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“The Realities Of Modern Warfare”: Why ‘We Don’t Negotiate With Terrorists’ No Longer Holds Up As Policy

Like so many Americans, I have spent the past few days assimilating as much information as possible regarding the circumstances involving the ‘player trade’ that will bring Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl home to the United States while five terrorists check out of Gitmo and make their way to freedom in Qatar.

While there seems to be no end to the ‘angles’ to be considered in attempting to reach a conclusion as to the propriety—both long term and short term—of the deal, increasingly I find that one of our more culturally ingrained and instantly accepted axioms has been challenged by this case and turns out to be a position that cannot—and should not—be allowed to govern our behavior in the future.

That axiom?

“We don’t negotiate with terrorists.”

This is a sentence that few would challenge for all the obvious reasons—but one that has never really been true, despite the preposterous statement made by Rep. Mike Rogers (R-MI), chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, wherein he suggested that the President’s deal to retrieve Bergdahl ends the chapter in American history where we don’t negotiate with terrorists.

In 2007, a British IT consultant named Peter Moore, who had been captured in Baghdad by Shiite militiamen who ambushed Moore and his bodyguards, was freed after some 900 days in captivity. Sadly, only Moore would ultimately survive the experience as the terrorists murdered the remaining four members of his party.

To secure Moore’s release, the U.S. government agreed to free Qais al-Khazali who had previously served as a spokesman for the Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr (remember him?). We had, most assuredly, negotiated with terrorists to arrange for Moore’s release and handed over a high value detainee in the process.

Note that Mr. Moore was a civilian—not military—and yet we freed a high value terrorists as the price for the freedom of an American captive.

In 1985, the Reagan administration used the Israelis to ‘front’ a deal (not unlike how we have used the Qataris in the instance of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl) whereby the Israelis freed 700 prisoners in trade for Americans that were taken captive on a hijacked TWA flight.

And then, of course, there is the whole Iran-Contra thing.

These are but a few examples of the secret dealing with terrorists that has long taken place.

But should we be following this rule more rigorously?

On it’s face, the notion of not negotiating with terrorists is a sensible proposition. When one choses to reward evil behavior by giving the bad guys what they want, it is reasonable to anticipate that these bad guys—and others like them—will continue their horrendous acts of violence knowing that there may well be a prize in it for them.

To that end, there is simply no getting around the fact that trading five supposedly high-value terrorists (there is disagreement as to how effective the released prisoners will be given their age and time out of the battle) for one unpopular U.S. serviceman may very well encourage others with ill intent to take more American soldiers from the battlefield and hold them for trade—not to mention civilians, diplomats or whomever.

However, where this accepted rule of thumb that demands no negotiating with terrorists comes into serious conflict with the reality of modern warfare is when it comes to members of our military who fight these wars.

Few would dispute that it is a fundamental mission of the U.S. military to do all it humanly can to avoid leaving any American combatant behind. This principle of warfare was, at one time, an easy one to grasp—if sometimes hard to execute—at a time when warfare involved a clash between nations fought by soldiers in the uniform of the nation they serve.

 

By: Rick Ungar, Op-Ed Contributor, Forbes, June 5, 2014

June 8, 2014 Posted by | Bowe Bergdahl, POW's, Terrorists | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

John Boehner Pretends He Isn’t Speaker Of The House

Perhaps my favorite GOP response to the downgrade announcement came from the Speaker of the House.

Said House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio): “Democrats who run Washington remain unwilling to make the tough choices required to put America on solid ground.” He quoted the S&P report as saying that reforming entitlement programs is necessary, but he did not mention its discussion of the potential need for new tax revenue.

This is almost beautiful, in a comedic sort of way.

First, S&P blamed Boehner’s hostage strategy for the downgrade, so Boehner trying to shift the blame elsewhere is cheap and cowardly. Second, Dems were willing to make all kinds of “tough choices,” but found Boehner was too weak to persuade his own caucus to compromise.

But that’s just routine nonsense. What I especially enjoyed is the notion that, from Boehner’s perspective, Democrats “run Washington.”

