Saturday, May 12, 2012

Taliban Exploits Grief of U.S. POW Family

by Jonathan S. Tobin

The hearts of all Americans go out to the family of Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, the only known U.S. soldier being held captive by the Taliban. Bergdahl was captured by the enemy in June 2009 and is thought to be in the control of the Haqqani network in the tribal areas of northwestern Pakistan. He has never been allowed to send his parents any word nor has he been visited by the Red Cross. He was last seen in a Taliban video, but U.S. officials believe he is still alive. But after years of keeping silent about the ongoing negotiations that the government has attempted to free him, the Bergdahl family went public today and discussed their son’s plight with the New York Times. Their goal is to heighten the pressure on President Obama and his foreign policy team to give in to the demands of the Taliban on the release of prisoners held by the United States and our Afghan allies.

While their frustration with the slow pace of the negotiations is understandable, we can only hope the president will resist the pressure to give in to unreasonable demands not only on the prisoner exchange but concessions that would affect the future of Afghanistan. Though the United States should make every effort to secure Sergeant Bergdahl’s safe return, his situation should not be used as a pretext for handing Afghanistan back to the Taliban and their terrorist allies.

To its credit, the Times had not previously run a story on the effort to free Bergdahl because it was understood that publicity did not enhance his safety and merely aided the Taliban’s negotiating position. But the recent decision of the Taliban to break off the talks about Bergdahl prompted his family to go to the Times with their complaint that the administration isn’t being sufficiently accommodating to their son’s captors. The Bergdahls are worried that pressure from Congress not to negotiate with terrorists is influencing the president to be too tough. They hope by going public with their son’s story, they can generate pressure on the administration to give in. Moreover, the Times seems to think there are some in the government who welcome this pressure as they, too, would like to craft a deal with the Taliban that would effectively sell Afghanistan out.

I don’t fault the Bergdahls. The fact that, as the Times reports, they are Ron Paul supporters who oppose the war in Afghanistan is irrelevant to their mission to push for any deal to get their son back. Their only interest is in getting him home in one piece. The future of Afghanistan, the Taliban and the security interests of the region or the United States isn’t their concern–but it is the responsibility of the administration. As Bethany noted earlier this week, the administration has considered releasing Taliban prisoners without seeking the release of Sergeant Bergdahl in return.

If the Bergdahl case was like the lopsided prisoner exchanges conducted by Israel in order to obtain the release of prisoners like Gilad Shalit, drastic concessions would be understandable if regrettable, as it could be defended as part of the commander-in-chief’s duty not to leave any soldier behind. But as the Times makes clear, the Taliban’s goal is not so much to extract the highest possible price in prisoners for Bergdahl as it is to enhance its diplomatic efforts to force a peace deal that would bring them back to power. That is not something the administration should countenance. Nor should ordinary Americans who sympathize with the Bergdahls allow their emotions to cloud their reason.

Far from helping to free their son, the Bergdahls’ publicity offensive and any pressure they can help generate on the administration will only strengthen the bargaining position of Islamist terrorists. Much as Hamas and Hezbollah used Israeli prisoner families to make it harder for Jerusalem to negotiate, the Taliban will ruthlessly use the Bergdahls as long as it suits them.

The president should do everything in his power to bring Sergeant Bergdahl home including the paying of a ransom of some sort. But he cannot allow the family’s publicity efforts to influence him to sacrifice everything Americans have fought for in Afghanistan in the last decade.

Jonathan S. Tobin


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