Soon we shall get to the bottom of the swap of five Taliban kingpins from the Guantanamo Bay detention facility for one Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl.
In time we will learn whether Bergdahl really served with “honor and distinction” and was “captured on the battlefield,” as National Security Adviser Susan Rice has stated. Or whether, as fellow soldiers of his platoon insist, he was a deserter who left his comrades to seek out the Taliban.
We will soon discover whether Bergdahl’s serious health problems or imminent danger prompted President Obama to make the sudden swap. Or whether, as administration skeptics insist, the deal was a rushed political gambit to divert attention from the Veterans’ Affairs scandal — and a way to whittle down the Guantanamo population and erode laws demanding congressional approval before such detainees are released.
If the CIA wanted to smuggle guns to Syria or interrogate al-Qaeda suspects in Benghazi, that was its business, not necessarily the administration’s. To the degree Obama was involved in overseeing events in Libya, his involvement was most likely limited to a vague warning that, in the latter part of the nip-and-tuck 2012 campaign, there must not be anything resembling a shoot-’em-up Mogadishu, which a beefed-up security presence in Benghazi might have made more likely by evening the odds. Better to keep a low profile amid increasing security threats and hope for the best. And, if the worst happens — well, things do happen.
When the violence did erupt, a freelance video producer became the perfect villain. Obama and his subordinates, principally Susan Rice and Hillary Clinton, almost immediately damned the hapless filmmaker as having incited global violence by his bigotry. The more Obama told the world that he too condemned Nakoula Basseley Nakoula (and in fact he had Mr. Nakoula jailed on a trumped-up probation violation), the more Benghazi became a sort of revolutionary morality tale: Right-wingers in America keep getting innocent people killed by gratuitously inflaming Muslims — over the objections of sober and judicious progressive and internationalist Americans.
The swap of probable deserter Bowe Bergdahl for 5 “high-risk” Guantánamo detainees is about more than political public relations. By releasing some of the worst murderers, this deal prepares the ground for Obama’s long-term goal of shutting down the Guantánamo Bay detention facility and releasing the remaining detainees. According to Britain’s Daily Mail, a senior Pentagon official claims Obama nixed plans to rescue Bergdahl because “the president wanted a diplomatic scenario that would establish a precedent for repatriating detainees from Gitmo.” Given that on his second day in office Obama issued an executive order shutting Gitmo down, and as recently as this year’s State of the Union speech repeated this pledge, his failure to do so has aroused serial complaints from his progressive base. With his reelection behind him, Obama may now think he can fulfill this promise, no matter the danger to our efforts to protect ourselves against terrorism.
President Obama’s exchange of 5 high-ranking Taliban murderers for a soldier who possibly was a deserter and collaborator encapsulates everything that is wrong with this administration’s foreign policy. The serial failures of the past 5 years reflect a toxic brew of partisan politics and naïve ideology.
There has been a lot to think about during these years of Obama’s foreign policy. But the problem is not just the existential issues, from reset to Benghazi, but also the less heralded developments, such as young non-high-school graduate Edward Snowden’s trotting off with the most sensitive secrets of the NSA, the “stuff happens” outing of a CIA station chief in Afghanistan, and the failure to destroy the downed drone that ended up in Iran.
In the latter category falls the mysterious prisoner swap of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl for five top Taliban inmates, given that even at this early juncture there are lots of disturbing questions: Why not as the law demanded consult Congress on the releases from Guantanamo, or at least the congressional leadership? Why swap some of the most dangerous and important members of the Taliban hierarchy? What exactly were the circumstances of the original departure of Bergdahl (in 2009 two military officials told the AP that Bergdahl “had just walked off” with three other Afghans), and why were other soldiers requested not to disclose what they knew about the nature of his departure or the costly efforts to find Bergdahl? What exactly is the present U.S. position on trading captives for prisoners/hostages? Do we really believe that the released terrorists will be kept another year in the Middle East?