I’ve noticed the Speaker has referenced that wording a few times recently, so I checked Boehner’s own website to see how many times the Speaker’s office has used the phrase. I found over 3,000 results. For a guy who’s only been Speaker for seven months, it suggests this is a phrase Boehner absolutely loves.

There is, however, one small problem, which Boehner may have lost sight of: he’s the elected Speaker of the House of Representatives. He was able to become Speaker because Republicans enjoy a House majority.

And if Republicans enjoy a House majority, it necessarily means Democrats don’t “run Washington.”

This need not be complicated. When Boehner goes to work, does he see the Secret Service agents around him? Does he notice where it says “Speaker of the House” above the door he walks through? Does he realize when President Obama negotiates with him, it’s not because the president enjoys Boehner’s company?

Obviously, I get the point of the little rhetorical exercise. Washington is unpopular, so Boehner wants voters to blame the party that “runs” things in DC. But as rhetorical games go, this one is just pathetic, even by GOP standards.

By: Steve Benen, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly- Political Animal, August 8, 2011

August 9, 2011 Posted by | Congress, Conservatives, Debt Crisis, Democracy, Democrats, Elections, GOP, Government, Ideologues, Ideology, Politics, Republicans, Right Wing, Standard and Poor's, Tax Increases, Tax Loopholes, Taxes, Teaparty, Voters | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The FAA Shutdown And The New Rules Of Washington

Congressman John Mica, the Florida Republican blamed for single-handedlyshutting down the Federal Aviation Administration, sounded like a beaten man when he called me Thursday evening.

The usually biting chairman of the House transportation committee spoke with remorse about the standoff, which put 74,000 people on furlough or out of work, delayed airport-safety projects and cost hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars.

“I’ve had a brutal week, getting beat up by everybody,” Mica told me, minutes after Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid announced a deal that would end the shutdown and avoid the cuts to regional air service that Mica wanted.

“I didn’t know it would cause this much consternation,” Mica said. “Now I’ve just got to get the broom and the shovel and clean up the mess.” Switching metaphors, he said he wanted “to unclog the toilet, but it backed up. So I don’t know what to do, what to say.”

One thing he’s going to do is make amends. He said he would introduce legislation Friday to pay FAA workers for their furlough days. “We just want to cheer all those workers who have been left out on a limb by this,” he explained.

Mica’s experience shows the high-risk nature of business in the new Washington, where even routine issues like FAA funding can become conflagrations. With no goodwill between the two parties, or the two chambers, ordinary disagreements mushroom into governing crises, with unpredictable results.

In the debt-limit standoff, Democrats capitulated to most Republican demands to avoid a default. In the FAA confrontation, Republicans pursued similar brinkmanship — but this time Democrats resisted, let the shutdown happen and, at least in Mica’s view, won the fight.

Mica started out with a sensible aim: He wanted to clean up years of messy funding for the FAA. Lawmakers hadn’t been able to agree on issues such as rural-airport subsidies and landing slots at Reagan National, so they kept the agency going with 20 stop-gap funding bills since 2007.

But Mica overreached. Letting his anti-labor ideology take over, he tried to use the FAA bill to overturn a decision by the National Mediation Board to rescind an old rule that had made it unusually difficult for airline workers to organize. Delta Air Lines furiously lobbied Congress to intervene.

Mica knew Senate Democrats would resist, so he tried to create a bargaining chit: He drafted plans to cut funds for small airports in the home states of Reid (Nev.) and Jay Rockefeller (W.Va.), chairman of the Senate transportation panel.

The Floridian publicly admitted his ruse. “It’s just a tool to try to motivate some action” on the labor rule, he told a group of airport executives last month, according to Aviation Daily. “I didn’t plan it to be this national issue,” he told me.

Senate Democrats, seizing on Mica’s admission that the bill was a “tool,” refused to deal. They let the shutdown happen and railed against Mica after lawmakers left for recess.

Reid accused him of taking “hostages.” House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer pointed out that the shutdown cost taxpayers more than the program Mica tried to cut. Privately, Mica’s GOP colleagues harshly criticized him.

