mykeystrokes.com

"Do or Do not. There is no try."

“Rank Hypocrisy”: We Should Negotiate With Terrorists, We Always Have

I’m sure by now you have heard someone on TV say, of the five Taliban returnees, that we were going to have to give them back anyway, on cessation of hostilities. What you may not have heard said quite so often is why that is the case. But the reason is crucially important, because it brings to the fore one of the great hypocrisies under which the United States is forced to—or has chosen to—labor, and one we should do away with posthaste: this ridiculous idea that “We don’t negotiate with terrorists.”

With respect to the release of the hirsute quintet, here’s the deal. We declared war on the Taliban in 2001. “We,” the Bush administration, did this, although I confess I supported that war (never Iraq, though). Once we declared war on them and invaded their country, the rules of war applied. That means prisoners taken aren’t hostages. They are prisoners of war. And prisoners of war are accorded certain rights, some of which we violated but never mind that, and they are returned, usually at war’s end but sometimes before, through a process of… well, negotiation. It’s been this way since warfare began. And aside from prisoner exchanges, there is of course the matter of ending hostilities in the first place. That also must be negotiated.

“We” also—that is, President George W. Bush, by executive order—declared the Taliban a terrorist organization in 2002.  The group is not on the State Department list, but a presidential declaration has the same legal standing and force.

And so, the conundrum of illogic that these two declarations created: The Taliban are both an enemy combatant with which we absolutely must negotiate, and a terrorist group with which we absolutely must not negotiate.

Obviously, those two realities exist in tension. How do we resolve it? You might say “by not declaring war on them,” and it has to be said, in retrospect, that sounds like a damn good idea. It should never, ever, ever be forgotten, while these Republicans bang on at President Obama for everything he does, that he was put in this position only because we started fighting this 14-year war—the longest in our history; we defeated Hitler, Mussolini, and Tojo in less than one-third the time—with fewer than 2,000 soldiers on the ground.  And we—excuse me, “we”—did that because our brilliant leaders knew at that point that they wanted to save the bigger numbers for taking out Saddam Hussein. So yes, in hindsight, no war in Afghanistan, at least as it was waged by the geniuses who created this world-historic catastrophe, sounds a good thought.

But at least in warfare, there are certain rules that go back millennia. The United States’ fight against terrorism is only about 40 years old, and it largely coincides with the years of right-wing backlash. And so, just as we had to start getting “tough on crime” domestically in the late 1970s with a series of policies that are in fact bankrupting states and municipalities and are plainly racist, as even America’s greatest conservative (and evangelical Christian!) criminologist acknowledged before his premature death,  we also had to be “tough on terrorism” abroad.

It’s hard to place exactly when “We don’t negotiate with terrorists” entered the political lexicon. It’s pretty clear that it was Ronald Reagan who first said it, maybe during the 1980 campaign, maybe later. What matters is that it was rank hypocrisy from the moment it flew out of his mouth. His transition team negotiated the Iranian hostages’ release behind Jimmy Carter’s back. That was certainly negotiating with terrorists. And what was the Iran-Contra affair? The overture was made to Iran (a terrorist state in American eyes, then and now) in the first instance in an effort to free some American hostages being held in Lebanon. The president who didn’t negotiate with terrorists negotiated a deal that gave the terrorism-sponsoring state more than 2,000 anti-tank missiles, maintaining in his mind the fiction that he hadn’t negotiated with terrorists through the belief that his people were dealing only with Iranian “moderates.” What these “moderates” were going to do with 2,000 anti-tank missiles except give them to the non-moderate, terrorism-sponsoring regime then engaged in a war with Iraq is one of the puzzles of the Reagan mind, but let’s press on.

 

By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, June 6, 2014

June 10, 2014 Posted by | POW's, Terrorism, Terrorists | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“McCain Just Can’t Seem To Help Himself”: One Of These Days, The Beltway Will Stop Looking To McCain As An Expert

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) ran into a little trouble last week. The Republican senator, a little too eager to condemn the Obama White House, complained about the prisoner swap that freed an American POW despite having already endorsed the exact same plan a few months prior. After getting caught, McCain falsely accused his critics of “lying.”

Making matters slightly worse, the Arizona lawmaker, himself a former POW, complained to the media that he hadn’t learned anything from a classified briefing on Bowe Bergdahl’s release, neglecting to mention that he’d left in the middle of it.

