TURES COLUMN: Remember when we didn’t hate American hostages, and tried to free them?

Published 9:30 am Tuesday, December 13, 2022

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

In this new hyper-partisan political era, nobody is safe, not even someone held hostage by terrorists or an authoritarian regime. These times aren’t improved by finger-pointing by those who failed miserably when they had a chance to do something about it. That’s a far cry from the way things used to be, when we cared more about bringing all Americans held captive abroad.

My students often ask me which event got me interested in international politics. That’s easy. It was the Iran hostage crisis of 1979-1981, when a number of U.S. Embassy workers hostage. All evidence now shows the Iranian revolutionaries held on to their captives as long as they did to ensure Jimmy Carter would lose office.

Throughout the 1980s, Iranian ally Hezbollah played the same game, kidnapping and sometimes killing Americans in Lebanon. Though only a high school student, I knew their names, read all I could about them in places like Reader’s Digest. I knew when they were released, and when some never came home, slaughtered by their cruel captors.

One of them, Frank Reed, had this to say upon his release. “Let’s stop talking about all this geopolitical crap,’ said Reed, whose anger appeared to give strength to his weakened body. ‘We have an absolute duty to negotiate and not to throw geopolitical slogans around about anti-terrorism.’” This came courtesy of an archived article from UPI.

After we managed to get Russian autocrat Vladimir Putin to agree to swap Brittney Griner for Viktor Bout, the inspiration for the celebrity arms dealer played by Nicholas Cage in the movie “The Lord of War,” ex-President Donald Trump felt compelled to criticize the deal. His son Donald Trump Jr. attempted to pile on by ripping Griner. Other Republicans attacked Biden and demanded that Bout should have been traded for Paul Whelan, an ex-U.S. Marine.

Now we know the truth. “Bolton, who was the national security adviser under Mr. Trump for 17 months from 2018 to 2019, told CBS that the Trump administration had the opportunity to trade Mr. Whelan for convicted arms dealer Viktor Bout in 2018.” Whelan remains in a Russian jail.

We’ve also learned from Whelan’s brother the following fact. “David Whelan said on Twitter that Trump has mentioned his brother’s ‘wrongful detention more in the last 24 hours than he did in the 2 years of his presidency,’ which he said was ‘zero.’”

Former NSC official Fiona Hill added “I also have to say here that President Trump wasn’t especially interested in engaging in that swap for Paul Whelan. He was not particularly interested in Paul’s case in the way that one would have thought he would be.” The Biden Administration was also to get U.S. Marine Trevor Reed, held in a Russian jail since Trump was President back in 2019, released in a 2022 prisoner swap for a Russian drug dealer.

It’s not as if Trump didn’t know how to make a deal. I give him credit for getting Andrew Brunson released from Turkey when the Erdogan regime accused him of working with Gulenists. But when the Trump Administration agreed to force the Afghan government release thousands of Taliban fighters in the Doha deal, which eventually destroyed the Afghan government, maybe we could have done that in exchange for one U.S. Marine from their Russian ally, perhaps?

Democratic strategist James Carville responded to the criticism of Griner. “Does anyone in their right mind think that if Brittney was a blond Chi Omega from SMU that the reaction would have been the same? Of course not!” I hope he’s not right. Let us all return to the days where we tried to earnestly free every American hostage, instead of wishing they were locked up abroad forever just based on who they are.