Why ‘leave no one behind’ isn’t the controlling principle in the Bergdahl case

Reality check.


U.S. Army soldiers of 3/509 infantry 4BDE25ID Task Force Geronimo walk after a patrol at Paktika province, Afghanistan, November 12, 2009 (Image: Reuters, Bruno Domingos)
U.S. Army soldiers of 3/509 infantry 4BDE25ID Task Force Geronimo walk after a patrol at Paktika province, Afghanistan, November 12, 2009 (Image: Reuters, Bruno Domingos)

New post up at Liberty Unyielding.  Enjoy!

2 thoughts on “Why ‘leave no one behind’ isn’t the controlling principle in the Bergdahl case”

  1. I have read trustworthy news reports that assert that the five US prisoners given up for Sgt. Bergdahl were neither as dangerous, nor as important, nor as valuable as you stress in this otherwise well reasoned opinion piece. Those assertions were backed up with factual reporting concerning their allegiances, life histories, roles in the former Taliban government, and limited involvement in hostilities. This reporting on its face struck me as credible.

    Against this, your bald assertion to the contrary does not stand, at least not with me. I am an open minded person. But I am also demanding. I am not persuaded, for your whole argument stands or falls on this point, on which you offer no corroborating evidence.

    Now let me offer you this following conjecture, which probably has not occurred to you. Allow me to offer it as a hypothesis to be proved. Then let us both go and examine the evidence more closely.

    I hypothesize that our military leaders had other objectives in mind than merely gaining the release of Sgt. Bergdahl when they released these five men.

    I hypothesize that during their detention in Guantanamo, they have learned to get along with their captors and visa versa.

    I hypothesize that these men will become contacts by means of which the United States will attempt to conduct peace negotiations with the Taliban.

    I further hypothesize that some of these men will resume ranks in the Taliban leadership by virtue of which they will able to lead such negotiations themselves.

    If so, we should expect that they will become very comfortable in Qatar, and not choose to leave it once their enforced exile is up.

    In any case, I predict that none of these men will return to Afghanistan or Pakistan, and become actively engaged on the conduct of hostilities directed at US or allied forces.

    You may ask, what evidence do I have to support any of these hypotheses or predictions ? I will reply, no less than you have to support your assertions to the contrary.

    You have made your claim. We shall see, Inshalallah.

    Very truly yours,

  2. TPH, perhaps you will consider that others are also open-minded and do considerable homework before forming opinions.

    Although I can imagine which sources you have read regarding the stature of the released Taliban 5, and the import of their release, I’m not going to guess. What I will tell you is that you are probably misreading my assertion about them.

    Four of the five are, in fact, senior Taliban from Mullah Omar’s pre-2001 ruling circle. Arguing otherwise is special pleading to emphasize that they were not particularly connected to al Qaeda or to the support of terror operations abroad. (The fifth did have a closer and meaningful connection with al Qaeda.)

    But I never said they WERE so particularly connected. My point has been and remains that they are important Taliban, and that their release is meaningful to the impending Taliban project of retaking Afghanistan after the US pulls most of our forces out this year.

    I don’t agree with either of the two simplistic lines being retailed by those who want to emphasize the danger these guys pose. (I hear both of these lines on Fox all the time.) One line is that they are top “terrorists,” implicitly on the al Qaeda model, with the vague implication that they’re going to be behind bombing plots against the US. That is a clear misrepresentation of who they are and the threat they pose.

    The other line is that they are the equivalent of Hitler’s most notorious henchmen. This is rhetorically overblown, but is less of a misrepresentation of the correct model in which to evaluate them. Four of the Taliban-5 filled essentially “political” roles in the pre-2001 Taliban regime, making them more like Hitler’s political aides than like terrorist operational planners.

    Here, however, is where you and I probably have a very different, but key assumption. I know that those who have been at pains to dismiss the importance of the Taliban-5 have an assumption that differs from mine.

    Most observers are still operating from the mindset that the Obama administration must have instigated the prisoner exchange for Bergdahl. In particular, such observers have been looking for reasons why it would have happened now.

    I don’t believe America was the instigator. In the overall context of everything that has happened since 2009, including the patterns demonstrated by Team Obama and the changing expectations of foreign actors, it is increasingly clear to me that much of what happens now — perhaps most of it — is instigated by others. Obama and his administration are simply not proactive participants in international affairs.

    That doesn’t mean they weren’t looking for a way to get Bergdahl back. It does mean that I seriously doubt they set the outlines for the way the negotiation proceeded, or that the strongest impetus or initiative lay with them. I don’t think it did. It would certainly be out of character for Obama if it did.

    I laid this out in my earlier post on the regional circumstances that finger Pakistan as having a special interest in making this trade. It fits all the circumstances best if we deduce that someone — probably an agent of Pakistan, working through the Qatari intermediaries — told Obama’s negotiators what it would take to get Bergdahl back. In the whole mix — the US, the Haqqani network (which was holding Bergdahl), the Afghan Taliban (whose men the Taliban-5 are), and Pakistan — it’s the latter two who cared about getting the Taliban-5 back.

    The negotiations were off and on for over three years. When they finally produced fruit was a few weeks ago, when a series of lightning-fast shifts occurred in regional alignments (again, laid out in my earlier post) — and Pakistan and the Haqqani network suddenly started making common cause in Waziristan. That obscure rapprochement is a piece of the puzzle that put the Pakistanis in position, in late May, to deliver Bergdahl.

    I agree with the intel officers who have been quoted as saying that it probably took a cash ransom to pay off the Haqqani network. It probably did. All things being equal, the Haqqani network has no sentimental or strategic interest in getting the Afghan Taliban’s political roster released from GTMO. But I don’t know that the ransom came from the US. Someone else might well have paid it.

    Americans are wrong to think the driving factor in this trade was our getting Bergdahl back. The driving factor was the interested parties — the Afghan Taliban and Pakistan — getting the Taliban-5 released. Once one realizes that, and stops trying to assign Obama the role of mastermind, the various interrelated developments begin to make sense. It’s not Obama’s motive that mattered.

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