. In Cuba, retired dictator Fidel Castro on Thursday praised the Colombian action and said the hostages should never have been held to begin with. Such a “cruel” detention was not justified by any “revolutionary purpose,” Mr. Castro said.Mr. Chávez, chastened by the revelations from the captured computers, also praised the rescue and called for the FARC to free all hostages and lay down their arms. A high-ranking Colombian Army officer said the successful rescue operation could be a “tipping point” for the FARC, which in recent months has lost three of its top leaders and experienced the defections of hundreds of rebels, who are giving the Colombian military valuable information about the group’s inner workings. “It’s a brutal psychological hit,” says the officer, who said he believes the rescue will lead to mutual recrimination among the rebels and sharpen rivalries between top FARC commanders, leading to further desertions.

Let’s see: negotiations are not the end-all and be-all of national security, success breeds success and undermines the nerve of the enemy (which in turn can make face-to-face talks productive) and, perhaps most importantly, other hostile powers take note of what you do. Or put differently, Colombia went and got some leverage.

Hmm. It would be nice if both political parties in this country learned these lessons and remembered to apply them when the next international challenge comes along. And when a candidate finds the need on a major national security issue to reassess or refine or whatever, it would be a good idea to look at what works and what doesn’t.