Sunday, June 1, 2014

Trading with the Enemy: A Chance for Peace?

The news today is full of stories about a prisoner exchange between the U.S. and Afghan resistance. In return for the U.S. freeing 5 Afghan resistance fighters held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, the Afghan resistance (aka "Taliban") agreed to release one U.S. captive, Bowe Bergdahl, held since his capture in 2009.

Reuters' Condensed Timeline of Events

The prisoner swap -- akin to those we hear about frequently between Israelis and Palestinians -- was mediated by the Gulf state of Qatar (home to the Al Jazeera network). Terms of the deal are that the 5 Afghan resistance fighters must stay in Qatar for a year, with Qatar making suitable assurances to that effect to the U.S. government.

The news today is also full of the predictable expressions of outrage from Republicans at this exchange. Republicans forget that one of their saints, Ronald Reagan, negotiated with Iranians to provide them with arms in return for their assistance in convincing Hezbollah in Lebanon to free American captives (the so-called 'Arms for Hostages' component of Iran-Contra). Republicans' outrage is buttressed by a law that was passed and signed into law last year requiring the Executive to give Congress 30 days' advance notice of any prisoner exchanges involving Gitmo detainees. Schadenfreude is a wonderful feeling, as President Obama signed the law with an accompanying 'Signing Statement' that he would not obey the 30 days' notice requirement necessarily, as doing so would impose a violation on his powers as Commander in Chief. When Dems protested Bush's use of 'signing statements' back in 2001-08, Republicans pooh-poohed the outrage. Now the shoe's on the other foot and it makes me happy to see the Republicans hoist with their own petard.

However, and this is a big however, we were constantly told that the Taliban were 'terrorists' and that, furthermore, the U.S. government never negotiated with 'terrorists.' Thus, we could never 'win' our war on terrorism, short of killing every terrorist on the planet. Even if one accepts that nomenclature, one must surely recognize that we negotiated with our enemies on this prisoner swap. So either the Taliban were not terrorists OR we do negotiate with terrorists when it suits us. The point is that the whole charade is revealed as the empty rhetorical gesture it always was, is and will be.

Absent the total annihilation of one's enemies, the only way to end an armed conflict is through negotiated terms. We have shown that we can negotiate with the Afghan resistance to bring about mutually beneficial prisoner swaps; now we should try to negotiate for a lasting armistice.

1 comment:

  1. Charlie - nice blog. Not all Taliban were Al-Queda type terrorists, as one expert pointed out about the released 5 Taliban. Supposedly these guys weren't into terrorist activity (if true). As I mentioned over at Commondreams Clapper argued a couple of years ago that these 5 were "top notch" terrorists - and knowing Clapper is a habitual liar the argument that they were Taliban, but not terroristic Taliban, rings true.