THE BERGDAHL TRADE
There is a very simple, true, universal and essential principle of civilized society: When people give in to extortion, extortion increases. When people do not give in to extortion, the extortion stops. Few people would dispute this reality. There may be deep and painful costs to standing up against extortion, but ultimately, in the long run the extortion stops, or at least dwindles to near nothing. Enduring the momentary (albeit deep) pain ultimately saves lives. Failing to endure results in long-term calamity. This is a tenet of civilized society which is ingrained in our psyche.
When you give in to terrorists, you don’t just tolerate terrorism, you encourage it. Trading anything to a terrorist in return for a hostage is like fanning a fire. Trading five dangerous terrorists for a single hostage is like pouring gasoline on the fire.
There is a word for this type of negotiation and deal: “Appeasement.” Appeasement will forever be linked with one man, Neville Chamberlain, who went to Germany to try to pacify a dictator named Adolf Hitler. Hitler had engaged in saber-rattling and was threatening war if he was not given the Sudetenland portion of Czechoslovakia. In essence, he was engaging in a diplomatic extortion.
On September 30, 1938, Chamberlain returned to England, waving a copy of the signed capitulation to the extortion and famously exclaimed, “I have returned from Germany with peace for our time.”
Within one year, Germany invaded Czechoslovakia, and within the next six, over 60 million people—2.5% of the world’s population—had died as a result of that “peace.” Many believe that had the world stood up to Hitler at that point, WWII could have been averted.
At the time of Chamberlain’s return from Munich, future Prime Minister Winston Churchill spoke presciently and eloquently in Parliament of Chamberlain's agreement:
“He was given the choice between war and dishonor. He chose dishonor and he will have war anyway.”
What the United States did last week was capitulate to a terrorist extortion. You can sugar-coat it with whatever words you like, but the truth remains the same. The Taliban will now be emboldened to take more hostages. And not just the Taliban. Every terrorist group in the world saw what happened. And every terrorist group now knows what they can get from this administration for a single American soldier, even of the lowest rank.
I do not say these things lightly. I have a dear cousin who has spent time in the Army in both Iraq and Afghanistan. I myself have spent much time in Pakistan and Indonesia investigating al Qaeda. I understand the ramifications of what I am advocating.
Who then, are the most outspoken critics of this action? The men and women of our armed forces, and they are angry because the administration traded for one of their own! Incongruous? Hardly. Every soldier knows (or at least was told) that America will not negotiate with terrorists and that their repatriation after capture was not guaranteed. But they also understood that this policy reduced the possibility of them being used as hostages. These soldiers know that the decision taken by President Obama has put every overseas American soldier at higher risk. And they resent the release of terrorists that soldiers risked their lives to capture.
Every single American overseas fighting terrorism, every State department employee, every low level clerk at an Embassy is now at a significantly greater risk. I spent years in the FBI traveling overseas investigating terrorism in Indonesia, Pakistan and other garden spots. We knew—because we were told bluntly—that if we were captured by terrorists, no deal would be made to free us. That was okay with us, because we knew the potential hostage takers knew that, too.
Now, Americans going overseas have to deal with the fact that the terrorists know that they can trade an American--any American--for something valuable. And there are still 149 of their friends in Guantanamo Bay. Under the Obama equation, that’s just under 30 Americans.
To be fair, the administration is calling this a POW swap, which at the end of a conflict is certainly appropriate and right. But this wasn’t a POW swap. The group that held Bergdahl is a terrorist group. The prisoners at Guantanamo were not members of any organized army representing any specific nation, and have never been accepted as such. And POW’s are not held at threat of death if demands aren’t met. The administration itself has explained that Bergdahl’s life was in immediate danger. That mitigates against him being POW.
Call it what you want, but if it walks like a duck, swims like a duck and quacks like a duck—it’s a duck.
Maybe the President was trying to fulfill a campaign promise and empty Gitmo. I get that. He was elected. He gets to do what he had promised to do. But please do it without it seeming like a prisoner swap. At least the terrorists you let back out won’t be as inclined to take hostages.
