The furore surrounding the release of American soldier Bowe Bergdahl this week in exchange for five Taliban prisoners has put the Obama administration in a difficult position. It’s a controversy that President Obama could have least expected while going into tough negotiations with the Taliban. At that time, his intentions were noble -- of saving the life of an American who was captured while serving his country, and when he finally succeeded, his critics are choosing to dwell too much on the negative consequences of such a deal, taking the sheen off his efforts. The message this controversy sends to the families of those serving in conflict areas is very ominous – that if their dear ones are captured during duty, the chances to secure their release by their government are very slim as no government would like to be seen as aiding the enemy while trying to rescue its own soldiers.
The choices in future will be tough and the number of questions asked high. Is the kidnap victim innocent or somehow at fault? Is it right to pay a ransom or release enemy prisoners that could encourage future kidnappings or fund future terrorist attacks? Is it morally acceptable to let a captive die? In the current case, Bergdahl has been dubbed a deserter. From members of Congress to his own former platoon mates, critics are livid because Bergdahl was captured after walking away from his post. But does it make him less of a US citizen? His release should actually serve as an occasion for celebration because America’s only military captive in the 13-year Afghan conflict is free at last. As a prisoner with the Taliban, Bergdahl has suffered enough for his mistake, and even more, and that should close the argument.
Obama has defended his action and said that he could go after the freed Taliban if they are found to be a threat to US. Taliban is in the business of targeting US interests, and the addition of five men to its cadres wouldn’t make a huge difference. But for Obama, the rescue of a soldier was an issue of supreme importance and the means he chose for the same are fully justified.
By criticising Obama’s action, the critics are actually endangering the lives of American soldiers abroad. Governments all over the world are known to resort to such actions to save their citizens. According to reports, over the last three years, European governments have paid $100m in ransom to various Al Qaeda groups across the Middle East and North Africa. Israel once released 1,000 prisoners in exchange for one Israeli soldier.
Patriotism and national hubris are commendable, but lives of people are more important.