How do you negotiate with ISIS or other terrorist groups? What do you do when the other side is only after your destruction? As a professional negotiator, I am frequently asked questions like this in the wake of horrific events such as the Istanbul and Brussels airport attacks.
During my recent visit to India, Raj, a young pandit and a new father, invited me to his home to see his new child. As I entered their room, I sensed a strong smell. Unlike many other places that you go in India where the smell of incense is common, this room’s scent had a chemical ring to it. The little boy was agitated and crying in his mother’s arms as she nervously comforted him and tried to quiet him down.
Half way through my visit, Raj got up and grabbed a can, and as he said “excuse me,” he sprayed the room generously. The strong chemical smell that I had sensed earlier was now in full force. He mentioned the problem they had this year with mosquitos. The young mother was pointing to the the mosquito bites on the face of her precious baby. Raj explained how they started with a simple method of fighting mosquitos, and each time they have tried a stronger weapon for extermination. This new can of repellant was the latest and strongest on the market.
When I got up to leave, I looked out the window and noticed an abandoned pond turned to a polluted swamp. It was obvious that this was the breeding ground for all the mosquitos they were fighting. My bewildered look got Raj’s attention as he walked to me and gazed to the same direction as the pond. Raj was very intelligent and that scene jolted him. It was a “Eureka!” moment for him. I’ve been so busy with my personal life that I missed the big picture: instead of ceasing their breeding (the mosquitos’) I was only focused on defending my family.
Raj wanted to protect his family, but instead he was poisoning them, including his precious little boy, with strong chemical repellent, rather than getting rid of the mosquitos’ breeding place. He wasn’t clear on his intention - no clear roadmap, and he wasn’t relying on his wisdom.
In Enlightened Negotiation, these principles are covered under the Laws of Intention (a conscious action requires a clear intention), and the Law of Strength (we need strength to protect our interests and to persuade the other side. Strength in negotiation is about the power of knowledge, knowing our self and knowing the other side).
ISIS and other terrorist threats are serious, and similar to the mosquitos, their breeding ground is expanding. These terrorist groups prey on unstable communities and terrorize them, control their resources and shield themselves behind the locals. In an attempt to defend ourselves, we are poisoning ourselves with failed strategies. Blanket bombing won’t do; like the mosquito spray, blanket bombing has negative side effects for the entire community which terrorist groups have taken over, as well as the global community, without doing anything substantive to prevent the breeding of further terrorism. We need to change our game.
In Enlightened Negotiation, in addition to analyzing the effects of our agreements on each each party, we must look at the immediate and long term peripheral effects of our actions. Not all negotiations end with a hand shake. When the other side aims only at your destruction, it becomes a matter of survival and protection. In this case, it requires a full comprehensive plan such as the Village Stability Program that Retired Lieutenant Colonel D. Scott Mann spells out in his book Game Changers. In his book, Mann details a clear and practical agenda in stabilizing the villages on which terrorist groups tend to prey. By eliminating their breeding grounds, we eliminate their power.
In this election we need to know in detail the philosophy and plans of our candidates as to how they will address these global terrorism issues. It is our duty as citizens to demand from our leaders a clear vision as to how they will fight and protect us.