Some people are calling the Sgt. Bergdahl exchange for five Taliban killers imprisoned at Guantanamo a “fiasco” or a ham-handed misjudgment of anticipated popular feedback by a bunch of political hacks who seem to be in charge of the Obama foreign policy team. It was certainly that, and I wish that was all it was, but knowing this crowd and its record, I’m pretty sure that it was a well-calculated decision, purposely circumventing Congressional input, to change the subject from the VA and other current scandals and make good on Obama’s commitment to close Gitmo, with total disregard for the consequences of the release of enemy combatants, who will almost certainly return to the battlefield as a threat to Americans.
Other observers, such as Charles Krauthammer, would have approved the exchange, because the underlying military policy of “leave no soldier behind” is what separates the West from its barbarous enemies–the value of each individual life–and the West always comes out on the short end in these transactions, but must do so in the interest of its values, although he thinks that the swap represents a “defeat for a clueless President”. I agree with Krauthammer on the latter point, but disagree with him on the approval of the exchange itself. The President made the point that “this is what happens at the end of wars”, but this war is not over; the Taliban and al-Queda missed the memorandum–they are not leaving the battlefield and they are still killing Americans!
Further, some commentator made the point that the reason these particular five killers were still at Gitmo is that there was insufficient evidence to try them in the U. S. criminal justice system. That point is problematic in the first place–we should have never pursued or allowed access to that system by imprisoned enemy combatants; they should have been held until hostilities ended, however long that takes.
Finally, the “leave no soldier behind” policy is not unconditional. The behavior of Sgt. Bergdahl has been erratic and spooky at best, traitorous at worst, and it is pretty clear that he deserted his unit, probably more than once. Otherwise, I will reserve judgment, but to characterize his service as with “honor and distinction”, as Susan Rice asserted on one of her favorite Sunday talk shows, simply speaks for itself. Whatever the final assessment of Bergdahl’s actions, however, do we really believe that the exchange of these five “worst of the worst” Taliban killers and war criminals was a balanced transaction? Think of the Nuremberg trials of the Nazi war criminals–Rudolph Hess, Hermann Goering, et al. These five are analogous. If we are going to honor “leave no soldier behind” unconditionally, how about the four dead Americans at Benghazi, the U. S. Marine in jail in Mexico, or the beleaguered veterans having to deal with the fraudulent and dysfunctional VA? Where is the similar urgency here?
And if we are going to have a Rose Garden photo/op victory lap with Bergdahl’s parents to congratulate ourselves for freeing him, how about including the families of those soldiers who died searching for him over the past five years?
There is much more to be known about this transaction, including the degree to which the discussions leading up to the exchange had wider objectives, such as a negotiated cease fire with the Taliban, and we need many more facts, but at this point the whole thing is not only a fiasco, but a dishonorable one.