Saturday, May 31, 2014
Let's begin with the indisputably good news: Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, who has been held captive by the Taliban since 2009, is coming home. Upon his release, Bergdahl reportedly asked his rescuers if they were US special forces, bursting into tears after they confirmed that they were. His family is obviously elated. Their protracted, unimaginable ordeal is finally over. But this good news comes at an extremely high price. The Daily Beast's Eli Lake and Josh Rogin report:
The five Guantanamo detainees released by the Obama administration in exchange for America’s last prisoner of war in Afghanistan, Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, are bad guys. They are top Taliban commanders the group has tried to free for more than a decade. According to a 2008 Pentagon dossier on Guantanamo Bay inmates, all five men released were considered to be a high risk to launch attacks against the United States and its allies if they were liberated. The exchange shows that the Obama administration was willing to pay a steep price, indeed, for Bergdahl’s freedom. The administration says they will be transferred to Qatar, which played a key role in the negotiations.
Writing at the Weekly Standard, Thomas Joscelyn characterizes the released terrorists as among the most dangerous Al Qaeda-affiliated Taliban commanders in US custody:
There are good reasons why the Taliban has long wanted the five freed from Gitmo. All five are among the Taliban’s top commanders in U.S. custody and are still revered in jihadist circles. Two of the five have been wanted by the UN for war crimes. And because of their prowess, Joint Task Force-Guantanamo (JTF-GTMO) deemed all five of them “high” risks to the U.S. and its allies. The Obama administration wants to convince the Taliban to abandon its longstanding alliance with al Qaeda. But these men contributed to the formation of that relationship in the first place. All five had close ties to al Qaeda well before the 9/11 attacks. Therefore, it is difficult to see how their freedom would help the Obama administration achieve one of its principal goals for the hoped-for talks.
The Taliban has been seeking the release of these hardcore jihadists for years, and nowthey've gotten exactly what they wanted:
MT @RichardGrenell: State Dept senior FSO confirms "Taliban's original demand was multiple Gitmo prisoners. Never budged. They got that."— Byron York (@ByronYork) May 31, 2014
A few thoughts: One can simultaneously be both overjoyed for the Bergdahl family and deeply concerned about the release of these five men, who are now headed to Qatar. The Obama administration says security measures have been enacted to ensure that they will not return to the battlefield. Perhaps they'll soon find themselves on the wrong side of a US drone. Nevertheless, Joscelyn notes the high recidivism rate among ex-Gitmo detainees, at least one of whom is alleged to have participated in the Benghazi attacks. More alarming is the incentive structure this erects for terrorist organizations. The US has a longstanding, bipartisan policy against negotiating with terrorists. In this case, the Obama administration traded several high-level terrorists for one US soldier. The ranking Republicans on the House and Senate Armed Services Committees make an obvious and worrisome point:
Like all Americans, we celebrate the release of Sergeant Berghdal from terrorist captivity. When one of our own comes home to us, we all rejoice. We are relieved that the ordeal and sacrifice of the Bergdahl family has come to a happy conclusion. In the days ahead however, we must carefully examine the means by which we secured his freedom. America has maintained a prohibition on negotiating with terrorists for good reason. Trading five senior Taliban leaders from detention in Guantanamo Bay for Berghdal’s release may have consequences for the rest of our forces and all Americans. Our terrorist adversaries now have a strong incentive to capture Americans. That incentive will put our forces in Afghanistan and around the world at even greater risk.
Rep. McKeon and Sen. Inhofe also state that the Obama administration totally disregarded a law requiring them to notify Congress of any Guantanamo detainee transfers at least 30 days in advance. (In the past, Congress had the power to block such transfers; they relinquished that power in the 2014 National Defense Authorization Act). Another unpleasant wrinkle to this story are the allegations that Sgt. Bergdahl deserted his unit before being captured by the enemy. Michelle Malkin wrote about those rumors in 2009, with CBS News following the trail through 2012, and again earlier this year. The evidence seems compelling. Those issues will have to be sorted out in due time. For now, we can only hope and pray that this young man is healthy, and that he can find some peace in being reunited with his family. In the meantime, questions abound: Has the president's decision undermined our no-negotiations-with-terrorists posture in a lasting way? How does the government intend to follow through on its assurance that the freed Taliban commanders cannot pose a threat to the United States? How does this swap -- which acceded to an evil group's core demand -- not incentivize similar groups to capture more Americans and demand concessions for their release? On what grounds did the White House flout the 30-day notification legal requirement? Laws aren't suggestions, in spite of this president's repeated actions. I'll leave you with the president announcing the news in the Rose Garden, flanked by Bergdahl's long-suffering parents:
Leaving no man behind is a worthy and honorable American military ideal. But it's reasonable to worry that this Faustian bargain place even more of our countrymen in danger.
