By Lamont Colucci | Opinion Contributor US News & World Report June 26, 2017
Lamont Colucci is associate professor of politics at Ripon College
"Perdicaris alive or Raisuli dead!" was a famous quotation by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1904. At the time, the world watched as Roosevelt dispatched seven American warships to threaten devastation if an American citizen was not returned to safety. American foreign policy was leveled at the Moroccan state that was unable to protect that citizen, and the terrorist, Mulai Ahmed er Rasuli, who took him.
Historians have dissected the events surrounding the kidnapping of Ion Perdicaris. In typical American fashion, doves and hawks highlight details of the event to bolster their modern cause. Doves emphasize that Perdicaris was not a legal American citizen, that Rasuli ultimately released him after France arranged a ransom to be paid and that Roosevelt would have been unlikely to follow up his bluster with landing a Marine expeditionary force. Hawks counter this by arguing that the world perceived Perdicaris as an American, that the threat of force bought time and American honor was preserved through diplomatic action.
The tragic murder of another American citizen, Otto Warmbier, by North Korea should cause us to reflect on the actions of 1904. For far too long those in diplomatic circles and the media focus attention on the details of a particular case rather than the overall issue. The focus is on the actions of the American abroad: Did Otto Warmbier tear down a propaganda poster in North Korea? Did Michael Fay vandalize cars in Singapore? Did Fattal, Bauer and Shourd intentionally cross into Iran while backpacking? Worse, did an American naval vessel intentionally cross into Iranian waters?
All of these questions are valid and important for American authorities in dealing with American citizens on American soil. However, they are invalid questions from a diplomatic perspective. The only issue that is of concern is whether or not the person brutalized, captured, incarcerated or obstructed is perceived as an American citizen, legal resident or ally.