Defenders of President Obama’s release of five Taliban terrorists from the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba in exchange for Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl cite as justification Israel’s history of swapping hundreds of Palestinian prisoners for one or two Israel soldiers.
As strong an ally and example of democracy as Israel is, especially in a region sorely lacking in either, Israel is not the United States. Israel has its own interests and purpose for its actions. The world looks to the United States for leadership and in this president and his administration it has found little.
There are important distinctions between Israeli prisoner exchanges and the Bergdahl deal. First, according to many who served with him, Sgt. Bergdahl deliberately walked away from his post. The Israeli soldiers were captured while doing their jobs.
Second, because of the proximity to Gaza and the West Bank, Israel presumably is better able to monitor terrorist movements while we have sent the Gitmo five to Qatar, a nation that reportedly funds Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood and al-Qaida affiliates. Next year the released prisoners are likely to return to Afghanistan.
As former Israeli diplomat Yoram Ettinger has written in the publication Israel Hayom: “The Head of Israel’s Security Services, Yoram Cohen, stated that 60 percent of released Palestinian terrorists revert to operational terrorism. Most of the 1,150 terrorists, released via the May 21, 1985 ‘Jibril Exchange’ played a key role during the First Intifada (wave of terrorism). Over 50 percent of the Palestinian terrorists, who were released between the 1993 Oslo Accord and the eruption of the Second Intifada, participated in that wave of Palestinian terrorism.”
Ettinger also notes that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was against prisoner exchanges before he was for them: “In his 1995 Hebrew edition, ‘A Place Under the Sun,’ Netanyahu wrote, ‘the release of terrorists is a mistake the Israeli government repeats time and time again. … How can Israel preach to the U.S. and the West … when Israel surrendered herself so shamefully? I was convinced that the release of a thousand terrorists would necessarily lead to a terrible escalation of violence, because these terrorists will be accepted as heroes, as an example to be imitated by young Palestinians. … It is clear now that the release of a thousand terrorists was one of the factors that provided a pool of fermenting violence and its leaders ignited the fire of the Intifada.’”
This is the thinking President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu should be exhibiting now. We should not have rescued Bowe Bergdahl. His freedom came at too high a price. War is hard and difficult choices must be made. The exchange has now given the Taliban a victory that the U.S. can ill afford to relinquish. One man’s freedom, quite frankly, has resulted in America’s continued bondage to Taliban extremism.
Clearly the president used Bergdahl as a convenience. He has long wanted to close Gitmo. It is one of his unfulfilled 2008 campaign promises. The president has declared the Afghanistan war will be over when American forces leave in 2016. But it isn’t over for the Taliban, who will likely return to their oppressive ways when we are gone, diminishing the sacrifices made by the American military and squandering the investment of American taxpayers. Who doubts al-Qaida will also return to perhaps plot another 9-11 from the same territory? We won’t be there to stop them.
Whose hands will have blood on them if these five released Taliban members kill more Americans? Even the president has said it is “likely” they will rejoin their war. The only thing these people understand is power and resolve, but this administration has displayed weakness and vacillation.
During the just concluded observance of the 70th anniversary of D-Day, a number of commentators noted how different Europe would be had America and its allies not destroyed Nazi Germany and then stood against Soviet communism.
How different will America be if we allow Islamic jihadists to have their way? While we practice tolerance, pluralism, diversity and freedom of religion, they practice the opposite. For them the war will not be over until they win it. For America, packing up and going home isn’t victory, it’s just quitting.
Cal Thomas is America's most widely syndicated op-ed columnist. His latest book is "What Works: Common Sense Solutions for a Stronger America". Readers may email Cal Thomas at firstname.lastname@example.org.