The return of a US POW back from five years in captivity is cause for great happiness. I pointed this out as the news was announced and said we should all take a bit of time to just enjoy that. But the grim reality of the bargain we made and how we made it requires a serious look at exactly what happened and why. First let me address all of the vitriol aimed at SGT Bowe Bergdahl; then we can focus on just how damaging this deal with the devil actually is.
There are plenty of tales out there about how he was captured that paint him in a very negative light: He was drunk and wandered off; he shed his uniform and headed into the mountains to be the Grizzly Adams of the Hindu Kush; or even that he left to join the Taliban. The bottom line is nobody but Bergdahl knows what he did or why and all the speculation is unseemly. If he was drunk or just deluded, he certainly paid a pretty heavy price with five years of his life. If he actually deserted, his guilt needs to be established by more than Internet chatter.
Yes, men were killed while looking for him. That was their job and that is the deal we make when we say we will leave no man behind. We don't caveat that with unless he is a dumb ass kid we think may have done something awful. No, we bring them home. Period. And the video he made talking about how the Taliban is better than us and that we are cowards hiding behind our technology is painful to watch, but so are the ones from Korea, Vietnam and the Gulf War, etc. POWs are forced to say things to further the cause of their captors and we do not and should not hold it against our POWs when this propaganda occurs. Now if it turns out that Bergdahl was a traitor who left to join the Taliban and help their cause, then all of the slack I just gave him disappears and we can cut the rope. Again that remains to be seen and a little decorum is in order.
The problems with the deal we made is not the worthiness of Bergdahl, but the price we paid and the timing of the deal. We are releasing five of the most heinous and senior Taliban leaders we ever captured. Men with the blood of hundreds of US troops on their hands who will spend the rest of their lives adding to that toll. They are unrepentant, barbarian killers and the Afghan people we are supposed to have been helping all these years will pay the price when these men rejoin the resurgent Taliban. We are packing our things and loading planes to come home and the Talibs have known this since Obama unveiled his faux surge at West Point in 2009. He announced more troops were coming and he announced that those same troops would be leaving prior to his next election campaign. The Taliban plays the long war and they knew they could wait us out and they did.
If you want to know just how bad these five are, go read this and then weep for the innocents who will pay the price for their discharge. All the prisoners we still hold at Gitmo are evil terrorists who will perpetrate more evil given the slightest opportunity. Well we just handed it to these five and they will use it to undo any semblance of good we did in Afghanistan. This is not just a possibility; it is the undeniable reality of the deal we made. There is also a good possibility that the Haqqani network, who were holding him, may have picked up a number of satchels full of cash in the exchange as well. They are essentially a crime syndicate and money talks with them. It is just not something we should be involved in doing, hence the Qataris involvement.
The next point is why now? This deal has been on the table for several years. The Taliban proposed it and we could have agreed to it at any point. Why let Bergdahl rot for years if this was an option? The simplest answer is that this is and was a horrible deal that never should have been made. As much as it pains me to say, the life of one American POW is not worth the certain deaths of the hundreds or thousands who will die at the hands of the scum we have just unleashed. Those are the tough decisions and calculations that the Commander in Chief should weigh. We cannot pay any cost to regain a prisoner, because some costs are just too high. This was one of those times.
So what changed to make this happen? Several things did, starting with the fact that we have lost the war in Afghanistan and the Taliban know it. That makes their position stronger and the already prohibitive price we paid for Bergdahl would have gone up every day as we pack up our tents and go. Obama made another trip to West Point to use the cadets as props for a political speech and told the world again exactly when the last helicopter would pull out of Kabul. We would have had fewer resources to look for and potentially rescue Bergdahl every day and our clout at the negotiating table was rapidly approaching zero.
The other reason was that Obama desperately needed a win of some kind. Spare me any howls of outrage that the President would never play politics with lives and national security. This one does, as a matter of fact it is pretty much all he does. The faux surge was based on a need to cover election promises more than a true faith effort to win the war. He serves more as Campaigner in Chief than Commander and he hasn't had anything to crow about since the "gutsy call" to go after bin Laden. And keep in mind that operation was called off multiple times at the behest of Valerie Jarrett and his political team. In the end the fear that his inaction in the face of opportunity would be leaked was a major factor in getting a greenlight at all.
It may seem cynical to say this was a political ploy, but as the lawyers say "Cui bono?" who benefits? Obviously Bergdahl does, but from a national security perspective he is the only one. Well except for Obama. He gets a complete game changer and goes from the guy who presided over the VA debacle to the guy who saved our prisoner. Live POW trumps dead veterans any day. It also spins the news away from the constant parade of dismal failures: His crack team outing the CIA station chief in Kabul; Benghazi; the IRS; the ongoing train wreck of ObamaCare; even his media allies were laughing at his sad little non mea culpa speech at West Point; and his own designated liar, Jay Carney, finally ran dry and headed for the hills. Obama desperately needed a win and that was enough to push this awful deal over the top. On the losing side, the Afghans get rabid dogs of war let loose on them, American troops become more attractive targets for kidnapping, and the world sees us as the weak horse again. Bravo Barack!
Obviously there were good intentions at play here, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't examine and call out the base ones as well. The White House has trotted out Susan Rice and her huge credibility to fight the charge that they are playing politics. Why does that sound familiar?