The Realist Prism: Bribery as a Diplomatic Tool

The Realist Prism: Bribery as a Diplomatic Tool

Whenever I ponder some of the challenges U.S. foreign policy faces today in Afghanistan, Somalia, or Yemen, I inevitably return to a passage in Bob Woodward's "Veil," describing how Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah, after an attempt to assassinate him had failed, was persuaded to restrain his followers in Lebanon from launching attacks on U.S. interests:

The Saudis approached him and asked whether . . . he would act as their early-warning system for terrorist attacks on Saudi and American facilities. They would pay $2 million cash. Fadlallah accepted, but said he wanted the payment in food, medicine and education expenses for some of his people. This would enhance his status among his followers. The Saudis agreed. There were no more Fadlallah-sponsored terrorist attacks against Americans.

The United States belatedly came around to this approach in Iraq's Sunni triangle as well. After years of insisting that Iraqis should be grateful for their liberation from Saddam Hussein's tyranny, the U.S. military began to put unemployed Sunnis -- many of them ex-army personnel who had been deprived of their livelihoods when the Iraqi army was dissolved in 2003 -- back on the payroll in 2006, leading to a sharp decrease in insurgent attacks against U.S. forces.

One has to wonder about other possible applications. Could the Somali pirate problem have been nipped in the bud back in 2007 by working with tribal leaders and authorities in the self-declared statelets of Somaliland and Puntland to recruit a "coast guard" -- before the wealth resulting from the pirate attacks of 2008 enhanced the status of the pirate gangs? How much of the Taliban's support in Afghanistan might be weaned away by an effective use of bribery? And could the lessons of how Fadlallah was incentivized to cease fomenting attacks against U.S. interests be applied in Yemen today?

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