Foreign Policy, Bowe Bergdahl, and the Taliban

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Obviously the newest foreign policy issue is the trade of five Taliban terrorists for one American soldier, Bowe Bergdahl. There is no argument that the five are extremely dangerous and there is a very large chance that at least two of them, if not all five, will return to plotting and killing their enemies. There is also no doubt that there are a lot of questions about whether the American soldier intentionally turned himself over to the Taliban and whether he was a deserter or just a very misguided person.

One major argument for it that is repeated over and over again is that we never leave a soldier behind. Let’s start with that. As my military friends say, that is not exactly accurate. We don’t trade an American President, Members of Congress, Supreme Court Justices for a soldier taken into captivity. Our military personnel, as well as our foreign services and intelligence services, all know that there is always a risk of capture or death when they volunteer to serve. (Remember we do have an all-volunteer military at this time.) As Nick Burns, former Undersecretary of State and now at Harvard, said, “We all know the risk.” We have left them behind before – at least until all of the rest of our troops are out of harm’s way or a war is over.

Then there is the line that the Israelis do trades. That’s a weak argument. America is not Israel. We don’t have the enemies of our state on our border. If we used the argument that another government does something so we can do the same thing, we could be like China and crush any dissent. Or we could be like Venezuela and prevent any dissenting voice in the country. Telling an American that another country “does it,” is a certain path to raising every American hackle. We pride ourselves in being unique and independent.

Now to the reasons why this trade was a bad idea. Start with Dianne Feinstein’s wrath over not being notified as Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee which is required by law for the Administration to do to all Chairmen of the appropriate committees of the House and Senate. Then there is House Intelligence Chairman Mike Rogers’ agreement with Senator Feinstein as to the last time the Administration proposed this in 2011 that both Democrats and Republicans who were briefed on this inane screamed bloody murder, “No!” Why? Because the White House’s review of the prisoners at Guantanamo concluded that these five were extremely dangerous and likely to return to the field of action against Americans and Afghanis. Why would we voluntarily put them back in the arena to try to harm our interests and our citizens?

As if those are not good enough reasons, let’s add that one of them was wanted by the U.N. for war crimes. Then there is the point that now we have made Americans overseas an even greater target for kidnapping. As Time Magazine reported, “It’s better to kidnap one person like Bergdahl than kidnapping hundreds of useless people,” a commander of the Taliban told the magazine on condition of anonymity. “It has encouraged our people. Now everybody will work hard to capture such an important bird.” Turning these men back into the outside world where, even if they don’t leave Qatar, they are allowed to wander freely, use telephones, couriers, and have family visit them and return to their homes in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

When one adds the pros and cons, I see no pro except for one family who misses their child. (If the stories are true that he deserted his post and intentionally went over to the Taliban, then they will get to see him in prison here, but he certainly will not be a free man if he is court-martialled and found guilty.) All the other arguments are on the con side. In many experts’ opinions, this was a very grave mistake. I certainly think so and hope that at some point the Administration will return to listening to Democrats and Republicans who have a bipartisan interest in keeping us safe here and around the world. They blew it this time, but they have two more years in office to learn from their mistakes if they are smart enough to realize them.

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