Obama Not the First President to Negotiate with Terrorists, Just the Worst

Obama Not the First President to Negotiate with Terrorists, Just the Worst

As the outrage at President Obama’s secret deal that secured the return of suspected army deserter Bowe Bergdahl by releasing five of the world’s most dangerous terrorist masterminds grows, many Obama critics have added his negotiating with terrorists to their list of grievances against him.

President Obama did far more than simply “negotiate with terrorists.” His real crime was that he “negotiated with terrorists” so very, very badly. It is not true, as some have claimed, that President Obama is the first president to negotiate with terrorists. Many have. Most of those who have negotiated with terrorists have failed. Most, but not all. In 1904, President Theodore Roosevelt conducted what is arguably the most successful open “negotiations” with Islamist terrorists during the so-called “Perdicaris Affair.” 

So successful was Roosevelt in “negotiating” for the safe return of an American playboy kidnapped in Morocco, he was richly rewarded by voters to his own full term as president in a landslide win just a few months later. 

In May, 1904, Ion Perdicaris, together with his mistress’s son, were kidnapped from their home in Tangiers, Morocco by agents of the powerful bandit Mulai Ahmed Raisuli. Raisuli demanded that Morocco’s Sultan Abdelaziz fork over $70,000 in cash and sovereign power over two Moroccan provinces for Perdicaris’s release. Roosevelt was so incensed that such demands would be made for the return of an American citizen — (who Roosevelt secretly learned later, was not in fact a US citizen)– that he immediately inserted himself into the negotiations between Raisuli and the Sultan. 

He dispatched seven warships to sit off the coast of Morocco with orders to seize Moroccan custom houses which were the source of most of that country’s total revenue if money were needed to win Perdicaris released. Roosevelt declared that that purpose of his negotiation was to insure the safe release of Perdicaris; whether the Moroccan Sultan met all of Raisuli’s ransom demands, rescued Perdicaris, killed Raisuli, or any combination thereof was immaterial to Roosevelt; all he demanded was Perdicaris’ return.

Speaking to the Republican National Convention in Chicago on June 21, 1904, Roosevelt’s laid out his terms in language so stark, they were to become an American idiom. “This government,” roared Roosevelt, “wants Perdicaris alive or Raisuli dead.” The crowd went wild, the country exploded in support, and Perdicaris was soon released, unharmed. 

A loosely based account of the Perdicaris Affair was made into a popular 1975 movie called The Wind and the Lion starring Sean Connery and Brian Keith. Whether an equally popular film will ever be made extolling the pride and power of President Obama in securing the release of Private Bowe Bergdahl is unknown.