Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Pouring Perspective Sauce on Taliban POW Swap

Of course, much of the criticism of the Obama Administration for making this deal is by people who would (or did--John McCain) criticize Obama for not making the swap if he hadn't.  That is, much of this noise is by folks who would lambaste the government no matter what it did.

Still, lots of confusion abounds.  For instance, the reports indicate that 29% of the people released from Guantanamo join the Taliban again and engage the US and its allies in combat. 
My response: damn, that is a mighty low number (see here as well).  How so?  Well, in the US, roughly two-thirds of the people released from prison are picked up for crimes within three years.  So, I do not want to say that there is much rehabilitation going on in Gitmo, but that we need to be clear it is unrealistic to expect a recidivism rate of zero percent.  If we understand that, then 29% does not look so bad.

The second confusion is about whether the US in this case negotiated with terrorists.  Well, sort of.  That is, the Taliban are not coded as terrorists by the US since they are not attacking US interests outside of the civil war in Afghanistan (and it is a civil war--outside actors involved just makes it a normal civil war).  The more important thing is this: the US and its friends have often bargained with terrorists.  Jimmy Carter bargained with the people holding American hostages in Iran, who agreed to let them go as soon as Carter was no longer president.  Ronald Reagan bargained with those holding hostages in Lebanon in exchange for arms being sent to Iran.  Israel swaps prisoners all the time, often hundreds of Palestinians for a handful of Israelis. If the bad guys have something you want, either you take it or you bargain for it.

Third, will this encourage more kidnapping of American prisoners?  Probably not since the US has already shown a great interest in getting its folks back.  And also, the Taliban and its ilk already have plenty of incentives to take American soldiers hostage for the propaganda gains.

Fourth, Bergdahl is especially controversial since he seems to have wondered off his post.  Maybe.  But in the past, we did not investigate the worthiness of who we sought back in a trade of prisoners, such as during the swaps during the end stages of Vietnam (McCain), so it is not clear we should be doing so now.

Finally, Obama may have exceeded his authority since Congress has passed restrictions on Gitmo prisoner releases.  This is the one issue that is really legitimate in terms of qualms.  Of course, the fact that Congress is micro-managing Gitmo is bad, but bad laws need to be obeyed until the courts rule or Congress changes its collective mind.  Obama says he issued a signing statement for just such a possibility.   This made him a hypocrite since he opposed such weaseling efforts before he was President, but also makes the GOP in Congress hypocrites for not minding Bush's abuse of this.

The reality is this: the actual swap is quite normal business as usual in the end stages of a war/intervention.  The rest is mostly just politics/blame-casting.  So, of course, my effort to pour some perspective sauce on this actually leads me to noticing that there is a heap of distraction sauce being tossed in as well.

No comments: