Are The AQ “Euro-Plots” About Hostage-Taking?

Via the indispensable Leah Farrall, from Der Speigel:

“I have information that I consider to be reliable, according to which al-Qaida in Waziristan is training how to carry out multiple parallel hostage takings in order to enforce the release of a prisoner,” Benotman says.

Benotman believes that the alleged plans for attacks on European targets that authorities have been warning about in recent weeks are real. He says the plan consists of storming buildings in Germany, France and Britain at the same time and holding the people inside hostage with the aim of forcing the release of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the mastermind behind 9/11 who is now sitting in jail in the United States awaiting trial for the attacks.

Wouldn’t that be a NATO meeting to listen in on?…I’m not sure that the alliance could service more than a few hours of televised hostage-killing.

10 thoughts on “Are The AQ “Euro-Plots” About Hostage-Taking?”

  1. You know, Marc, I’d like to ask you why you conjecture – even partly in jest – that the alliance would fracture in that event. I’d like to posit that the reason is that the various allies would find themselves in a modified prisoner’s dilemma. Each of them would have to evaluate the probability that Obama would, at the end of the day, release KSM, thereby making the sacrifice of their particular hostage a pointless sacrifice.

    What would you wager that Obama would stand firm? Your career? I doubt it.

  2. Phil, I think that not only would Obama’s resolve be doubtful, but so would that of much of the NATO leadership.


  3. Every serious foreign policy tradition in the Democratic tradition– and therefore every advisor he has– demands the preservation of NATO by any means necessary.

    The Democratic party is inherently Atlanticist, for one thing. It’s also inherently respectful of alliance structures. If Obama were to be seen as the guy who let NATO fracture, he might actually lose his base voters. It’s right up there on the list with being the guy who lets Iran cook off a nuke (without immediate and devastating military response) on the list of irrecoverable foreign policy mistakes.

    I conjecture that he would do everything in his power– including things we might not like to see him do– in order to preserve the alliance.

  4. Why has AQ not thought of this before?

    Surely they don’t think that the devastating hostage crises of the 70s and 80s were counter-productive. Not when the Palestinians are the darlings of the international left, a former Revolutionary Guard thug is the president of Iran, and Hisb’allah is a “charity organization”.

    Are they stupid? Has some leader, or some powerful backer, forbidden this tactic for some reason?

  5. Phil,

    I think we’re imagining entirely different scenarios, which is largely my fault.

    What I’m imagining is the NATO governments of (in this scenario) France, Germany and Britain pressuring the United States to trade prisoners for hostages, effectively pressuring the United States to capitulate.

    Making no claims about the likelihood of that scenario, I claim only that that scenario is almost a no-win situation: Capitulate and (as you say) NATO begins to unravel. Fail to capitulate, and at the very least there’s been a serious wedge into the alliance. That’s a key element of a good strategy, or in this case, stratagem: All options are painful, all calculations are lossy.

    But this hinges on NATO allies pushing for capitulation, which simply might not happen. I’d prefer to think better of the British, German, and French leaders. And frankly I’d like to think that Obama could rally them even if they disappoint.

  6. Marcus, you seem to be saying that you think Obama would fold. Although, I honestly can’t see why Obama’s base would care that much about NATO (outside certain academic circles, perhaps). Would you care to elaborate just exactly what “things we might not like to see him do” you believe would be on the table?

    Would releasing KSM be on the table?

    Would repudiating non-NATO alliances be on the table?

  7. Phil,

    It’s a serious accusation to make, and I don’t really want to make it. But yeah, I could see Obama at least contemplating that if NATO members were giving strong signs that capitulation were the only way to save NATO.

    It would be a hellish calculation to make– on the one hand, capitulation would enrage Republicans and many independents (I think.) On the other hand, damaging NATO would damage him with his base and, to boot, be a generally unwise thing to do. If NATO members were pushing capitulation, it would be one of those ulcer-inducing foreign policy nightmares that no sitting President would want to face.

    I’m guessing he’d be looking for a way to thread the needle, somehow.

    As for NATO and the Democrats, there’s a strong anchor of the Democratic party on the northeastern seaboard. Partly this is just geography, with high population density– cities– leading to more leftward politics. But that same geography also means that very large amounts of wealth in that region is coming from north Atlantic trade and shipping routes, which brings along with it a care and respect for the opinions of north Atlantic trading partners.

    Let’s also remember that NATO was formed under Truman and that the post-Soviet wave of NATO expansion was begun under Clinton, both Democrats. It was the Republicans, still rump isolationists (for waning historical reasons and out of protest to FDR’s ghost) who had to be appeased to ratify that treaty, if memory serves.

  8. There’s a wee bit more downside to capitulation than just pissing off political opponents. If that’s all the downside, send him home now. Save the expense of the trial.

    Capitulation to a hostage situation would break NATO faster and more thoroughly than any other option. To re-frame a question I asked earlier, why would any of our allies make any sacrifices whatsoever if they believe that Obama would be so supine? The mutual defense clause goes up in smoke at that point.

    Care to re-think that portion of your comment?

  9. No, not entirely different. I’m imagining the Euros meeting with their foreign policy teams, and possibly each other, and asking “Will Obama stand firm, or will he eventually fold?” If they believe he’ll stand firm, they will too. If they think he will eventually give in, they will (quite rightly, in my opinion) begin to push for capitulation, initially privately, and then publicly. They will push harder because they don’t want to stand firm, see their citizens get executed, and have Obama fold anyway.

    The funny thing is, I actually don’t think he’ll fold. I have very little regard for him, but I don’t think he’s that spineless.

  10. Phil,

    I think we’re not really disagreeing much. I think the only possibility of Obama folding in that situation is if the allies tell him to fold.

    But that comes with the following caveats:

    1) I don’t think the allies will tell him to fold, and

    2) Even if so, I really don’t think he will, absent some extreme or unforeseen situation. He might think about it and weigh the options, but the only way I see him doing it is if he is convinced that it is the action that weakens NATO the least.

    Humph. That’s what I should have said originally: I think he would only fold if he is convinced it is the action that weakens NATO the least. And that is because I think Obama belongs to a foreign policy tradition that highly values Europe, highly values alliance structures, and therefore highly values NATO.

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