Most troubling to me, however, is the fact that the administration failed to comply with the law that requires the President to give congress 30 days advance notice before negotiating an exchange of Guantanamo Bay prisoners.
Not simply “within 30 days,” but specifically “30 days in advance.” I am deeply concerned because of the appearance that the administration might have intentionally ignored this law.
The administration says that they had to act quickly because Bergdahl's life was in danger. The point becomes then, how did you know his life was in danger unless you were already negotiating? That would indicate that they were negotiating prior to their reason for not notifying congress. If the peril to Bergdahl was found through other means, how was contact with the terrorists so immediately established?
Deputy National Security Adviser Tony Blinken told Senator Diane Feinstein that the failure to notify congress in advance “…was an oversight.” This, to say the least, stretches credibility. Even if it was true, it evinces a frightening level of incompetence and/or negligence. They forgot? It is difficult to believe that compliance with that particular law was “forgotten,” specifically because of the Obama administration's strong objection to the law when it was passed. At the time it was passed, they criticized the notification required by the law because, “It might tie the president’s hands in a prisoner exchange where time was of the essence.” Yes, it would. And that was the purpose of the law.
No administration can simply disregard laws they disagree with. Period.
THE HOSTAGE AND THE RANSOM
Many claim that Bergdahl is a deserter and some claim that he is a traitor. I do not have enough reliable information yet on which to base a decision. However, even with what has been reported, there is possible mitigation to his actions, even if he left the camp willingly.
Some people do not cope with battle well at all. Some collapse mentally. This is not unusual. It is possible that Bergdahl could not deal with war and his actions are a result of that. If that is true, then he is a casualty in a way. There is, however, not enough information available at this time to determine whether or not that is true.
It is also said that he is having trouble remembering English. I do not know if this is true, but if it is, I am puzzled. I know one American held in a foreign prison for four years, and while they occasionally forgot to speak English upon their release, their English had not degraded at all, though they were fluent in the language of their captor. Another person with whom I worked was an American imprisoned in Bolivia for two years. Not only was his English not impacted, he learned comparatively little Spanish. The fact that Bergdahl allegedly has forgotten English and speaks only Pashtu is troubling regardless of the reason.
According to USA Today, Bergdahl left a note behind when he left the camp saying that he wanted to “start over.” He left behind his rifle and body armor, but took a compass, knife, water, camera and a diary. He wasn’t going out looking for women or booze.
Former Army Sgt. Evan Buetow, search team leader the night of Bergdahl’s disappearance, told USA Today that the team intercepted radio and cellphone communications from a nearby village which described an American soldier who wanted to talk to the Taliban. Again, this will have to be investigated. Nothing is certain.
Significantly, soldiers from Bergdahl’s camp believed he was giving the Taliban information on military routes and times, because bombings and attacks on troops became more frequent and more accurate after his disappearance.
“Khirullah Said Wali Khairkhwa, 47. Once, the Taliban’s Interior minister, hard liner. Close ties to Osama bin Laden”
“Mullah Mohammad Fazl, 47. Senior commander Taliban Army, later Chief of Staff. Personally supervised the killing of thousands of Shiite Muslims near Kabul 1998-2001. Present at a 2001 prison riot which killed CIA operative Johnny Spann. His military file states, ‘If released, would rejoin and participate in hostilities’”
“Mullah Norullah Noori, 47. Also present during Spann’s death. May have been involved in Shiite massacre. Military file: ‘Continues to be a significant figure encouraging acts of aggression.’”
“Abdul Haq Wasiq, 43. Deputy Chief of Intelligence for the Taliban. Used his office to support al Qaeda. Central to the Taliban’s effort to form alliances with other Islamic Fundamentalist groups.”
“Mohammad Nabi Omari, 46. Member of joint al Qaeda Taliban cell in eastern Khost province. ‘One of the most significant Taliban leaders detained at Gitmo’”
Back to Winston Churchill;
"An appeaser is one who feeds the alligator, hoping it will eat him last."
America has fed the alligator, and he is still hungry.