KENWOOD — Thirty years after he helped negotiate the release of an imprisoned Navy navigator from Syria, the Rev. Jesse Jackson Jr. reflected on the discussions and diplomacy that led to Lt. Robert Goodman’s freedom.
Goodman’s plane was shot down over Lebanon on Dec. 4, 1983. His pilot, Lt. Mark Lange, was killed. Goodman was captured by Syrian troops and taken to Damascus, where he would be held captive for a month.
Jackson, at the time running for the Democratic nomination for president, took it upon himself to meet with Syrian President Hafez al-Assad, father of the country’s current leader Bashar al-Assad.
President Ronald Reagan warned Jackson that if he made “‘a mistake the burden will be up on you. You could get [Goodman] hurt,’” Jackson recalled Saturday at Rainbow PUSH headquarters in Kenwood.
But Jackson said Reagan’s reluctance to get involved might have helped the discussions, which included the Rev. Jeremiah Wright and Louis Farrakhan.
“We were willing to go on our own on the wings of faith and take the risk because I knew how to negotiate,” Jackson said.
On Jan. 2, 1984, Jackson and his delegation met with Assad, who was noncommittal. But the next day, Goodman was released.
"I think part of what made it happen was that we tried. We had the will to take the risk," Jackson said. "We represent a broad base of American people and because we were representing the best interest of our country and our soldier I think that also impressed Mr. Assad. I met him before and I leaned heavily upon him not to let us go back home empty handed."
The next day, the young airman was standing next to Reagan and Jackson at the White House.
Goodman, 57, and a retired Navy commander, met with Jackson Saturday for the first time since that homecoming 30 years ago.
During a press conference following a roundtable discussion, Goodman was asked about the situation in Syria today, as a civil war enters a fourth year amid allegations of chemical weapons used by the Assad regime. Goodman’s plane was shot down amid tensions following the bombing of a Marine barracks in Lebanon, perpetrated by Iranian-backed militants.
"I didn't draw a direct comparison to my event to things today," Goodman said. "What is interesting is that tensions 30 years ago still have legacy intentions today. That is interesting. Things seem to not have a way to get resolved."
Goodman also commented on the current situation in Syria saying that if the U.S. does use military power that he hoped it was done judiciously.
"It is a valuable resource not to be used indiscriminately. There are lives at stake. I know that my former colleagues and my current colleagues that are in the service are willing to do whatever they are asked to do," Goodman said. "My personal opinion is they should be asked to do it when it is important. If it is not important than it should not be done."
After the U.S. alleged the use of chemical weapons in September, President Barack Obama asked Congress to debate the use of American military force. In September, the U.S. and Russia announced a compromise - a plan for Syria to destroy its chemical weapons stockpile.
"Isn't that the question on the plan whether or not to attack Syria?" Jackson asked. "America said no and now we find talking is working better than bombing would have done. Isn't that the real point?”