Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Dangerous Leadership: Open Negotiations with Terrorists

The prisoner/hostage exchange between the US Government and the Haqqani Network,
a known terrorist group that operators in Afghanistan and Pakistan, is a complete failure
in leadership by this president, the Secretary of Defense, the member of the Joint Chiefs
of Staff who were on board with this decision, and by any other senior US military
leaders who did not resign in protest over this decision and action.

Here are two quotes, one by President Obama and one by Rear Admiral John Kirby,
Pentagon Press Secretary:

“He is an American soldier,” Rear Adm. John Kirby said. “It doesn’t matter how he was
taken captive. It doesn’t matter under what circumstances he left. … We have an
obligation to recover all of those who are missing in action.”

"Regardless of the circumstances, whatever those circumstances may turn out to be, we
still get an American soldier back if he’s held in captivity,” Obama said. “We don’t
condition that.”

President Obama and Admiral Kirby, you are correct we should get back every soldier,
airman, sailor, and marine-those who are captured so that we may rescue them and
those who desert so that we may hold them accountable.

What we should not do, ever, is negotiate with a terrorist group. President Obama,
Secretary Hagel, and everyone else who made the decision to implement this swap has
now put a price on the head of every American service member, whether they are
captured or simply desert.

The fact that this man is a deserter makes the negotiations and swap of prisoners for a
hostage that much more onerous. The leadership of President Obama and his advisors has
resulted in a world that is more dangerous for those who serve in the military and likely
for all US citizens who travel abroad.

In the past our government has worked behind the scenes to secure the release of
American hostages held by terrorists. The impact of those decisions is questionable and
likely lead to additional hostage taking. Unwise past actions do not justify current
actions. At least in the past our political and military leaders were wise enough not to
negotiate so openly with terrorists.

Senior Pentagon officials, military and civilian, should have tendered their resignations
before fulfilling the orders to implement this swap. I don’t call for this lightly, but the
potential ramifications for such a brazen and open negotiation with terrorists for a
hostage are that frightening.

This begs the question of why President Obama decided that this swap was worth the
potential costs. What did he hope to gain out of it at this point? The swap could have
taken place at any time during the past couple of years, yet it wasn’t done until now.
What is the political reasoning behind a swap of five dangerous members of the Taliban
for a soldier who is considered a deserter by his fellow soldiers? Why do the swap and
why do it now?

The majority of military members will not see this as a sign that the President of the
United States is concerned for them enough to make a trade should they be taken
prisoner by a terrorist. Rather many will see that the President of the United States and
senior military leadership are willing to put them at the risk of greater harm for the sake
of a deserter and a yet to be revealed political agenda. President Obama suffers either
from a lack of understanding of how the world works or he has little regard for the safety
and security of our service members. Neither is a good option.


Jarad said...

The following is a comment I received from an intelligent and well informed friend of mine. I'll add my response to his questions as another comment:

A couple of thoughts come to mind and I would love to hear your response. (I do want to preface this with the disclaimer that I have never served in the military and have never been in combat so I may have no more standing to comment on some of these issues than most of our elected leaders or the talking heads on our supposed news channels).

First, do you really think the world is more dangerous to our soldiers on the ground in Afghanistan because of this swap? If I were there, I would assume that anybody I saw or came into contact with was trying to kill me. Isn't that the danger of the type of war we are fighting there now? It's awful hard to tell who the bad guys are. I would argue that our troops are in constant danger and always will be as long as they are there. If this exchange would have any impact on the danger our troops are in, it would raise the desire of the enemy to capture them alive as opposed to blowing them up or slitting their throats. These people clearly hate us and I don't believe they have been holding back in their attempts to harm us because the price wasn't high enough. You do raise an issue that civilian travelers may be at higher risk of kidnap. That may be the case, but anyone traveling in these regions will have to judge on their own what that increased risk may be.

Second, I am surprised by how much importance is being placed in the national debate on the exact circumstances of his disappearance. It has been widely known for years that he probably walked off by his own "choice". I can only imagine that living under the circumstances these men did can be hell on the psyche. His "decision" to walk off in the night can hardly be described as rational. (I've read that he thought about walking to India). If we believe in mental illness and conditions such as PTSD, I think we need to be willing to consider that this guy may not have been in his right mind if he walked away. He had to know that by walking away from the line he was walking into grave danger. Is he less worthy of being brought home, because he is mentally ill? If so, how should we deal with the thousands who suffer from residual mental effects from their service? Should we abandon them too? I agree with your assessment that if he did desert, he should face any punishment due him, but I think that is a question for those with real knowledge of the situation to decide. But I feel strongly that the circumstances of his disappearance do not make him less worthy of being brought home. (I am appalled by some of these politicians who fight tooth and nail for the right to life of a collection of non viable cells, who have been so quick to abandon this kid because of the circumstances of his disappearance)

Jarad said...

