Charles Krauthammer
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WASHINGTON -- On the day the Colombian military freed Ingrid Betancourt and 14 other long-held hostages, the Italian Parliament passed yet another resolution demanding her release. Europe had long ago adopted this French-Colombian politician as a cause celebre. France had made her an honorary citizen of Paris, passed numerous resolutions and held many vigils.

Unfortunately, karma does not easily cross the Atlantic. Betancourt languished for six years in cruel captivity until freed by a brilliant operation conducted by the Colombian military, intelligence agencies and special forces -- an operation so well executed that the captors were overpowered without a shot being fired.

This in foreign policy establishment circles is called "hard power." In the Bush years, hard power is terribly out of fashion, seen as a mere obsession of cowboys and neocons. Both in Europe and America, the sophisticates worship at the altar of "soft power" -- the use of diplomatic and moral resources to achieve one's ends.

Europe luxuriates in soft power, nowhere more than in l'affaire Betancourt in which Europe's repeated gestures of solidarity hovered somewhere between the fatuous and the destructive. Europe had been pressing the Colombian government to negotiate for the hostages. Venezuela's Hugo Chavez offered to mediate.

Of course, we know from documents captured in a daring Colombian army raid into Ecuador in March -- your standard hard-power operation duly denounced by that perfect repository of soft power, the Organization of American States -- that Chavez had been secretly funding and pulling the strings of the FARC. These negotiations would have been Chavez's opportunity to gain recognition and legitimacy for his terrorist client.

Colombia's President Alvaro Uribe, a conservative and close ally of President Bush, went instead for the hard stuff. He has for years. As a result, he has brought to its knees the longest running and once-strongest guerrilla force on the continent by means of "an intense military campaign (that) weakened the FARC, killing seasoned commanders and prompting 1,500 fighters and urban operatives to desert" (Washington Post). In the end, it was that campaign -- and its agent, the Colombian military -- that freed Betancourt.

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Charles Krauthammer

Charles Krauthammer is a 1987 Pulitzer Prize winner, 1984 National Magazine Award winner, and a columnist for The Washington Post since 1985.

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