The Orlando Sentinel, near Mica’s district, took the congressman to task and said it was “pathetic” that “members of Congress now are enjoying their summer vacations, while some essential FAA inspectors are working without pay.”

On Thursday, Democrats announced a plan to reopen the FAA and said they would use waivers from Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood to avoid Mica’s rural airport cuts. Mica, pronouncing himself thwarted, said he was stunned that Democrats took Republicans “by the short hairs,” as he put it. “Quite honestly we did not expect that.”

They should have. The 10-term lawmaker was operating under archaic rules. “In our business, you use your legislative tools . . . and put a little leverage on it,” he said. “How else do I do it? Am I going to send them a bouquet?”

But Mica, as much as anybody, created a culture of distrust, where staking out bargaining positions leads not to compromise but to warfare. And now he’s surprised?

“People don’t have to get so personal,” he said with a sigh. “A lot of people hate me now and think I’m the worst thing in the world for what I did.” It’s “this sort of gotcha,” he said, “that’s changed the dynamics of people working more effectively together.”

Hopefully he’ll remember that the next time he sticks it to the other side.

By: Dana Milbank, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, August 4, 2011

August 6, 2011 Posted by | Congress, Conservatives, Democrats, GOP, Government, Government Shut Down, Ideologues, Ideology, Jobs, Labor, Lawmakers, Lobbyists, Politics, Public, Public Employees, Republicans, Right Wing, Union Busting, Unions | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Crime Pays: Mitch McConnell, Hostage Taker

This quote from Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has been making the rounds today, and with good reason. It’s interesting from a variety of angles.

After [the debt-ceiling fight] was all over, Obama seemed to speak for revolted Americans — the kind of people who always want a new Washington — when he described the government as “dysfunctional.”

But at the Capitol, behind the four doors and the three receptionists and the police guard, McConnell said he could imagine doing this again.

“I think some of our members may have thought the default issue was a hostage you might take a chance at shooting,” he said. “Most of us didn’t think that. What we did learn is this — it’s a hostage that’s worth ransoming. And it focuses the Congress on something that must be done.”

Let’s unpack this a bit.

First, after this brutal fiasco undermined the economy and made the United States an international laughingstock, the leading Senate Republican fully expects to do this again. McConnell believes his party has “learned” the value in pursuing this, regardless of the consequences. I wonder if voters might want to consider this before the 2012 elections.

Second, it’s a little surprising to hear him concede that “most” Republicans didn’t think the hostage should be shot. If that’s true, maybe next time, Democrats shouldn’t pay the ransom?

And third, note that McConnell was quite candid in his choice of words. It’s not just Democrats talking about Republicans taking “hostages” and demanding “ransoms”; here’s the leading Senate Republican using the exact same language. In other words, Mitch McConnell admitted, out loud and on the record, that his party took the full faith and credit of the United States hostage, demanded a ransom, and they fully intend to do it again.

Given all of this, it’s rather bizarre for Republicans to complain about being equated with terrorists. As Dave Weigel noted yesterday, “If you don’t want your opponent to label you a hostage-taker, here’s an idea: Don’t take hostages.”

By: Steve Benen, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly-Political Animal, August 3, 2011

August 4, 2011 Posted by | Class Warfare, Congress, Conservatives, Debt Ceiling, Debt Crisis, Deficits, Democracy, Democrats, Economic Recovery, Economy, Elections, GOP, Ideologues, Ideology, Lawmakers, Middle East, Politics, Public Opinion, Republicans, Right Wing, Teaparty, Voters | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Fight Will Continue: Democrats Will Lose Now But They Can Win Later

Democrats are going to lose this one. The first stage of the emerging deal doesn’t include revenue, doesn’t include stimulus, and lets Republicans pocket a trillion dollars or more in cuts without offering anything to Democrats in return.

The second stage convenes a congressional “Supercommittee” to recommend up to $2 trillion in further cuts, and if their plan doesn’t pass Congress, there’s an enforcement mechanism that begins making automatic, across-the-board cuts to almost all categories of spending. So heads Democrats lose, tails Republicans win.

