Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl was the only American military man held by the Taliban in Afghanistan up until this last weekend. In a prisoner exchange, the U.S. got him back after five years and released five members of the Taliban from Guantanamo Bay. The five will spend a year in Qatar under the supervision of that nation’s pro-western government. To hear some on the right tell it, this exchange is a big victory for terrorism because America negotiated a deal with terrorists. Well, I have bad news for America’s reactionaries: We negotiate with terrorists all the time. Every country does.
Negotiation is nothing more than discussing matters of mutual concern with an eye to making mutually beneficial arrangements. Sometimes, you get a deal, and sometimes, you don’t. Not all the deals you make will be equally positive for all parties. Sometimes, the other side comes out ahead, sometimes you do.
But the rightists are harping on the fact that America actually negotiated with terrorists and doing so is wrong. By even deigning to talk to them, the government has made it more likely that there will be future acts of terror. Simply put, by just talking to the terrorists, we have made it more likely that they will attack. By releasing five of their top guys, they believe we have condemned little American children to horrible deaths right before their parents’ eyes to the delight of the jihadis.
“I fear that the administration’s decision to negotiate with the Taliban for Sgt. Bergdahl’s release could encourage future terrorist kidnappings of Americans,” Sen. Marco Rubio, (R-Fla.) said Sunday in a statement. Rubio’s fear, much like his ideology, is not founded in fact.
Now, let’s leave aside the fact that Bergdahl was a uniformed soldier in a war zone when captured and that the five Taliban were taken by U.S. forces in a war zone carrying weapons and otherwise acting like real soldiers. Let’s pretend, as the right would have us do, that this was not an exchange of prisoners of war as the conflict in Afghanistan ends. Let’s pretend it was all about negotiating with terrorists. We’ve done it before.
Consider the greatest hostage disaster ever to befall America, the taking of the U.S. embassy in Tehran. Negotiations went on for 444 days. The U.S. hostages finally came home. I defy Sen. Rubio to find an example of Iran taking Americans hostage since then.
Or my personal favorite, the Iran-Contra affair in which Ronald Reagan actually traded American arms to Iran in exchange for Iran’s influence over Hezbollah in Lebanon, which had taken several westerners hostage. Reagan himself admitted it in an Oval Office speech on March 4, 1987, “what began as a strategic opening to Iran deteriorated, in its implementation, into trading arms for hostages.” Shameful as it was (and I think Reagan should have been impeached for it), the fact is Hezbollah didn’t run out and kidnap more Americans.
In Northern Ireland, there is a peace deal in place right now because the London and Dublin governments negotiated with the terrorists who had made Ulster a miserable place for a generation. Martin McGuinness, the leader of the Irish Republican Army, has even shaken hands with Elizabeth II at an official state visit. Negotiations ended the terrorism rather than extend it.
Charles “Cully” Stimson is a security expert at the reactionary Heritage Foundation, and under George W. Bush, he coordinated America’s handling of terror detainees. “We have had very quiet negotiations, or discussions at least, with terrorist groups over the years on a whole host of things,” Stimson told USA Today. “They just haven’t usually come to light.”
Besides, how is negotiating with terrorists different than negotiating tyrants? We negotiate with the Chinese government all the time — frankly, the Chicoms have killed far more people than Al Qaeda ever did. Does anyone really like negotiating with Vladimir Putin?
The whole reactionary grousing reminds me of the film “Patton,” about the American general in World War II. During the campaign in Sicily, it had been agreed that Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery would take the city of Palermo, and Patton would protect his flank. Patton was more effective and took Palermo while Montgomery got nowhere. As Patton is riding through the newly liberated city, he is handed a message by his aide Lt. Col. Charles R. Codman, “This is from from General Alexander, sir, reminding you that you are not to take Palermo.” Patton replied, “Send him a message, Cod. Ask him if he wants me to give it back.”
I suggest that if Rubio and the rest of the dangerous yahoos on America’s far right don’t like this deal, they should come out in favor of sending Bergdahl back to the Taliban. Then we will know if they truly have the courage of their convictions or if they are merely grandstanding again.
Jeff Myhre is a contributing journalist for TheBlot Magazine.