The ugly truth of prisoner exchanges

Obama critics are disingenuous when they imply the Taliban would not have been fussy about which Guantanamo prisoners released in exchange for a US soldier they have held for five years. Their real issue is Obama succeeded - albeit with some questions stil to answer.

All week North American news, ‘news’ and satire has been drenched in vacillating glorification and demonization of the now released US soldier Bowe Bergdahl.

Is he hero or deserter?

It may take ages to clarify that, but one thing is for sure - he is fresh political fodder.

Bergdahl has become yet another reason for Republicans and their merry band of cheerleaders to call for President Obama’s head.

Berhdahl has presented as a perfect catalyst for Obama’s detractors to display a collective, and of course deliberate, amnesia about previous American prisoner swaps. 

Touting the bumper sticker banner that proclaims America does not negotiate with terrorists, they seem to have forgotten about pervious prisoner swaps with all sorts of groups the US found to be distasteful.

It’s a group think not unlike the Soviet Era propaganda practice of repeating the same line over and over regardless of the facts - even the glaring facts.

What they are 'forgetting' is the US never negotiates with terrorists...until it does.  

Think about the setting free of Moqtada al-Sadr’s spokesman Qaui al-Khazali (supposedly involved in killing American soldiers) in exchange for British civilian Peter Moore.

What about the actions of Republican hero Ronald Reagan, who illegally swapped arms for hostages in the infamous Iran contra deal. Or Reagan’s 1983 negotiations with the Syrians for the return of a captured US airman?

The US has for decades shown no concern about the transactional diplomacy perfected by its client state Israeli in numerous swaps of people it deems terrorists or militants in exchange for Israeli soldiers. In other situations when prisoner releases are judged by Israel to be politically convenient these Palestinian ‘security threats’ are commodified in order to facilitate US brokered peace negotiations. It is a practice also employed in the peace processes of South Africa and Northern Ireland.

The Obama critics have, now the US soldier is safe, shown extraordinary cowardice in going suddenly quiet on previous demands that the Obama Administration prioritize a deal to free Bergdahl. Idaho’s Republican Senator Crapo publicly celebrated the news of Bergdahl’s release but as soon as his ideological playmates bolted for the demonization corner, he called it a potential security issue for America.

Of course there is also the mandatory dose of Islamophobia.

Fox ‘News’ in-depth critique of the situation included a big focus on how the bushy bearded Bergdahl senior looked like a Muslim...not an Orthodox Jew nor an Amish farmer, but a Muslim.

Jon Stewart brilliantly pointed out, Bill O’Reilly & Co tellingly omitted a comparison with their gun toting heroes - the stars of Duck Dynasty. All Robert Bergdahl needed was a rifle, a bandana and a camouflage stretch hummer and he’d have fitted right in.

In a weird twist, Fox neocon and Bush acolyte John Bolton penned an Op-Ed blasting Obama for equating Bergdahl with “terrorist criminals” aka Gitmo detainees (who have never been tried, let alone convicted).

Is Bolton telling us the "terrorist criminals" are not good enough to be transacted for a US soldier? Or does he really expect us to believe the Taliban is so stupid it would swap its valuable captive for just any old Gitmo prisoners?

Bolton seems to think it perfectly fine for Republicans to chant about never doing deals with terrorists (while knowing they do), yet decry Obama for evoking another war slogan about never leaving a US service member behind on the battlefield. 

Apparently Obama has no right to appeal to military traditions, even though on last check he is the Commander-In-Chief, and as he said yet again today, that means he is responsible for “those kids” who, like Bergdahl, volunteer to fight in distant lands for America.

Surely this is the guts of this issue.

The soldier, held by the Taliban for five years, is now free.

That’s good.

All soldiers going to war - whether wars of choice or not, must know that every attempt will be made to rescue them if they are captured by the ‘enemy’.

Amongst the weighty questions to be answered about Bergdahl’s capture are whether he  deliberately wandered off and into the arms of the Taliban, or whether he meant to desert as some of his fellow soldiers are claiming.

If there was truly any doubt about his commitment why did the Army promote him twice while he was in captivity?

Then there is the not insubstantial question of why the Obama Administration didn’t advise Congress of the deal 30 days before as required by law.

Reasons clumsily offered so far include claims that Bergdahl’s life was in danger if news of the negotiation with the Taliban leaked, and that the soldier’s health was failing so quickly that this was the last chance to save him.

It is unfortunate that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid dismissed critics with a less than helpful “what difference does it make?” - a Clinton Benghazi line that the Democrats should steer well clear of.

This entire prisoner exchange saga is realpolitik meeting dishonest political ideology and while Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel is sure to feel the heat of a House Armed Services Committee hearing, the feet of the Republicans should also be held to the fire for the disingenuity of lambasting the deal simply because it is Obama’s.

Unfortunately for members of the Bergdahl family they are casualties in this political war. Their joy has been quickly snatched away as their beliefs and those of their son are publicly dissected as fair game in Washington.

Even if Sergeant Bergdahl did walk away from his responsibilities he is still an American citizen and when he volunteered to put himself in harm’s way on behalf of his country, the quid pro quo is that he is rescued from rotting away in a Taliban hell.

Getting him out was never going to be pretty. 

It is called war.