It’s difficult to see how it could have ended otherwise. Virtually no Democrats are willing to go past Aug. 2 without raising the debt ceiling. Plenty of Republicans are prepared to blow through the deadline. That’s not a dynamic that lends itself to a deal. That’s a dynamic that lends itself to a ransom.

But Democrats will have their turn. On Dec. 31, 2012, three weeks before the end of President Barack Obama’s current term in office, the Bush tax cuts expire. Income tax rates will return to their Clinton-era levels. That amounts to a $3.6 trillion tax increase over 10 years, three or four times the $800 billion to $1.2 trillion in revenue increases that Obama and Speaker John Boehner were kicking around. And all Democrats need to do to secure that deal is…nothing.

This scenario is the inverse of the current debt-ceiling debate, in which inaction will lead to an outcome — a government default — that Democrats can’t stomach and Republicans think they can. There is only one thing that could stand in the way of Democrats passing significant new revenues on the last day of 2012: the Obama administration.

Republicans — and even some Democrats — think that the Obama administration lives to collect revenue. The truth is closer to the opposite. Senior administration aides view the expiration of the Bush tax cuts as less of an opportunity than a chore. About four-fifths of the cuts go to households making less than $250,000 a year, and they don’t want to raise taxes on those folks. They don’t like the politics of the issue, either. It’s an article of faith among Democratic strategists that debates on taxes inevitably favor Republicans, allowing Democrats to be hammered from the right and undermined from the left. White House aides would rather focus on “win the future” issues like infrastructure, education and energy.

The White House’s strategy in the debt-ceiling negotiations has reflected its ambivalence, with Obama trying to extract either as much revenue as Republicans would allow or as little as Democrats would accept. Obama even offered Boehner a deal in which the Bush tax cuts would be extended right now, so Republicans wouldn’t have to fear a subsequent negotiation in which they lacked leverage. Boehner rejected that deal and, in doing, might have saved the safety net.

But the Obama administration doesn’t want to take its second chance. They argue that the economy will still be recovering in 2013, and so it’s not an ideal time for a large tax increase. True. But what happens in 2012 is not simply setting tax policy for 2013. It’s setting tax policy for decades to come.

Health costs are rising and the Baby Boomers are retiring. If taxes don’t rise, none of these commitments are sustainable. And Republicans, in normal times, are perfectly capable of blocking any and all attempts to raise taxes. For Democrats, the expiration of the Bush tax cuts presents a unique opportunity in which GOP intransigence will mean more new revenues rather than no new revenues.

The alternative has been on clear display in recent months. Republicans can’t necessarily sell the country on big cuts in federal programs, but they can make them necessary. All they need to do is hold the line aganst taxes, allow deficits will continue to mount, and then use forcing events like the debt ceiling or the budget to demand huge spending cuts. A world in which the two parties can’t agree on tax increases but can agree on spending cuts is one in which the government eventually shrinks dramatically. Republicans understand this. Do Democrats?

A year ago, I was less concerned about the Bush tax cuts. I assumed, as did many in Washington, that the Republicans’ antipathy to taxes was a negotiating stance. Eventually, we would strike a “grand bargain” that would reduce spending and raise revenue substantially. The past few months have proved me wrong.

Republicans have shown, that they will block any and all tax increases, no matter what incentives they are offered in return and no matter how dire the consequences of their refusal. Next year’s deadline offers Democrats their only chance to negotiate from a superior strategic position. Republicans will still be able to refuse to raise taxes. But if they do, it won’t matter. The only way they can succeed in keeping taxes from rising is if the Obama administration and the Democrats stand shoulder-to-shoulder with them to extend the Bush tax cuts.

By: Ezra Klein, The Washington Post, July 31, 2011

August 1, 2011 Posted by | Class Warfare, Congress, Conservatives, Consumers, Debt Ceiling, Debt Crisis, Deficits, Democracy, Democrats, Economic Recovery, Economy, Elections, GOP, Government, Health Care Costs, Ideologues, Ideology, Lawmakers, Middle Class, Politics, President Obama, Public, Republicans, Right Wing, Tax Increases, Tax Loopholes, Taxes, Teaparty | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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