Despite – or perhaps, because of – these embarrassments, McCain scored another Sunday-show invitation, where he somehow managed to add insult to injury.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) on Sunday called the five Guantanamo detainees released in a prisoner swap for Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl “hardcore military jihadists who are responsible for 9/11” and said he expects them to return to fighting against the U.S.

In context, looking at the full transcript, it’s hard to say whether McCain believes these five detainees were “responsible for 9/11” or whether he believes all of the detainees at Guantanamo Bay were “responsible for 9/11,” but either way, the senator is plainly wrong.

McCain added, in reference to the Bergdahl prisoner-swap, “I wouldn’t release these men, not these men. They were evaluated and judged as too great a risk to release.”

That’s wrong, too. In fact, the former chief military prosecutor at Guantanamo Bay told msnbc’s Alex Witt over the weekend that at first he didn’t even recognize these detainees’ names. “To trade five of them for a U.S. service member, in my estimation, and I’m often critical of President [Barack] Obama, I think they struck a pretty good deal,” retired Air Force Col. Morris Davis said.

What’s more, just a few months ago, McCain personally endorsed the plan to transfer these exact same Taliban prisoners. When he says he wouldn’t have completed the swap for “these men,” he’s neglecting to mention that he’d already expressed public support for swapping “these men.”

And all of this led to the creme de la crème:

“I believe that there are other prisoners, some of whom we have already released, that we could have released that – in exchange,” McCain argued.

If someone could explain what this means, I’d appreciate it. Putting aside the fact that McCain already endorsed the plan to swap these exact same prisoners before he changed his mind and denied changing his mind, it’s not at all clear how U.S. officials could have swapped prisoners “whom we have already released.”

It’s tempting to think that, one of these days, the Beltway will stop looking to McCain as an expert on matters related to national security and the military, but I’ve been waiting for that day for quite a while. It never seems to arrive.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, June 9, 2014

June 10, 2014 Posted by | John McCain, National Security, POW/MIA | , , , , | 1 Comment

“Tantrums Don’t Change The Facts”: McCain Rejects Evidence, Accuses Critics Of ‘Lying’

Republican reversals on securing the release of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl have been jaw-dropping for much of the week. As we discussed yesterday, Republicans were happy about an American POW coming home; then they changed their minds. Republicans endorsed the prisoner swap itself; then they changed their minds. Republicans extended their thoughts and prayers to Bergdahl and his family; then they changed their minds. Republicans demanded that the Obama administration had a responsibility to do everything humanly possible to free this POW from his captors; then they changed their minds.

But perhaps no one has been quite as brazen in the flip-flop department as Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who’s still treated as a credible figure on matters related to foreign policy and the military, despite his poor track record. The Arizona Republican expressed public support for the prisoner-swap, then did a 180-degree turn after President Obama pursued the course McCain endorsed.

Apparently, the senator is angry that his shameless flip-flop has been noticed.

“The details are unacceptable and for anyone to accuse me, therefore, of saying that I’d support any prisoner swap under any circumstances is lying,” he told CNN’s Jake Tapper.

“And the details are outrageous. They went to Qatar, where the Taliban has an office, and in a year they are going to be out and the deal is, like any other agreement, as I said, in the details,” McCain said on CNN, explaining his opposition to the swap. “I mean, it’s just totally unacceptable. These people would be back in the fight.”

It’s hard to know if McCain actually believes what he’s saying. Indeed, the senator has never been detail-oriented, so perhaps he doesn’t fully understand the nature of the recent criticism.

But in reality, as the New York Times’ editorial board noted today, McCain “switched positions for maximum political advantage” – as he’s done “so often in the past.”

The lawmaker can throw around words like “lying” if he chooses, but a closer look at the facts lead to only one conclusion.

As far back as 2011, the Obama administration was in talks with the Taliban about securing Bergdahl’s release, in exchange for five specific detainees at the Guantanamo Bay prison, who would then be transferred to Qatar. Members of Congress, including McCain, were aware of these talks and knew exactly which five Taliban prisoners would be included in the prisoner-swap.

In 2012, McCain was asked about this during a national television interview. Though he said he’d need all of the details, the senator said he “would support” the exchange.

And then the Obama administration made the exchange, at which point McCain condemned the exact same policy he’d already endorsed.

Indeed, perhaps unaware his own position, McCain has been quite unconstrained in denouncing the swap he used to support, calling it “outrageous” and “unacceptable.” At a classified briefing yesterday, the senator reportedly “walked out shortly after shouting at an official.”

