Dateline: August 8, 1993 Beirut
Mr. Giandomenico Picco, the assistant United Nations Secretary-General, was in delicate negotiations for the release of American hostages. Terry Anderson, United Press International’s station chief had been held for seven years. The American public wanted their fellow citizen home.
Picco’s bold plan called for the release of all hostages, and hundreds of Islamic prisoners held by Israel. Just recently, his work had resulted in the release of John McCarthy, a five-year captive.
Frenchman Kidnapped Close to final and total resolution, Picco was pressing on. Then it happened. A French medical work was kidnapped in Beirut the day after McCarthy’s release. The anonymous kidnappers threatened to kill him if any more American hostage were freed. The unexpected snatch threw a new element into the chemistry – panic.
The Muslims withdrew from talks with Picco. Boldly, he countered, demanding an immediate meeting. The kidnappers insisted on blindfolding him, took him on a long, twisting route around Beirut and slapped on extra mayo.
Once he arrived at the meeting location – because they were more comfortable with an Italian than an American – they allowed him to take his hood off. He could see the men immediately in front of him, but a dozen others remained out of sight as they shouted counsel.
“Stormy and long” is how Picco later described the situation. “I felt in my bones the danger of things falling apart. I knew I could just evaporate into thin air” (page 290 of Den on Lions, Terry Anderson’s autobiography).
“It’s Not Us.” The Islamic Jihad with whom Picco was negotiating said they had not abducted the Frenchman. When Picco continued to press for the release of Terry Anderson, they exploded: “You want us to give you another hostage?! You want to get the Frenchman killed?!”
Big Boys Possibly surprising himself and stretching his skills, Picco remembers saying, “This is where the big boys come in. You are the big boys. You have to do both – release Anderson and make sure nothing happens to the Frenchman” (page 290).
Then came Picco’s wise insight: “If you stop the release or can’t protect the Frenchman, you can’t deliver! Whatever happens to me, you will have no others [to negotiate with] in the future. You’re finished. You’ve lost your credibility.”
Masterstroke The arguments raged for another five hours. Then came Picco’s masterstroke: “Whoever has taken the Frenchman is challenging you! Not only is he challenging you, but he is winning if you don’t release the next hostage. So you want to lose, or you want to win?” Saying “Who is in charge here?” challenged their egos.
Another hostage was released on Saturday, August 11, 1993, and the Frenchman was released at the same time.
Application I would make a terrible business man and a miserable negotiator. I recall once when Action International Ministries (of which we are a part) were on a retreat. At a fun night, we had a Stare Down Competition. With faces 18 inches apart, how long can you go without blinking? I was laughing in 15 seconds. The U.S. Director won after about ten minutes.
And the point is, “We should be grateful for those who are blessed with a straight face that does not blink.” We are told to pray for those in authority over us (I Timothy 2:1-3). God has wired some to lead (and given them a thick skin). We should be grateful for them. No, we do not always agree with them. But after a day’s work, we go home, have dinner and go to sleep. Maybe they do too, but maybe they toss and turn and sleep very little.
They have agonies we know nothing about. We have the luxury of not doing the learn-the-facts, consider-the-motives, or know-the-situation work of wise decision-making. I, for one, am happy to leave them to serve as they do.