Saturday, June 7, 2014

Was He Worth It?

That's the outrageous cover on Time, asking whether bringing home our one Afganistan POW was "worth it".

For those who've been sleeping through the last week, or won't read this for a couple decades (the internet is forever, ya know), President Obama just traded 5 Talibanis from Guantanamo for one US soldier/POW. News follow-ups indicate he may have been away from his post when his capture happened. It turns out he has done that a couple times before, for a couple hours each time, and returned. News items also say either his health was frail after 5 years, or his captors were threatening his life if the exchange weren't carried out, or both.

The faked outrage following the exchange is itself outrageous, for so many reasons.

1: We don't leave our soldiers behind. If this trade wasn't done, what kind of message does that give to others who are considering joining the military? It doesn't matter whether he was "worthy" of rescue, as so many claim in their 15 seconds of so-called fame. The uniform is.

A side note is the claim that 6 of our soldiers died in attempting rescue. The government says that is not established. But let's suppose for a moment is was. Does that make a difference? Soldiers give their lives for lots of reasons in a war, and rescuing a buddy - or body - is an honorable one. Let's turn to Hollywood for a minute, if only because some of their movies illustrate points memorably, in ways we civilians can relate to.  "We Were Soldiers",  Viet Nam era, picked because it just aired on TV, showed the importance of bringing every body home, even though some were killed in the attempt. "Saving Private Ryan", picked because of yesterday's 70th D-Day anniversary, demonstrated the same thing, with many losing their lives just to send home a single soldier. Nobody asked how worthy these soldiers were, how high the price. It is just how it was done, and hopefully still is. Decades later remains are still returned from 'Nam, when located. Knowing that every effort will be made to bring whatever is left of them home is part of what gives soldiers the courage to fight.

2: Some of the foremost critics now are exactly those who a few months back were suggesting this kind of exchange and criticizing the President for failing so far to rescue Bowe Bergdahl. Sen. John McCain was one of the loudest then, - yeah, you're on tape, John - and one of the loudest on the opposite side now. You'd think with his POW history... well, nevermind. We've seen his chameleon side when he ran for President. Should we have asked back in the 70's whether this fairly inept pilot was worth bringing home? Or should we just understand how politics are involved in today's furor, coming from a party whose opposition to our President is openly stated to be it's number one priority? Not fixing this country's problems, but making Obama look bad regardless of the consequences to the country, to you and me.

3: As to Bowe's alleged history in leaving base, there are questions to answer, of course. When did we decide that our citizens were guilty until proven innocent, judged in absentia? It's stated he was disillusioned by this war. Who wasn't? And that's even without having just watched a young Afgani boy being run over by one of our tanks in the street. Plenty of soldiers in plenty of wars have written home that this isn't the glorious cause they thought it was, complained that they were lied to, frustrated by terrible conditions, needing a few hours occasionally to get it back together before returning to duty? Let's wait to find out the truth, and then mete out whatever punishment may be appropriate, starting with those 5 years served.

4: Thirteen years ago those 5 Talibanis captured and sent to Gitmo were considered too dangerous to let go. They were never tried, never could be. It is our country's disgrace that they were tortured while in our hands, our foolishness that any of us thought it would produce useful information. Now, the war is winding down. Pull-out dates have been announced. At the end of a war, countries return their captured from the other side. These guys would properly have had to go back. This way we had some say in under what conditions this happened.

How dangerous are they now? They are all old men. 13 years ago they were relevant. Younger men have risen from the ranks and taken their places. Much as they might be respected in their culture, they'd have a tough time both in coming back up to speed with what's happening now, and in reclaiming their status and position from their replacements. Of course, the fact of our having tortured them gives them incentives to try, rather than retire gracefully, so kudos to our side, eh?

5: If "dangerous" was the criteria for an exchange, how about President Reagan's trading of arms way back in the day? That didn't come back to bite us in the butt, uh-uh, no way, no how. And let's not even get into how legal that might have been. Or not. Mostly not.

So was he worth it? Shame on you for even asking!

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