The kidnapping sprees that made international travel perilous for Americans back in the 1980s and 1990s have returned in force. Only this time, other governments are joining in taking American civilians prisoner on trumped-up charges and effectively holding them hostage for use in trades with Washington. This rarely ends well for any U.S. administration.
Even though the official position of the United States has been, for decades, that America doesn’t negotiate with terrorists, it negotiates all the time. Usually the process takes place in secrecy, far from the view of the news media and often without the hostages’ families knowing the extent of the negotiations. That often can lead to outbursts of frustration by the families when they become convinced that the government isn’t doing enough to get their loved ones out. The pressure mounts on the government to make a public statement, which then has the effect of boosting the other side’s demands.
The Biden administration felt particular pressure in the case of WNBA star Brittney Griner after her arrest for possessing a small amount of cannabis vaping oil when she had traveled to Russia, earning her a nine-year prison sentence. For months, the negotiations for her release centered on the release of Viktor Bout, a convicted international arms dealer with significant blood on his hands. There was nothing even slightly fair about this trade.