October 3, 2010

By Frank Shatz


Mitchell Reiss, the former director of the Reves Center for International Studies and dean for international affairs at the College of William & Mary, was inaugurated on Oct. 2nd, as the 27th president of Washington College, the first college chartered in the new nation. It was under the patronage of George Washington.


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This event by itself has generated considerable public interest. In addition, however, Reiss’ new book “Negotiating with Evil: When to Talk to Terrorists,” a path-breaking analysis of controversial negotiations, has just hit the nation’s bookstores.


“Negotiating with Evil,” was first published as an original E-book by Open Road Integrated Media. According to a press release, Reiss said that he chose to publish with Open Road, because “Digital publishing is the way of the future….The book gets out very quickly, it’s far less expensive than a traditional book, and it’s a great way to reach a global audience.”


The book is seen as a primer for decision makers in Washington. Presenting them with a historical record of how and why various governments around the world negotiated with “evil.”


“Because it has largely occurred in the shadows, few protocols and little analysis of prior practice exist to help guide thought or action. Thus, each administration has to perform the policy equivalent of reinventing the wheel,” Reiss said in an interview with the Gazette.


He is quoted saying, “Over the past three years, I’ve traveled around the world interviewing prime ministers, generals, intelligence officers and former terrorists. My goal has been to explore why governments have decided to talk to terrorist groups, understand the mistakes they’ve made and reveal the victories they’ve achieved.”

Reiss’ own experiences lend “Negotiating with Evil” an added authenticity. He was chief negotiator for the Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization, an agency responsible for a $6 billion project that was set up to induce North Korea to adhere to its commitment to freeze and eventually abandon its nuclear weapon program. As the director of policy planning at the State Department, he was a key aide to Secretary of State Colin Powell. Later, for more than three years, he served as President Bush’ special envoy, with the rank of ambassador, to the Northern Ireland peace process.


All those assignments provided Reiss with an opportunity to assess what works and is futile in the quest to reach out to adversaries whose values, culture and goals are so different from our own. To gain a better understanding of what motivates terrorist groups and what makes them to agree to end the conflicts, Reiss talked to former terrorist leaders in Northern Ireland, in Sri Lanka, in Spain, to the Basque ETA group, and to former insurgent leaders in Iraq Al Anbar province.


The result is a book that Senator John McCain calls a “required reading” for senior policymakers, but also for informed citizens. “How political leaders start talking with groups or governments that killing their citizens, and ultimately agree to end their conflicts, is one of the most difficult, most important and least understood challenges facing nations across the world.”


Gen. Anthony Zinni, USMC (retired) considers the book “A truly superb analysis of negotiations with controversial groups and states…The most comprehensive and thoughtful work on this complex subject.”


While he was engaged in the research for the book, in an interview with the Gazette, Reiss reflected on his aim to answer some fundamental and enduring policy questions: “Whether to engage with avowed enemies? Under what circumstances is it beneficial to negotiate? Or not to negotiate? And if a decision to go forward is made, how to do so? How to set (and limit) the negotiating objectives? How to exploit or acquire leverage?”


According to Walter Isaacson, president of the Aspen Institute, an acclaimed writer and biographer, “Mitchell Reiss takes on one of the most important questions of our messy international age, how to deal with terrorists, and he answers it through a series of fascinating case studies.”


More: “Negotiating with Evil” can be ordered from www.openroadmedia.com Amazon sells it also in Kindle Edition.


Editor’s Note: Mitchell Reiss is a member of the Board of Trustees of the Churchill Centre and Museum.


Frank Shatz lives in Williamsburg, Va. and Lake Placid. His column was reprinted with permission from The Virginia Gazette.

©The Virginia Gazette

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