Civilization’s Dilemma: Short-Term Hostage Welfare or Long-Term Peace?

A jubilant media has been aglow with the holiday release by Hamas of a small percentage of hostages, followed by more promised in coming days, certainly a heartwarming human-interest story. But we should all catch our breath to discuss whether these should be the last such releases-for-ceasefire.

It is basic logic that society should punish behaviors it discourages (e.g., tobacco taxes) and encourage virtuous acts (e.g., tax-deductible charity). However, is the Biden administration, contrary to this common sense, now encouraging brutal slaughters, accompanied by taking innocents – not soldiers – hostage? It certainly seems so.

After America just recently valued each of its citizens at over $1 billion apiece, for five Iranian-held hostages ($6 billion total), does our pressure on Israel to pause fighting endanger not just Israel, not just our Mideast allies, but also America? Put differently, is our pressure on Israel to release hostages, in exchange for a cease-fire, invaluable to both Hamas and Iran, a continuation of a Biden Administration policy which encourages hostage-taking?

It has long been our public position that America does not negotiate for hostages. Of course, this rule is honored more in the breach, but, that said, it effectuates a sound bargaining position, and thus devalues each hostage for the captor. In short, game theory advises that we would get a much better hostage agreement once the terrorists are cornered and begging for mercy.

But what if the Hamas terrorists begin threatening-and perhaps taking- hostage lives? If we are willing to sanction Iran for such – heavily – and so advise the mullahs with credibility, this should not happen. But it will happen if America does not take an aggressive posture on this issue. If Iran knows that taking hostage lives will work in its favor, that is what will happen. Unless of course, America pushes Israel to do as Hamas and the mullahs wish.

Now we come to the domestic politics of what should be solely an issue of peace and national security, but which, unhappily, may be seen by Biden as an election issue.

The first domestic political issue is the strong support of Hamas and the Palestinian cause by the far-left Progressives, a part of President Biden’s hoped-for election coalition. Young voters especially, already skeptical of Biden, are more inclined than other demographics to support Palestinians, the result of both leftist college curricula and the prevailing social media slant via the likes of TikTok.

The second issue is the Biden Administration’s seeming enthrallment to Iran, first to get a counterintuitive nuclear deal and, second, to encourage Iranian fuel production without any dampening through American sanctions, currently not enforced. Increased Iranian production, in turn, is hoped by the Administration to lower pump prices in America, helping Biden. It appears that the reinstitution of sanctions could re-depress Iranian oil production by a million barrels a day and force it to give discounts to countries like China, costing Iran $100 billion per year. Cutting Iran’s income would then pressure its client Hamas. But, sadly, for the above political reasons, this Administration is unlikely to go there.

Given the reluctance of Biden’s team to help Israel achieve its long-term security by wiping out Iranian protégé Hamas, the future of a great country is at risk.

Since Iran is not too far from a deliverable nuclear weapon, time is on its side. If Israel does not destroy Hamas now, it likely will never do so, and may well be destroyed by Iran in the near future.

In the present, Iranian, Hezbollah and Houthis’ strikes are bedeviling not only Israel, but also Saudi Arabia and America. What message are we therefore sending by pushing a “temporary” cease-fire on Israel in exchange for a small percentage of hostages? With at least women and children supposedly to be released, should this latest contemplated exchange be the end of bargaining with the devil, at least for the time being?

Our domestic issues further complicate the subject by consideration of our porous Southern border. It is acknowledged that terrorists have provably and unaccountably entered our country (the government will not release its numerical estimates), with probably triple any admitted number being the most accurate accounting.

Are we therefore in danger of terrorist activity in America, in support of Hamas and Iran? We are if Iran knows it will not only not pay a price, but also will be rewarded.

Once again, these key issues depend on public opinion, which in turn is dependent upon unbiased, truthful media messaging. If Biden is disciplined by public opinion, perhaps he will stiffen his spine during ongoing hostage negotiations.

If our supposedly watchdog media, then, encouraged tough-love thinking about hostages, maybe today’s clear and present danger will show signs of abatement.

Winston Churchill once said that America can always be counted on to do the right thing, after exhausting every other alternative. That amusing but generally accurate appraisal is now, with the hostage issue under discussion, facing a critical test.

John D. O’Connor is a former federal prosecutor and the San Francisco attorney who represented W. Mark Felt during his revelation as Deep Throat in 2005. O’Connor is the author of the books, Postgate: How the Washington Post Betrayed Deep Throat, Covered Up Watergate and Began Today’s Partisan Advocacy Journalism and The Mysteries of Watergate: What Really Happened.

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About John D. O'Connor

John D. O’Connor is a former federal prosecutor and the San Francisco attorney who represented W. Mark Felt during his revelation as Deep Throat in 2005. O’Connor is the author of The Mysteries of Watergate: What Really Happened.

Photo: TEL AVIV, ISRAEL - 2023/12/02: Hostages families hold posters of their loved ones at the gates of the IDF headquarters during a demonstration in a demand for the Israeli War Cabinet to meet them. Thousands of Israelis joined the Hostages Families Forum protest demanding the release of the Israeli hostages from Gaza following the war renewal. (Photo by Matan Golan/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)