His comment continued:

One can certainly make the argument that if this were a baseball trade, we got swindled. We just gave away Ruth, Gehrig and DiMaggio and got back Johnny Lemaster in return (a really awful giants shortstop from my youth). From a symbolic standpoint, it would certainly appear that way. These guys clearly had way more impact in their prime than bergdahl ever did. But these guys have been "retired" from baseball for a decade. I am personally much more worried about the guys that are in the game currently than what these guys who were released are going to do. Is it a game changer now that they have returned? Again are we as civilians or our troops on the ground really in any more danger than we were a week ago? I wouldn't think so. (Maybe I've watched too much 24, but I hope that while we were water boarding these guys, we implanted tracking devices somewhere in their bodies. If apple can find my phone, can't we follow the whereabouts of a person?). Sure, the symbolism sucks, but are we really not going to bring someone home because of the symbolism? I also might feel a little different if I knew the exact extent of their crimes and how they had been tried, and what punishment they had been sentenced to. It starts to get a little vague when you talk about Guantanamo. I know that these guys are in fact escaping punishment that I suspect they deserve, but since the public at large is pretty much left in the blind it is a little harder to calculate how I feel about these guys going out.

What I resent most is everyone who is playing politics here. Starting with the POTUS making some splashy announcement going for a political win, to everyone opposed to the President now trying to make this some type of impeachable offense. I love the guys on fox attacking the kids dad because his beard makes him look like a "Muslim". Please attack him for his beliefs, but lay off the beard because to steal a great line from John Stewart, what the beard makes him look like is a cast member from Duck Dynasty. But before we attack that guy too much let's remember which of us have had a child held hostage by murderous terrorists in a faraway land, and we will let that guy tell us how we should behave in his shoes.

I also am hearing again and again about the men who lost their lives looking for this kid. I think it is truly tragic when anyone fails to return or returns injured. But were those men really just looking for bergdahl or were they looking for the bad guys who captured him? And isn't that ultimately what our military is supposed to be doing there, looking for the bad guys? And when you find bad guys, aren't there occasionally casualties? And if the cost of the casualties is too great, shouldn't we just get the heck out? I think all those men who were killed and injured are heroes, but I think those deaths are now being used for political purposes and it bothers me.

I would have much preferred the POTUS to have gotten up and made a statement something to the effect that this is a challenging dilemma, with no great options but that we as a people value life and freedom and we made a deal that made us squirm and feel queasy and we don't even know if we were right but we did it to reunite a family of imperfect Americans, because that is the kind of thing we would do and the terrorists never would. Maybe then we could just move on.

Sorry this has been disjointed. Most of this has been pieced together between patients on a long night shift. Let me know what you think.

Jarad said...

My response, part I:

Regarding your first point, the danger on the battle field is always present. The increase in danger impacts soldiers and others when they're not on an actual battle field. People who may not collaborate just for the sake of killing our soldiers, either because they don't believe in the cause enough or don't want to engage for fear of their own death, may be willing to participate in kidnappings away from the battlefield. The risk may not be limited to just these regions. When kidnapping is in play and profitable you look for the most vulnerable targets. Typically they are not on the battlefield, but away from it. Finally, to this first point, this provides incentive not just to the Taliban but to any party willing to take the risks associated with kidnapping our people anywhere in the world. They will look for softer targets in softer areas. Instead of kidnapping an armed soldier in Afghanistan, why not kidnap an unarmed soldier and family while they are on vacation in South America or East Europe or Malaysia? Now those types of kidnappings may be profitable.

Additionally, as one of the Taliban commanders involved with the exchange pointed out, this is a huge deal for them. It gives them credibility primarily with their fellow Afghans. The US government is willing to deal directly with a terrorist, militant group that is dedicated to gaining control of the country using whatever means necessary with the goal of establishing the worst variant of sharia law. Essentially, this serves to dash any progress or hope we may have had in Afghanistan. It is now clear that we are on our way out and who will be in charge after we leave.

On the second issue, I agree with you. The issue of his status as a deserter is secondary. I am not opposed to working to bring him back or to get him back whatever his status. The evidence does, however, point to the fact that he left willfully. If that is the case, it makes the terms of this trade even less favorable for the US. I sympathize with his fellow soldiers who are upset over the terms of the rescue and other events associated with past searches. They are suspicious, based on changes in Taliban tactics, that he collaborated with them. At this point, we, the public, just don't know enough. It is interesting to note that the Special Ops Command previously decided that the risks associated with rescue by force were not warranted in large part due to the nature of his disappearance. I don't think these issues are the key point and the biggest problem with the deal, they just make it that much worse of a deal.

Jarad said...

My response, part II:

The politics of this are sickening. Not only the way the president made the announcement but the unknown why of what he did and how he did it. The issue of prisoners at Gitmo is complex and contentious. As a nation we haven't found a good, acceptable solution for how to handle these prisoners long term. The president, in all his wisdom, effectively acted unilaterally on this issue, setting aside legal requirements and important security interests. Again, my question is why this and why now?

Suspicions of Bergdahl's desertion, his promotion to sergeant by direction of the president while he was in custody and under investigation, and the terms of the trade all indicate that this would be a highly controversial and probably unwise decision. Either the president is not very smart or he had a political agenda for doing this...or it could be a bit of both.

At the end of the day, I'm happy that he is on his way home if that is where he wants to be.

The added risk to our people, which I believe is real, and the terms of the trade will have a negative impact on the morale of our troops and embolden our enemies everywhere. It will embolden the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan. They have won a political victory against the United States and received an important degree of credibility as a result. The resolve of the Afghan government and people has just taken another serious blow.

My anger over this isn't political. I'm upset with the president, the secretary of defense, and all the senior military leadership who went along with this decision. I imagine that anger will increase if I ever find out why he did it this way and why he did it now.