For the first time for years, the parents of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl – a U.S. soldier captured and held by the Taliban in Afghanistan since 2009 – can sleep easy. The Obama Administration made a deal: Five Gitmo detainees in exchange for Sgt. Bergdahl’s release. When Special Forces picked him up, Sgt. Bergdahl allegedly broke down in tears. Freed, finally, after five years of who knows what kind of hell.
And now, here come the critics. Republican Rep Buck McKeon and Senator James Inhofe have spoken out against the President’s swap, saying he broke the law for failing to give them a 30-day notice. Former POW Senator John McCain woke up from his senile slumber long enough to issue a statement.
“I am pleased that Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl is finally being returned safely to his family and loved ones after nearly five years of captivity. All Americans share in the joy that the Bergdahl family feels today and for which they have waited so long . . . I have been informed that, in exchange for Sgt. Bergdahl’s release, the Administration is now in the process of transferring five Taliban detainees from Guantanamo to Qatar. These particular individuals are hardened terrorists who have the blood of Americans and countless Afghans on their hands. I am eager to learn what precise steps are being taken to ensure that these vicious and violent Taliban extremists never return to the fight against the United States and our partners or engage in any activities that can threaten the prospects for peace and security in Afghanistan. The American people, and our Afghan partners, deserve nothing less.”
First, let’s address the “law-breaking Obama” theme which will be bandied about on Fox and on Sarah Palin’s Facebook page for weeks to come. Let’s put that to bed. As reported by the Daily Beast, “Many in Congress will still be opposed to the swap, but lawmakers gave up their right to stop it. A small change in the Fiscal Year 2014 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which passed last December, now makes it only a requirement that the Defense Secretary notify Congress when releasing Guantanamo prisoners. Before the change, Congressional sign off on any Guantanamo releases would have been needed.” Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel did, in fact, notify Congress of the U.S.’s intention to transfer five prisoners held at Gitmo to Qatar in exchange for Sgt. Bergdahl.
It also seems like a prime time to address the notion that the U.S. doesn’t negotiate with terrorists. Of course we do; we do it all the time. As Tod Robberson of DallasNews.com noted, “How about in 2007, when the U.S. negotiated with Sunni insurgent leaders in Iraq to get them to stop bombing U.S. troops and join the fight against al-Qaeda in Iraq? We bribed them. We paid them off. And if you Google the statements of various U.S. officials back in 2005-2006, they were insulted when the U.S. media referred to the Sunnis as insurgents. No, those officials insisted, they’re terrorists!” That, if memory serves, was under George W. Bush.
We tried to negotiate in 2011, again in 2013. And back in the day, Republican icon Ronald Reagan was involved in a little something we remember as the Iran Contra scandal – and Reagan was finally forced to admit to being in the middle of the mother of all terrorist negotiations, which turned into the mother of all scandals.
“A few months ago I told the American people I did not trade arms for hostages. My heart and my best intentions still tell me that’s true, but the facts and the evidence tell me it is not. As the Tower board reported, what began as a strategic opening to Iran deteriorated, in its implementation, into trading arms for hostages.”
In the 2000’s, the U.S. and Britain began negotiating with Libya over the Pan Am 103 bombings and “the Qaddafi regime’s nuclear weapons.” The Bush Administration applied the spin, claiming that Qaddafi was “scared straight” when the U.S. invaded Iraq, “and promptly gave up his life’s work as an international terrorist, renouncing both his weapons of mass destruction program and his terror tactics.” But the truth is that the U.S. and Britain cut a deal with Qaddafi – he had to give up his nukes, and they wouldn’t push a regime change. It was a negotiation. With a terrorist.
What right-wingers call “negotiating with terrorists,” some of us call diplomatic solutions worked out to save American lives. Writes Robberson, “What about the Taliban in Afghanistan? We have negotiated in the past with them, and we will do it in the future. We will do it whether a Republican or a Democrat occupies the White House. Why? Because once you acknowledge (as we have) that you cannot win a war militarily, there are only two other ways to end it: surrender or negotiate with your enemy. The United States might be capable of winning the war in Afghanistan militarily, but the sacrifice and cost in civilian lives would be too unpalatable to contemplate. This was the conclusion reached by civilian and military leaders years ago.”
It could be that the U.S. paid a steep price for this soldier’s release – but the U.S. has skated around the edges of “we don’t negotiate with terrorist” for years, and, as President Obama noted, “We also maintain an ironclad commitment to bring our prisoners of war home . . . That’s who we are as Americans.” And, frankly, nobody knows what President Obama has in mind to, well, neutralize the Gitmo detainees once they’re released. The point is, politicians cut back-room deals all the time, and plenty of hush-hush negotiations have been conducted by Republicans to achieve a variety of ends – but suddenly, the GOP is horrified that a deal was cut by President Obama so that a U.S. soldier could come home after five years of captivity by the enemy? This is just a hunch, but if this Sgt. had been any of these naysaying Republican policians’ kids, they’d invite the Taliban over for tea and crumpets and give away military secrets to get their child back.
If Republicans want to become haughty about the whole “not negotiating with terrorists” thing, remind them of Reagan and Bush and countless others who say, “no we don’t,” while they wrap up deals to do the opposite.
Bergdahl’s parents issued a statement.
“We were so joyful and relieved when President (Barack) Obama called us today to give us the news that Bowe is finally coming home! We cannot wait to wrap our arms around our only son. We want to thank Bowe’s many supporters in Idaho, around the nation and around the world. We thank the Amir of Qatar for his efforts. And of course, we want to take this opportunity to thank all those in the many U.S. Government agencies who never gave up. Today, we are ecstatic!”
Yes, we are. Memo to Republicans, Leave it at that.