There were possible alternatives to the policies that have been chosen. The United States might have tried to pay less attention to the issue of terrorism, putting it lower on the foreign policy agenda, deliberately adopting a more phlegmatic posture and using less bellicose rhetoric. But given the spectacular nature of terrorist attacks and the public outrage they provoke, it would have been extremely difficult to sustain a deliberately phlegmatic policy.
The United States could have followed a more flexible policy in dealing with hostage situations, as did some European nations. However, the private sector's practice of routinely paying ransom for company executives kidnapped abroad suggests that compliance only encourages further kidnappings. And research suggests that it is the ability of the local government to apprehend, convict, and punish kidnappers and destroy their gangs, whether they are politically motivated or common criminals, that determines the frequency of kidnappings. Politically motivated kidnappings have declined. The United States could have adopted a policy of assassinating foreign terrorist leaders, as Israel did in 1972. While this policy may have led to the removal of some effective terrorist leaders, it has had little discernible effect on the level of terrorism aimed against Israel.
The United States did not have to officially designate state sponsors of terrorism and automatically impose sanctions, thus depriving itself of more flexible forms of diplomacy. As noted earlier, the record of sanctions is at best a mixed one. The United States could have rejected the use of military force altogether, relying instead exclusively on a criminal justice approach. However, few other nations extend the jurisdiction of their courts and send law enforcement officials abroad to investigate terrorist crimes against their citizens.
Persuading other nations to support sanctions, America's use of military force, and the rendition of foreign terrorists to the United States for trial have all required vigorous American diplomacy. The willingness to impose sanctions and use military force, as well as offer assistance in other areas, has in turn reinforced that diplomacy.