Rarely do we have a news event that causes politicians to downgrade from hypocrites into candidates for Dante’s Inferno. The Bergdahl case is the latest example.
For those of you who have been camping on a desert island without email or other communications, the U.S. government arranged the exchange of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, the only American soldier captured by the Taliban, for five Afghan Taliban officials we have held in Guantanamo for almost 13 years. President Barack Obama took credit for the exchange hailing it as effort to facilitate a political settlement in Afghanistan.
On the first day after the exchange, everyone seemed happy. The media highlighted the humanitarian aspects of the event, showing the jubilant parents of the freed soldier for hours on the screen. And then, things turned ugly.
President Obama’s critics realized that you should be careful what you ask for. The prisoner exchange made Obama look good. They changed their tune and bashed him for “negotiating with terrorists.”
They went one unpardonable step further and attacked the character of Sergeant Bergdahl. The politicians found two soldiers from Bergdahl’s unit who accused him of desertion without presenting facts and then loudly proclaimed him guilty.
Should we have left Bergdahl to rot in captivity even before we learned that someone would criticize him? Spare me. Many of the President’s enemies went further and organized a vicious hate mail campaign, laced with threats of violence, that forced the hometown of Sgt. Bergdahl (Hailey, ID, Pop 7,960) to cancel his homecoming celebration. Dante would have had difficulty figuring out where to place these politicians.
The ethical and moral challenge proved bipartisan; Democratic politicians facing reelection in Red States were stampeded into joining the chorus, denouncing Obama and further slandering Bergdahl.
Hypocrisy reigns. The same righteously indignant politicians judging Bergdahl had in fact erased their own earlier Twitter feeds chastising the President for not securing his release.
Among the worst hypocritical legislators: Republicans Tad Cochran, Paul DeMarco, and Joni Ernest and Democrat Steve Lynch. If they had a shred of decency, they would resign. They fit in the same category as the band of philanderers and womanizers who sought to impeach President Bill Clinton.
The critics also condemned the exchange because we have released “dangerous Taliban who will rejoin the fight against us.” We, in fact, released five aging politicians after 13 years in dreadful incarceration into house arrest in Qatar.
Admittedly, the men in question will find their circumstances more luxurious than the tropical resort in Cuba. Qatar agreed to prevent them from traveling for at least a year. I doubt they want to go home, however, because rivals will accuse them of currying favor with the Americans in order to secure their release and will probably kill them.
Leaving aside the suffering they so viciously inflicted on Bergdahl’s parents, the critics have their heads screwed on backwards in their other arguments as well. They beat their breasts screaming “We never negotiate with terrorists, or trade hostages because it will encourage terrorists to do it again.” A superficial review reveals this argument to be specious.
We always negotiate with terrorists and trade prisoners. So does every other country in the world. Even Israel, the much-acclaimed paragon of counter-terrorist prowess, regularly and often trades hundreds of Palestinian prisoners to secure the release of one Israeli; we only did one for five.
The Taliban have been attacking U.S., NATO and Afghan troops and civilians since 2001, long before we traded for Bergdahl and will continue doing so whether or not we traded for Bergdahl.
Legally, the Taliban are not even terrorists: The U.S. Government (since Reagan’s day) defines terrorists as “subnational groups attacking noncombatants for political objectives.” Every member of Congress receives the annual State Department publication on terrorism, which carries this definition on its first page.
Until we invaded Afghanistan, the Taliban were the government and army of a recognized country. Although the Taliban are truly despicable, the U.S. maintains cordial ties with governments and armies that rival the Taliban for evil.
In their frantic search for political advantage, the critics have chosen to vent against Qatar, an ally that once again stepped into the breach to help the United States.
Having successfully negotiated the release of Greek Orthodox nuns held captive by rebel groups in Syria, Qatari diplomats played a crucial role in mediating the exchange, we should remember, of the only American captured by the Taliban in return for five aging Taliban prisoners held in Guantanamo for more than a decade.
The critics may have a more defensible argument when they assert that negotiating with the Taliban will fail but that is a value judgment; only history some decades from now will decide.
But we need to examine ourselves. Have we reached a point in our vitriolic political debate that no one feels a sense of shame sacrificing common decency so as to gain a bump in the November elections?