Four Unnoticed Problems with the Bergdahl Exchange
Over the past few days, there has been a intense barrage of attacks against Barack Obama from the media, relating to the Bergdahl prisoner exchange. Indeed, the American President made a political move that is not unprecedented, yet it is very rare. Negotiating for the exchange of Prisoners with the Afghan Taliban, the President used his executive authority as the Commander in Chief to acquire America’s final POW from the Afghanistan war. This comes as a unique move, simultaneously as the US is on its final leg of combat pulling US forces from the region.
Though the exchange has many implications, there are four unnoticed problems surrounding the Bergdahl exchange. These four are likely to have the most noticeable and lasting complications for the Obama administration.
1.) Deserter or Traitor: POW exchange does nothing to help the Administration
With this exchange, the President has followed historical precedent to the letter by ending a war with prisoner exchanges. This provides the legacy of prisoner exchange some dignity, because the major aggressors of the Afghan war are demonstrating negotiations with each other. This exchange is like any other exchange as there is political grandstanding on both sides, yet in this case Obama got the raw end of the deal. Just as in the Bengahjzi affair, the Obama administration stumbled over this exchange appearing in joint press conferences with Bergdahl’s parents calling their son, a hero. However, this week we find out that at best, Bergdahl is a likely deserter, and at worst, he was a Taliban sympathiser who gave the Taliban tactical advise on killing Americans. Without a doubt, if the worst case comes to be true and the President looks like a Muslim extremist sympathiser, and worse yet, President Obama negotiated with terrorist linked insurgency and did not advance his political standing either domestically or internationally.
2.) Ongoing VA Crisis goes Houdini
A week before the Bergdahl affair, the US Department of Veterans Affairs was appearing across the front pages of every American News Headline over its delinquency and failure to care for those servicemen and woman returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. The gross negligence was so vast, the appointed leader General Shinseki resigned over it. What occurred since has been void from the headlines. Anecdotally, the reforms in the VA have been silenced over the administration decision to look after one veteran, the deserter.
3.) Five Afghan Thugs to One Soldier: Taliban winning the Media war
What the US gains from releasing the five Afghan thugs over one deserter is up for debate. I fail to see any benefits for the US. Though one thing is certain, the Taliban got a much better bang for their buck.
4.) Problematic Precedent is Set for Future Negotiations
The US has a policy much as its western allies do, which is, “never negotiate with terrorists”. There are obvious political and legal reasons why this policy is in place, namely the world does not want to get into the trend of negotiating for Ransom with random guys with guns. Now the Taliban are not the same as some random armed group, but this negotiation further blurred the lines between terrorist, insurgent, and how the US engages these groups. Now this precedent is set, there is a promising future for armed insurgent political groups, especially if they capture an armed serviceman and keep them once the US is engaged in an armed political struggle.
Jake Diliberto is a Political Scientist, Ph D. candidate at the University of Birmingham, resident scholar on US National Security & research fellow at the Centre for International Policy. Specialised in Religious Conflict and Guerrilla Warfare. He served as a US marine in Afghanistan and Iraq.