August 18, 2008 | Faster, Please!

Making Deals with Terrorists

Over the weekend, my old friend Francesco Cossiga–former prime minister, interior minister, and president of Italy–published a bit of autobiography in the country’s leading newspaper, the Corriere della Sera.  Here’s an English language account of what he wrote.

Cossiga confirms what many people have long known (I wrote about it at the time,when I was Rome correspondent for The New Republic), namely that Italy had made a deal with the Palestinian terrorists:  the terrorists could come and go freely to and from Italy, and could even stage operations from Italy, but in exchange they would not conduct operations on Italian soil.

I have no doubt that other countries have made similar deals, and that they were happy with those deals for a number of reasons.  First and foremost, the governments sympathized with the terrorists’ cause, which was the war against Israel.  And second, it seemed to guarantee a certain degree of security at a time–the seventies–when there was a lot of terrorism in Western Europe.

The trouble was that the terrorists weren’t just Arabs;  there was a broader network, which included Italians.  And those Italians were operating against the very people who had made the deal with the Arabs.

Cossiga speaks with some bitterness about receiving a request from a Palestinian group, asking for the return of a missile that had been captured by Italian authorities from a far-left Italian group.  The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine was working closely with Italian terrorists, which the PFLP confirmed in their request to the Italian Government.

Ironically, the man who probably worked hardest to negotiate the deal–the Christian Democrat Aldo Moro, a close friend of Cossiga’s–eventually fell prey to the Italian Red Brigades terrorists, who kidnapped and then murdered him.   Cossiga was a man of honor, and resigned as interior minister shortly after Moro’s corpse was found in the center of Rome.

It’s a useful reminder about the limits of negotiations, don’t you think?  Even when you get a deal with evil people, bad things are going to happen.

Why?  Remember the old story about the crocodile and the scorpion.  The scorpion begs for a ride across the river, and the croc keeps on saying, ‘no, you’ll sting me.’  The scorpion promises to be good, and the croc finally makes the deal.  As they approach the far shore, the scorpion stings the croc.

“Why?  Why?  You promised,” says the croc.

“Because I am a scorpion.”

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