Congress has imposed statutory restrictions on the transfer of detainees from Guantánamo Bay. The statutes say the secretary of defense must determine that a transfer is in the interest of national security, that steps have been taken to substantially mitigate a future threat by a released detainee, and that the secretary notify Congress 30 days before any transfer of his determination.
In this case, the administration did not notify Congress ahead of time, officials said. They noted that Mr. Obama has claimed that the transfer restrictions are a potentially unconstitutional intrusion on his powers as the commander in chief. Last December, he issued a signing statement claiming that he could lawfully override them. An administration official said the circumstances of a fast-moving prisoner exchange deal made it appropriate to act outside the statutory framework for transfers.
The top Republicans on the House and Senate Armed Services committees, Representative Howard P. McKeon of California, and Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma, said the release of the Taliban prisoners “clearly violated laws” governing the transfer of detainees from Guantánamo Bay.
Of the 603 former detainees tracked by US intelligence services, a total of 100 have now been confirmed as reengaging in "terrorism"
US soldier freed by Taliban captors
Last updated 1 hour ago
A US soldier who has been held by the Taliban in Afghanistan for nearly five years has been freed in deal that includes the release of five Afghan detainees, US officials say.
US Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, 28, was handed over to US forces in good health, the officials said.
The five Afghan detainees have been released from the US prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
They were handed over to Qatar, which mediated the transfer.
Sgt Bergdahl was the only US soldier being held by the Taliban in Afghanistan.
Officials said he was in good condition and undergoing medical tests at Bagram Air Field, the main US base in Afghanistan.
He would later be flown to a US military medical centre in Germany to "decompress" after his ordeal, American defence sources told the AFP news agency.
Who are the Guantanamo detainees?
Mohammad Fazl served as the Taliban's deputy defence minister during America'smilitary campaign in 2001. Accused of possible war crimes, including the murder of thousands of Shia Muslims.
Khirullah Khairkhwa was a senior Taliban official serving as interior minister and governor of Herat, Afghanistan's third largest city. Alleged to have had direct links to Osama bin Laden.
Abdul Haq Wasiq was the Taliban's deputy minister of intelligence. Said to have been central in forming alliances with other Islamic fundamentalist groups to fight against US and coalition forces.
Mullah Norullah Noori was a senior Taliban military commander and a governor. Also accused of being involved in the mass killings of Shia Muslims.
Mohammad Nabi Omari held multiple Taliban leadership roles, including chief of security. Alleged to have been involved in attacks against US and coalition forces.
The big news Thursday was that America's economy shrank during the first quarter of 2014, its worst performance in three years -- but reporting that news apparently didn't sit well with several major media outlets.
“U.S. economy shrinks, but it's not a big deal,” read a headline on CNNMoney.com.
“Blame Old Man Winter: economy contracts for first time in three years,” NBC News tweeted.
The U.S. Commerce Department's Bureau of Economic Analysis revised the numbers downward from prior estimates to show the nation’s GDP contracted at an annual rate of negative 1 percent. It was the first negative quarter since 2011, and one more three-month stretch in the red would put the U.S. is back in recession. But nightly newscasts sought to present the data as a blip, blaming it on the weather — if they mentioned it at all."When the media aren't ignoring bad economic news to protect Obama, they're spinning it into good news.”
- Brent Baker, Media Research Center
“All that snow and ice froze business, but most economists believe it sets the economy up for rebound this quarter and there are some encouraging signs in the numbers,” CBS News’ Anthony Mason reported.
— NBC News (@NBCNews) May 29, 2014
Neither ABC nor NBC reported the disappointing numbers at all. The preliminary quarterly estimate from the U.S. Department of Commerce had been that the economy grew at a modest 0.1 percent rate.
Economists, including those at the Federal Reserve, generally agree that unusually brutal weather played a role in the economy contracting by a full percent for the first three months of the year. Some say President Obama’s economic policies didn’t help, either. But while that kind of analysis has a place in fair and balanced reporting, such rosy spin rarely found its way into headlines during the economic doldrums of the Bush administration.
"When the media aren't ignoring bad economic news to protect Obama, they're spinning it into good news,” Media Research Center's Brent Baker, who drew attention to the apparent double standard on the MRC'sNewsBusters site, told FoxNews.com. “That sure wasn't a favor the press corps ever provided George W. Bush."
