Bergdahl trade was a close call, but the right call

Larry Levin, CEO and Publisher of the Jewish Light. 

Larry Levin

If prisoner swaps were easy or uniformly constructive, they would happen all the time. But of course, they aren’t, and so they don’t.

It’s not surprising, then, that the cause célèbre surrounding Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl has garnered such intense scrutiny. So many issues get tightly wound into the evaluative equation leading up to a deal, that the public vetting process after the fact conjures visions of uncoiling a ball of  rubber bands and watching them ping about the room.

Considering all the factors weighed in the trade, not to mention the requisite public posturing, political wrangling and finger pointing, I think on balance the deal was right, but not by much.

Does that sound like a copout? Maybe so, but sometimes these calls are really, really difficult to make, and this one shows just how hard it is to be the leader of the free world.

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President Barack Obama’s tough decision to trade for Bergdahl came as a federal election cycle begins to unfold, so it’s certainly easy for the president’s detractors to ascribe political motives to the call.

But it’s hard to figure his personal or his party’s gain. Five Taliban nogoodniks had to be released, and Obama knew the anthem of “we don’t negotiate with terrorists” would be heard far and wide (Oliver North was the most amusing crooner of this refrain). Bergdahl wasn’t a particularly sympathetic character, reportedly having tried to abandon his station and colleagues. And there wasn’t any massive public hue and cry for his release.

Moreover, Congress wasn’t given the 30-day notice required for those being transferred out of Guantanamo. The president relied on the apparent deterioration of Bergdahl’s condition, but bypassing the lawmakers wasn’t going to win him any brownie points, not even from those in his own party.

So it seems to me much more likely that Obama’s decision was made not for political gains, but rather, in the face of considerable risk to him and the Dems.

This of course is hardly the first time Obama has taken action with such serious potential repercussions. The slayings of Osama bin Laden and traitorous American citizen Anwar al-Awlaki were hugely successful but could have come with dire consequences if blown. And the decision to negotiate with Iran on the heels of effective economic sanctions flew in the face of rampant criticism.

Make no mistake, however, that having the guts to decide does not make the decision right (read: Iraq/WMDs in the previous administration). Each action must be analyzed on its own merits. To wit, the recent call by the U.S. to continue relations with a Palestinian Authority that is bringing Hamas into its government was pretty clearly wrong.

Taking the facts at face value, howev er, in this case the outcome seems right. If it is true that the Taliban prisoners would have had to be released in the near future, and the deal with Qatar for keeping them secure lasts about as long as they would have been under watch at Guantanamo, then the give up is not very high. And enough already about not negotiating with terrorists; this nation, Israel and others have done it often in the past.

And the value of the “get,” namely, Bergdahl? In concept, huge. An American soldier is being returned from POW captivity to domestic soil. If Bergdahl is to be tried for disreputable conduct, he deserves that trial, with military due process, from his own country. That’s one of the things we ensure our citizen soldiers.

This has been a sticky wicket, as evidenced by some of the topsy-turvy reactions – a conservative like David Brooks in support and derision from the likes of liberal United States Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif. That just shows how difficult the challenge was. 

But, on balance, a tough and courageous call to bring an American citizen and soldier home was the right thing to do.