NATIONAL REVIEW ONLINE
June 3, 2014 4:00 AM
A Questionable Deal
By The Editors
It’s been a banner week or so for the Taliban. First, President Obama announced a date certain for liquidating our presence in Afghanistan, regardless of conditions on the ground. Then, over the weekend, he completed a swap of five top Taliban prisoners being held at Guantanamo Bay for one American captive, Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl.
The deal was in flagrant disregard of a requirement that the administration give Congress 30 days’ notice before releasing detainees from Gitmo. But the requirement is constitutionally problematic and, regardless, unenforceable; Congress didn’t include any enforcement provisions or use the power of the purse to make any funding dependent on it.
The real problem with the deal is that we paid too steep a price for Bergdahl’s release.
The five released detainees convey an important implicit message about Gitmo. The freed Afghans are not teenaged volunteers swept up in some dragnet, but senior Taliban commanders. One of them, for instance, was a deputy defense minister under the government of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan and led one of the last stands of resistance by the country’s pre-2001 terrorist regime.
Now he and four others have been sent to the country that hosts the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan’s government in exile. Qatar is officially a U.S. ally and supposedly offered security promises to the Obama administration, but it’s also the broker that kept this rotten deal alive, has offered just a one-year guarantee to keep control of the released detainees, and has been facilitating the arming and financing of al-Qaeda-affiliated rebels in Syria. Thirty percent of Guantanamo detainees have returned to terror, even when released to more reliable allies, such as Saudi Arabia. Forgive us for expecting these particular killers to beat the averages.
We’re glad for Bergdahl and his family that he is coming home. But it is infuriating that he apparently set this whole travesty in motion by wandering off his base after becoming disillusioned with the war. Members of the American units that expended so much effort, and reportedly lost men, in the course of looking for Bergdahl are now speaking out in outrage. Once again relying on crudely simplistic administration talking points, as is her wont, national-security adviser Susan Rice said over the weekend that Bergdahl served with honor and distinction. All indications are that he did nothing of the sort.
Perhaps the most ridiculous aspect of the deal is that the administration considers it a predicate for negotiating with the Taliban. The idea here is that the Taliban needs to be assured of our good intentions. Of course, it is much more important that the Taliban be convinced of our seriousness and resolve. The Afghan government, in fact, opposed the deal at various points for this very reason.
Leaving Afghanistan secure and peaceful may mean reconciling with remnants of the Taliban at some point. But the Afghan government — especially the two men about to vie for the country’s presidency — can only do that once the Afghan people, especially the Pashtuns, have been persuaded to throw in their lot with the country’s elected government, rather than the Taliban and other militant groups. Unfortunately, they have many reasons to do the opposite. The Obama administration just sent them five more.