Opinion

David Rohde

Did America’s policy on ransom contribute to James Foley’s killing?

David Rohde
Aug 20, 2014 17:02 UTC

Still image from undated video of a masked Islamic State militant holding a knife speaking next to man purported to be James Foley at an unknown location

Somewhere in the desert of eastern Syria, a militant from the Islamic State beheaded the American journalist James Foley this week. The killer and his terrorist group are responsible for Foley’s death. They should be the focus of public anger.

But Foley’s execution is also a chilling wake-up call for American and European policymakers, as well as U.S. news outlets and aid organizations. It is the clearest evidence yet of how vastly different responses to kidnappings by U.S. and European governments save European hostages but can doom the Americans. Hostages and their families realize this fully — even if the public does not.

“I wish I could have the hope of freedom and seeing my family once again, but that ship has sailed,” Foley said moments before he was killed in a craven video released by the militant group on Tuesday. “I guess, all in all, I wish I wasn’t American.”

French journalist Nicolas Henin is cheered by relatives as he arrives by helicopter from Evreux to the military airbase in VillacoublayFoley clearly spoke under duress. But his regret at being an American captive, real or not, reflected grim fact.

This spring, four French and two Spanish journalists held hostage by the Islamic State extremists were freed — after the French and Spanish governments paid ransoms through intermediaries.

Signing off

David Rohde
Jan 29, 2014 20:52 UTC

For the past two and a half years, I’ve had the privilege of writing a weekly opinion column for Reuters. Some of those columns made me proud. Others I wish I could do over.

As of today, I am changing jobs and becoming an investigative reporter at Reuters. I will also write regular analysis columns, but they will be edited by the Reuters news desk and not contain opinion.

Measuring public concern by page views is a dubious enterprise. But the interest generated by some of my columns suggested that two main issues interested readers.

Dooming the Syria talks before they begin

David Rohde
Jan 22, 2014 20:55 UTC

The United States won a short-term diplomatic victory over Iran this week. Under intense pressure from American officials, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon withdrew an invitation for Iranian officials to attend the Syria peace conference.

Disinviting Tehran is the latest example of the Obama administration’s continual search for easy, risk-free solutions in Syria. As the conflict destabilizes the region, however, Washington must finally face the hard choice: Either compromise with Iran, or decisively support and arm the rebels.

The lack of an Iranian presence in Switzerland today dooms the talks’ prospects. Whether Tehran’s actions are depraved or not, its comprehensive efforts to supply troops, munitions and funding to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad makes the Iranian government the key foreign player in the conflict.

Newest victim of congressional wrecking ball: Iran policy

David Rohde
Jan 15, 2014 16:37 UTC

By design or accident, it is increasingly clear that the centerpiece of President Barack Obama’s second-term foreign policy is a nuclear agreement with Iran. Whether Obama can succeed, however, now depends on Congress staying out of the negotiations.

Over the last few weeks, 16 Democratic senators have supported a bill that would impose new sanctions on Iran over its nuclear program. They have defied the White House’s intense campaign to block Congress from adding new conditions to any deal.

In this way, Obama is the victim of an increasingly craven Washington — where members of his own party are abandoning him out of political expedience. At the same time, the White House is also a victim of its sometimes erratic responses to events in the Middle East.

Gates, Obama and denying reality in the Middle East

David Rohde
Jan 8, 2014 23:11 UTC

The talk about former Defense Secretary Bob Gates’ blistering new memoir “Duty” has focused on the description of President Barack Obama’s tense 2011 Situation Room meeting with his top military advisers. A frustrated Obama expresses doubts about General David Petraeus, then U.S. commander in Afghanistan, and questions whether the administration can do business with Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

“As I sat there,” Gates wrote, “I thought: The president doesn’t trust his commander, can’t stand Karzai, doesn’t believe in his own strategy and doesn’t consider the war to be his. For him, it’s all about getting out.”

