By Maegan Clearwood
After three years of flying back and forth across the globe, interviewing everyone from politicians to convicted terrorists, President Mitchell Reiss’ e-book Negotiating with Evil: When to Talk to Terrorists is finally online and available to readers.
The book, which was released on Sept. 7, examines how countries have negotiated with terrorists in the past and how today’s leaders can learn from these countries’ mistakes. Reiss’ extensive background in diplomacy, specifically with Northern Ireland and North Korea, inspired him to investigate this controversial topic.
“The idea [for the book] came from two sources,” Reiss said, “One was my frustration when I was in the government at the government’s inability to provide me with good answers to the questions I had about negotiating with North Korea and Northern Ireland. Second was my assessment of the trends in terrorism. It’s a problem that is going to become more widespread.”
The book is especially relevant today because it serves as a response to President Barack Obama’s plans to negotiate with the Taliban. “[The book] provides a set of guidelines to see if it makes sense for the United States to do it or not,” he said.
Traveling proved to be one of the most time-consuming and expensive aspects of working on the book. Reiss managed to get funding from the Carnegie Corporation and the U.S. Institute of Peace, after “an intense period of grant applications.”
With support from these organizations, as well as his wife and family, Reiss started his research. He got much of his information from interviews with a variety of sources, including “sitting politicians, former ministers, current and former security personnel, military officers, counter-terrorism experts, and former terrorists.”
“I wasn’t uncomfortable talking to [the former terrorists],” he said. “There are certain precautions you can take if you’re meeting with supposedly former terrorists.” These precautions included “doubling up as members of political parties, so there was no real concern with meeting them at our consulate in Belfast, State Department, etc. When talking with ‘former’ terrorists, sometimes it was unclear whether or not they really were former. I would only meet in public places like hotel lobbies and during the daytime.”
Some of the interviews he conducted for his book proved more challenging than others. “I’d had a lot of experience in northern Ireland, but not in these other countries,” he said.
Reiss had a distinct idea in mind as he researched and interviewed, which made the writing process as smooth as possible.
“I had a good conceptual outline at the beginning,” Reiss said. “I wasn’t sure what I’d find, but the framework stayed the same.”
With a distinct objective in mind, actually putting his thoughts into words did not prove to be much of a challenge.
“The writing wasn’t that difficult except at the very end,” he said. “The last chapter and writing the conclusion was like pulling teeth.”
Reiss did not spend the entirety of the past three years flying to foreign countries and talking to world leaders; he juggled writing with serving as president for the College of William and Mary and his family life.
“It was difficult. I was away from home a lot, so [the book is] dedicated to my wife,” he said. “Logistically, it was hard to get everything organized. I didn’t have a staff, so I made all the travel, interview, hotel arrangements, and reimbursement requests, myself. It was very time consuming.”
Surrounded by a new campus full of people to meet and names to learn, Reiss is in no rush to embark on a new writing adventure.
“I need to find something that’s going to get me intellectually excited, but I haven’t found that big idea yet,” he said. “I think I’m going to take a break for awhile.