Bergdahl controversy muddles America’s mission in Afghanistan
June 16, 2014
The Obama administration's release of five Guantanamo Bay inmates in exchange for American soldier Bowe Bergdahl has created uproar across the nation. The dirty secret is the controversy surrounding the Bergdahl exchange is a diversion. The real concern is President Obama unilaterally releasing Guantanamo inmates, effectively replenishing the Taliban, without assessing the potential cost to America.
The president bypassed the intelligence community to authorize the swap of high-level Taliban leaders for Sgt. Bergdahl, a possible deserter. According to government documents, at least two of the five men released are accused of committing war crimes, ethnic cleansing, crimes against humanity and torture. Those close to the negotiations say the men were "bad people."
Obama said at a news conference on June 5, "I make absolutely no apologies for making sure that we get back a young man to his parents and that the American people understand that this is somebody's child and that we don't condition whether or not we make the effort to try to get them back."
A defense official confirmed Bergdahl walked off his post without authorization five years ago, and the circumstances of his capture are under investigation. Reportedly, soldiers from Bergdahl's unit died trying to track him down before he was captured. Nonetheless, the Pentagon defends the prisoner swap as on the grounds that no soldier is left behind on the battlefield.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hegel described the trade as a normal process of prisoner exchange, implying the Taliban is a conventional enemy engaged in war with the America. That implication clashes with statements by Vice President Joe Biden that the Taliban "are not our enemies."
There's no such confusion for the Taliban. Mullah Omar is celebrating the "big victory" of the return of his senior commanders. The five Taliban detainees were transferred to the custody of Qatar. The Obama administration has not released details about how they will be monitored.
President Obama hopes the appeasement will encourage Taliban militants to participate in Afghanistan's democratic government instead of striving to overthrow it. That would bolster his claim that the objective has been met in Afghanistan and a complete American withdrawal is justified.
According to Time magazine, the decision to proceed with the transfer was ultimately made among top officials on Obama's national security team. They admit that Congress was denied a 30-day notification, as required by law, before releasing Guantanamo detainees.
House Speaker John Boehner alleged the failure to notify Congress was because "the administration knew it faced serious and sober bipartisan concern and opposition."
The president's handling of the prisoner exchange, and the Afghan war as a whole, illustrate moral confusion and strategic naiveté. He is unable to reconcile his distaste for the war with his responsibility as commander-in-chief and the nation's role as the lone superpower in the world. Mr. Obama's public pledges to give up "nation-building" in Afghanistan and zeal to negotiate with the Taliban are manifestations of ambivalence and incapable leadership.
Eliot Cohen, a strategic studies professor at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies who served in the State Department under George W. Bush, said Obama's constant refrain about the costs of foreign entanglements has left the public wondering why the U.S. got involved in Afghanistan.
"He simply gave up explaining a while ago what the stakes were," Cohen said. "It's not about what we've accomplished, it's about, 'I'm ending these wars.'"
Obama told cadets graduating from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point that after the "long season of war and divisions about how to move forward" they now would represent America with the duty "not only to protect our country, but to do what is right and just."
In the same speech, Obama vowed to push for closing the terrorist detention facility at Guantanamo Bay "because American values and legal traditions don't permit the indefinite detention of people beyond our borders."
Bergdahl was an opportunity for Obama to put personal ideology ahead of national interest and let terrorists out the back door at Guantanamo. Meanwhile, he talks about Afghanistan in the past tense without using the word "victory." Now Americans, especially those in the military, are questioning what has been accomplished, and whether the fight was worth it. That's the cost of arrogance and appeasement in the White House.
James D. Kellogg is a water resource engineer, contributor to BrennerBrief.com, and the author of "Radical Action: A Colt Kelley Thriller". Look for it on amazon.com and visit JamesDKellogg.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org.