The New York Times used the double entendre "Frigid First Quarter" to characterize both the lack of economic growth and the reason for it, while media outlets more versed in economics, such as Forbes, simply stated the facts up front and allowed informed sources to provide commentary below.
Economist Kevin Hassett, a former advisor to Mitt Romney and now an analyst at the American Enterprise Institute, said the weather was indeed a major drag on the economy.
“I think Obama's policies have absolutely put us on a lower growth trajectory, but I also think that the weather was 99 percent of the story in Q1,” said Hassett, who has written extensively about media bias. “Now, this is, in part, a testable thing. If Q2 includes a major bounce back, of say, 4 percent instead of 2, then the weather story gets more credibility.”
Obama is seeking to scale back US global responsibilities without signalling a retreat
It looked like Barack Obama might do something rash when he travelled to West Point, New York, on Wednesday to deliver the commencement address of the US Military Academy. Foreign policy thinkers in both parties have accused the president of being unwilling to provide US leadership in the world. They urge him to look to his “legacy” and to think big. The New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman recommended the Ukraine crisis as a “legacy opportunity” and even suggested a series of activist steps.
This is, alas, a typically American way of looking at history. The late historian Christopher Lasch marvelled in the early 1990s at the way Bill Clinton arrived in office “already obsessed with his ‘place in the history books’ . . . as if ‘history’ were just a kind of protracted version of the publicity industry, and you could reserve a room just by phoning ahead with a little advance hype”. Mr Obama does not need to bully anyone to secure a “legacy”. Changing US foreign policy after George W Bush’s two terms is the main thing he was elected to do. He has done it.
MoreOn this storyOn this topicChristopher Caldwell
Mr Obama’s problem is different. When he says “America must always lead on the world stage”, there is no reason to doubt his sincerity. But such leadership comes at a price, and he is disinclined to pay it. He proposed bombing Syria at a point last year when Bashar al-Assad was alleged to have used chemical weapons but then abandoned the idea in the face of voter rage. He would rather gain a reputation for indecision than make a blunder. He cited a predecessor, Dwight Eisenhower: “War is mankind’s most tragic and stupid folly; to seek or advise its deliberate provocation is a black crime against all men.” Mr Obama’s feelings on the matter may explain the uncharacteristic gracelessness with which he sometimes criticises Mr Bush.
Whatever they think of Mr Obama more generally, Americans share his diffidence about using force. Last autumn, a majority told the Pew Center, for the first time since 1964, that their country ought to “mind its own business internationally and let other countries get along the best they can on their own”. Today, the public is opposed to taking a “firm stand” against Russian mischief in Ukraine – only 29 per cent want that, according to a March poll by Pew.
Mr Obama is unpopular. His presidency is much diminished in recent months. But there was a lot of the old Mr Obama in his West Point speech, as he insisted that leadership and bellicosity are not synonyms. He has announced an end of the US Afghanistan mission by 2016 and sharp troop cuts by 2017. That would bring the size of the US army below 450,000 soldiers, the lowest since before the second world war. The goal of Wednesday’s speech was to arrive at a doctrine that would present this downscaling of responsibilities as something other than a retreat. Mr Obama did this by dividing US responsibilities into two kinds: national defence and “issues of global concern”, from counterterrorism to climate change. It is this second group of issues that really animated the president.
He is proposing that the US, through skilful use of international organisations, can exercise undiminished influence over the affairs of men, at diminished cost in blood and treasure
Mr Obama wants to convince Americans that the US can be confident when it acts through international institutions – including Nato, the UN, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and international courts – because it has shaped them. In turn, these institutions will give America a fairer shake if it becomes a better global citizen – if, for instance, it is “more transparent” about drone strikes. He used every rhetorical tool at his disposal to sell his new approach. He was by turns boastful (insisting the US is still what Madeleine Albright, former secretary of state, called “the indispensable nation”), patriotic (speaking of “my duty to you, and to the country we love”), politically correct (congratulating West Point on its “first all-female command team”) and idealistic (calling on America to act “on behalf of human dignity”).
The cadets in attendance appeared to be sitting on their hands. Mr Obama’s doctrine is squeamish. It will be uninspiring to martial minds. Where most presidents go to West Point to speak of sacrifice and honour, he promised the assembled warriors: “You will work as a team with diplomats and development experts. You will get to know allies and train partners.” International organisations can be very efficient redistributors of goods and power. Americans often distrust them for just that reason. But Mr Obama is not so far off the mark. He is proposing that the US, through skilful use of international organisations, can exercise undiminished influence over the affairs of men, at diminished cost in blood and treasure. It amounts to eating your cake and having it – an unrealistic foreign policy, and the very one Mr Obama’s voters have asked for.