Wednesday, June 11, 2014

The Miasma of Secretary Hagel's Inaccurate Justifications: The Bergdahl Trade

As I track Secretary Hagel’s remarks to the House Committee regarding the prisoner exchange of five senior Taliban military commanders for Sgt. Bergdahl, I am a bit surprised by the justifications for the trade and the disregard for obvious and serious consequences.   Below is a short attempt to address some of the issues that the Secretary fails to explain adequately, particularly in light of the fact that many of these issues prevented the US from executing this trade previously.

“Sgt. Bergdahl has rights.”

On this point I agree with Secretary Hagel, in principle.  Sergeant Bergdahl is entitled to fair treatment under the law and his rescue and return rightfully was a priority of the Department of Defense.  The circumstances surrounding his disappearance and apprehension by the Taliban, however, were enough to influence decision makers not to pursue the trade or rescue previously.  If it was part of the equation previously, is it fair to claim that it must be set aside as a factor completely now that the trade has been made?

No 30-Day Notice to Congress

The Executive Office of the United States Government needs the flexibility to act, in a limited manner in most cases, in the interest of the nation on short notice, subject to the review and approval of the US Congress.  This situation was unique enough that Congress required a formal notification 30 days prior to any trade.  Obviously they felt that the situation, and potential for ill formed motives, may need to be reviewed.  Currently Secretary Hagel and the President are claiming that their intel sources indicated that the trade was subject to severe time limitations which restricted the ability of the White House or the DoD to inform Congress.  There is no reason that I can see, with my limited view, that senior leadership in Congress, particularly those that are members of select committees, should not and could not have been informed in a timely manner.  Rather the White House and DoD deliberately circumvented the requirement.  Effectively this allowed the President to pursue this action with no oversight of other elected officials—officials who may have sought to nix the trade.  Instead President Obama acted according to his own desires for his own purpose.

Secretary Hagel is correct when he stated, “I value the Defense Department’s partnership with Congress and the trust we have developed over the years.  I know that trust has been broken.”

Secretary Hagel allowed what many consider a poor trade that has a negative impact on national and world security for what appears to be President Obama’s as yet undisclosed political purposes.  Trust has definitely been broken, but not just with Congress.  It’s also been broken with the men and women who serve in uniform, their families, the American people, and our allies and supporters in Afghanistan and in Iraq.

Rep Adam Smith (D): We Didn’t Negotiate with Terrorists

Representative Smith made the absurd argument that we didn’t negotiate with terrorists because we are at war with the terrorists.  He either doesn’t have a clear definition of the term terrorist and what it means to combat them, or he conveniently set aside that understanding in order to make these comments.  If we extrapolate further meaning from his comments, then it stands to reason that all a terrorist or terrorist group needs to do in order to be considered legitimate is to enter into violent armed conflict with a state actor.

Incentive for Further Kidnapping and Hostage Taking

When faced with the accusation that the trade will motivate and inspire the Taliban to capture other US military members, Secretary Hagel correctly points out that capture of US military has been a stated goal for over 12 years.  What he fails to point out or admit to is that the ramifications for this trade go way beyond the simple goal of capturing US military members.  By concluding this trade we have done the following:

-       Provided a level of legitimacy to the Haqqani Network and the Taliban that they did not have before this.  They now have a serious claim to legitimacy which strengthens them at home and elsewhere

-       When they do capture US military members they will now expect something significant in return.  The motivation to capture has now increased.

-       We have now put at risk softer targets in softer locations.  Military members and their families are now more lucrative targets outside of combat zones.  Regular American citizens are also more lucrative targets.

-       Again, we strengthened the resolve of the terrorist groups while weakening that of our allies and supporters in the region.

Planners, Not Trigger Pullers

Secretary Hagel, in justifying the trade, made the argument that the five who were released were planners and that there was no evidence that they had ever pulled the trigger in combat operations against US forces.  There is also no evidence, as far as I know, that Hitler shot a Frenchman personally; or that Osama bin Laden piloted one of the aircraft in the 9-11 attacks.  There are no good arguments for letting these five go in any type of exchange.

The act of the trade of these five for Bergdahl put them back on the battlefield in the hearts and minds of those who are fighting on both sides.

This Administration is exhibiting dangerous leadership by making decisions that weaken our national security and strengthen the idea and legitimacy of terrorism as a legitimate means to gain and utilize power and influence.

I can’t help but believe that Secretary Hagel knows that at best his points are weak and at worst dishonest and inaccurate intended to mislead Congress and the American people.  

Every wise, legal, and legitimate effort should have been made to return Sergeant Bergdahl to the United States with a comprehensive understanding of the situation based on the knowledge and information available.  Negotiating with terrorist groups in exchange for terrorist leaders does not fall under the category of wise, legal, or legitimate.

For further discussion, please see my previous blog posts:

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