Republicans quickly seized on these criticisms as proof Obama was a dithering commander in chief. Democrats, in turn, hailed Obama for standing up to the Pentagon brass.

How 2013′s partisanship hurt us abroad, as well as at home

David Rohde
Jan 2, 2014 21:35 UTC

The furious partisan debate that erupted this week after a New York Times investigation questioned the central tenet of the Republican assault on the White House regarding Benghazi was a fitting end to 2013.

The lengthy article revealed that the State Department and CIA’s intense focus on al Qaeda caused officials to miss the threat posed by local militias. David Kirkpatrick’s reporting showed that Libya’s rebels appreciated the U.S. support in helping oust Muammar Gaddafi, but were strongly influenced by decades of anger at Washington’s support for dictators in the region.

Militants gained strength from Syria to the Sahel over the course of 2013. Republicans and Democrats, however, remained focused on winning their daily messaging battle in Washington.

Will a billion ‘selfies’ cause us to miss history?

David Rohde
Dec 18, 2013 19:32 UTC

This week, Ron Haviv described to me the first time one of his photographs changed history.

The acclaimed war photographer was surrounded by his life’s work, which is now on exhibit in New York’s Anastasia Photo gallery. At age 23, Haviv took a photograph of supporters of Panamanian dictator, General Manuel Noriega, beating the country’s recently elected opposition vice president.

What is striking about the image is not just the crimson blood covering the man’s shirt. It is the Panamanian soldier standing a few feet away — doing nothing to protect him. The photograph appeared on the cover of Time, Newsweek and U.S. News and World Report. Months later, President George H.W. Bush cited the riveting image in his speech justifying the U.S. invasion of Panama.

Honor Mandela by stopping a genocide

David Rohde
Dec 11, 2013 19:53 UTC

As South Africans cheered President Barack Obama’s speech at the funeral of Nelson Mandela on Tuesday, a nation of 4.6 million people 2,500 miles north was being torn apart by religious hatred.

Muslim civilians in the Central African Republic, clutching machetes and crude, homemade weapons, prepared to fight off marauding Christians. Christians were forming self-defense militias in other parts of a country the size of Texas, to prevent Muslims from slitting their throats.

“We drove through some villages where every single person has picked up arms,” Peter Bouckaert, a researcher with Human Rights Watch, told me in a telephone interview from the republic on Tuesday. “Children as young as 11 have picked up daggers or have knives or even hunting rifles.”

From Kiev to Kabul, the promise of prosperity

David Rohde
Dec 5, 2013 15:35 UTC

In Kiev, hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians have taken to the streets to demand the government join the European Union, in the hopes it will spur economic growth. In Kabul, Afghan leaders overwhelmingly voted to have American troops remain for another decade, in the hopes they will maintain a “war and aid economy” that has brought them unprecedented riches.

As a fiscally constrained and war-weary Washington confronts its foreign policy challenges, events in Ukraine and Afghanistan show that economic incentives can play a major role in addressing them. Younger generations in both countries are eager for prosperity, reduced corruption and a place in a globalized economy. Globalism is challenging cronyism.

In Ukraine, many motives are driving the young demonstrators, who have been protesting since President Viktor Yanukovich abruptly announced that he would not sign an association agreement with the European Union. But a key belief voiced by protesters is that adopting EU-mandated judicial reforms would reduce the country’s staggering levels of corruption.

John Kerry has not yet saved — or destroyed — the Middle East

David Rohde
Nov 27, 2013 03:20 UTC

President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry appear to have run the table in Middle East diplomacy. An interim nuclear agreement with Iran has been reached, Israeli-Palestinian negotiations are underway and peace talks to end Syria’s civil war are slated to begin in January.

For an administration under siege domestically, press coverage declaring the triumph of Obama diplomacy over Bush-era militarism is a political godsend.

But talk in Washington of a legacy-defining breakthrough for Obama is overstated and premature. So are the apocalyptic warnings of Iranian hegemony now coming from Jerusalem and Riyadh.

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