Tantrums don’t change the facts.

What surprises me is McCain’s willingness to keep digging. His audacious reversal was uncovered on Tuesday, at which point the senator could have laid low so as to not draw attention to his shameless, knee-jerk opposition to an idea he supported. Indeed, I had no intention of returning to the subject, since it was so obvious that the Arizona Republican had contradicted himself.

But McCain can’t seem to help himself. Caught in a shameless reversal, he feels the need to lash out, making matters worse for no reason.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, June 6, 2014

June 9, 2014 Posted by | Bowe Bergdahl, John McCain, POW/MIA | , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Bowe Bergdahl Story Is Right-Wing Crack”: And Sure Enough, Republicans Are Hitting The Pipe Big Time

I was amazed but not surprised by my Twitter feed Monday. More than 200 tweets from conservatives, I would estimate, calling me a host of names and Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl a menu of worse ones. That’s the most ever in one day, I think, even more than for my most scorching anti-NRA columns, which have heretofore set the gold standard for inspiring drooling right-wing vitriol.

I was not, as I say, surprised. This story has every element right-wingers dream of. Every dark suspicion they harbor about President Obama can be wedged into the narrative conservatives are constructing about how Saturday’s prisoner exchange supposedly went down and what the president’s presumed motivations were. So I knew instantly, when I read Michael Hastings’s 2012 Rolling Stone profile of Bergdahl on Sunday afternoon, that this was going to be the next Benghazi. The story is right-wing crack. And sure enough, Republicans are hitting the pipe big time.

Some of the wilder criticisms of me notwithstanding, my column Monday made two basic points. First, if a Republican president had swapped five Taliban leaders for Bergdahl, all the people howling today would be spinning it positively. And second, while there are legitimate questions here—yes, I wrote that it was “fair to ask whether the price” of Bergdahl’s freedom was “too high”—what we’re about to get is another relentlessly politicized series of investigations that will be aimed not at determining the truth but at trying to turn possible errors of judgment by the White House into high crimes and misdemeanors. That’s the game here. Anyone who denies it is being naively or intentionally delusional.

Time, even the short amount that has passed between then and now, has proved me all too prescient—not that I’m patting myself on the back; it was a painfully easy call. The most notable development Tuesday was that former Romney adviser Richard Grenell was found to be setting up interviews for soldiers in Bergdahl’s battalion who wanted to go public trashing him. It may be, as Grenell’s partner said, that the soldiers found him on Twitter and it just kind of worked out that way. But the bottom line is what it is. These soldiers joining forces with a PR guy who used to work for John Bolton and then for candidate Mitt Romney, a man who is so deeply enmeshed in partisan politics, puts a political coloration on their words whether they mean it to or not.

I’m not defending Bergdahl here, and I didn’t Monday. Somebody on Twitter made a big deal out of the fact that I put the word “deserter” in quotes. You’re fucking-a right I did. He’s not officially a deserter. He is officially a sergeant in good standing. People can believe he is a deserter all they want, and maybe he is. But is the military’s official position worth nothing? That’s an interesting right-wing posture.

The military should investigate whether Bergdahl was a deserter, and it should court-martial him if the evidence supports doing that. In the meantime, what end is served by the character assassinations of him and especially of his father, who’s a citizen with all the usual rights? The creepy bottom line of the right-wing position, mostly unstated but often implied in tweets and comments, is that the U.S. government should have just left Bergdahl to die. That’s an appalling position. Bring him back alive, then let him face whatever justice he must face. But bring him back. That’s what civil societies do. What kind of society and leader lets their captive soldiers die in enemy hands? Recall that the guy who wouldn’t even trade a Nazi general for his own son (who died in German custody) was named Stalin.

That is why John Bellinger, a national-security lawyer in George W. Bush’s administration, said on Fox that he believes the Bush administration would have done exactly the same thing the Obama administration did. From Think Progress:

Asked about reports that Bergdahl deserted his unit in 2009, Bellinger added that the former hostage “will have to face justice, military justice.” “We don’t leave soldiers on the battlefield under any circumstance unless they have actually joined the enemy army,” he said. “He was a young 20-year-old. Young 20-year-olds make stupid decisions. I don’t think we’ll say if you make a stupid decision we’ll leave you in the hands of the Taliban.”

 

By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, June 4, 2104

June 5, 2014 Posted by | Bowe Bergdahl, POW's, Republicans | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

   

%d bloggers like this: