The high price of Bowe Bergdahl's freedom

President Obama got a feel-good moment from the release of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, dominating the weekend news with a positive story:

“On behalf of the American people, I was honored to call his parents to express our joy that they can expect his safe return, mindful of their courage and sacrifice throughout this ordeal,” President Obama said in a statement. The president rightly noted: “Sergeant Bergdahl's recovery is a reminder of America's unwavering commitment to leave no man or woman in uniform behind on the battlefield.”

But America paid a very high price indeed for the release of Bergdahl. While all Americans must share the joy of his liberation, the question must be asked: did President Obama’s need for a good news story, an achievement of some sort, outweigh the larger security interests of the United States?

The five Taliban commanders given their freedom from Gitmo are the worst of the worst. Eli Lake writes in the Daily Beast:

The five Guantanamo detainees released by the Obama administration in exchange for America’s last prisoner of war in Afghanistan, Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, are bad guys. They are top Taliban commanders the group has tried to free for more than a decade.

According to a 2008 Pentagon dossier on Guantanamo Bay inmates, all five men released were considered to be a high risk to launch attacks against the United States and its allies if they were liberated. The exchange shows that the Obama administration was willing to pay a steep price, indeed, for Bergdahl’s freedom. The administration says they will be transferred to Qatar, which played a key role in the negotiations. [emphasis added]

Thomas Joscelyn in The Weekly Standard amplifies this concern:

There are good reasons why the Taliban has long wanted the five freed from Gitmo. All five are among the Taliban’s top commanders in U.S. custody and are still revered in jihadist circles. 

Two of the five have been wanted by the UN for war crimes. And because of their prowess, Joint Task Force-Guantanamo (JTF-GTMO) deemed all five of them “high” risks to the U.S. and its allies.  

But there are other, possibly much worse dimensions to this exchange, than just creating further danger, and strengthening the radical elements in the Taliban. We have given up other strategic goals. Joscelyn again:

The Obama administration wants to convince the Taliban to abandon its longstanding alliance with al Qaeda. But these men contributed to the formation of that relationship in the first place. All five had close ties to al Qaeda well before the 9/11 attacks. Therefore, it is difficult to see how their freedom would help the Obama administration achieve one of its principal goals for the hoped-for talks.   

My reading of the deal is that Obama’s inner council, Valerie Jarrett, Michelle, and one or two others, perhaps, decided that he needed to look like a winner, after weeks of appearing incompetent. There is nothing like a returned “hero” (see Rick Moran’s blog on who Sgt. Bergdahl really is) to make the nation feel good about what their leader has accomplished. This would not be the first time that long term consequences paid by others mattered less to Obama than short term poltiical gains.

President Obama got a feel-good moment from the release of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, dominating the weekend news with a positive story:

“On behalf of the American people, I was honored to call his parents to express our joy that they can expect his safe return, mindful of their courage and sacrifice throughout this ordeal,” President Obama said in a statement. The president rightly noted: “Sergeant Bergdahl's recovery is a reminder of America's unwavering commitment to leave no man or woman in uniform behind on the battlefield.”

But America paid a very high price indeed for the release of Bergdahl. While all Americans must share the joy of his liberation, the question must be asked: did President Obama’s need for a good news story, an achievement of some sort, outweigh the larger security interests of the United States?

The five Taliban commanders given their freedom from Gitmo are the worst of the worst. Eli Lake writes in the Daily Beast:

The five Guantanamo detainees released by the Obama administration in exchange for America’s last prisoner of war in Afghanistan, Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, are bad guys. They are top Taliban commanders the group has tried to free for more than a decade.

According to a 2008 Pentagon dossier on Guantanamo Bay inmates, all five men released were considered to be a high risk to launch attacks against the United States and its allies if they were liberated. The exchange shows that the Obama administration was willing to pay a steep price, indeed, for Bergdahl’s freedom. The administration says they will be transferred to Qatar, which played a key role in the negotiations. [emphasis added]

Thomas Joscelyn in The Weekly Standard amplifies this concern:

There are good reasons why the Taliban has long wanted the five freed from Gitmo. All five are among the Taliban’s top commanders in U.S. custody and are still revered in jihadist circles. 

Two of the five have been wanted by the UN for war crimes. And because of their prowess, Joint Task Force-Guantanamo (JTF-GTMO) deemed all five of them “high” risks to the U.S. and its allies.  

But there are other, possibly much worse dimensions to this exchange, than just creating further danger, and strengthening the radical elements in the Taliban. We have given up other strategic goals. Joscelyn again:

The Obama administration wants to convince the Taliban to abandon its longstanding alliance with al Qaeda. But these men contributed to the formation of that relationship in the first place. All five had close ties to al Qaeda well before the 9/11 attacks. Therefore, it is difficult to see how their freedom would help the Obama administration achieve one of its principal goals for the hoped-for talks.   

My reading of the deal is that Obama’s inner council, Valerie Jarrett, Michelle, and one or two others, perhaps, decided that he needed to look like a winner, after weeks of appearing incompetent. There is nothing like a returned “hero” (see Rick Moran’s blog on who Sgt. Bergdahl really is) to make the nation feel good about what their leader has accomplished. This would not be the first time that long term consequences paid by others mattered less to Obama than short term poltiical gains.

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