President Obama must have known he’d take a great deal of political heat for his decision to swap five Taliban prisoners for the lone American prisoner of war held by the Taliban in Afghanistan.
But he must also have recognized that the most vociferous criticism would come from those who are relentlessly and reflexively critical of almost every aspect of his presidency.
This president’s political foes seldom miss an opportunity to depict him and his administration as inept, misguided and generally unworthy of their respect.
The American people in general, however, may be more inclined to see the positive side of the swap that frees 28-year-old Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl after nearly five years in captivity.
Yes, they may recognize that the five Taliban fighters who had been detained at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, might some day be part of a military threat to America interests in Afghanistan or elsewhere.
After all, they have been linked to Taliban activities that killed American and allied troops. Also, they’ve apparently been part of the horrible warfare being waged by Sunnis on their Muslim rivals, the Shia, and are believed responsible for many killings in that sprawling conflict.
So, true, these five Taliban – who’ll be detained under tight security in Qatar for a year under terms of the agreement that released them – do not appear to be deserving of sympathy from any Americans. It is therefore not surprising, nor unfair, that Obama’s critics would point this out in their negative assessments of the transaction.
But think about Sgt. Bergdahl and his family, and try to imagine what it would be like if he was your son or brother.
In fact, Bergdahl’s father had been extremely critical of the president for, as he saw it, not doing more to bring about his son’s freedom. Robert Bergdahl went so far as to attempt to contact the Taliban on his own and he made frequent trips to Washington to plead his case directly to both the State Department and the Department of Defense.
In 2012, addressing a crowd of about 100,000 attending a Memorial Day event in Washington, the sergeant’s father had delivered an anguished plea on behalf of his son.
After Obama called him to tell him of the prisoner exchange, the elder Bergdahl and his wife expressed their family’s great pleasure at the news and they were only too happy to join the president in the White House rose garden to celebrate the news.
“We were so joyful and relieved when President Obama called us today to give us the news that Bowe is finally coming home!” they said, speaking as surely any parents would under these circumstances. “We cannot wait to wrap our arms around our only son.”
The story behind their son’s capture is a murky one and has been subjected to considerable scrutiny and speculation, including disputed accounts made public by WikiLeaks. When American forces launched an intense search for their missing colleague, the Taliban was overheard (through intercepted communications) speculating that Bergdahl must be “a big shot.”
Afghanistan tribal leaders who had contacts with the Taliban reported that Bergdahl’s freedom could be arranged. The proposed deal: The United States would release of 15 of its Taliban prisoners, hand over an unspecified amount of money to the Taliban, and the American sergeant, who was believed to be in declining health, would be free. That deal was rejected in Washington.
The deal finally agreed upon brings an American soldier home after five painful years in captivity.
Let his critics rant. The president did the right thing.
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