Prominently rising in the Bergdahl controversy is the issue of paying ransom to terrorist kidnappers, never mind the fig leaf the Obama administration resorted to by using the Qatar government as an intermediary in negotiating his release. Releasing five high-ranking Talibani’s in exchange for a hostage is something of a precedent for the U.S. (if you omit the Iran Contra scandal, I suppose), but other countries caved long ago. In an online article for The Atlantic, Time reporter David Rohde discusses the matter cogently, including this comment (emphasis mine):
In every case I know of, the U.S. government has refused to pay ransom and, until Bergdahl, refused to release prisoners. Over the last three years, however, European governments have paid $100 million in ransom to various al-Qaeda splinter groups across the Middle East and North Africa, according to British officials. Israel released 1,000 prisoners in exchange for one Israel soldier.
Rohde’s perspective, I submit, is important to keep in mind as the Bergdahl affair continues to bleed information and the controversy swirls. We are entering a 21st century that is quite different from the 20th. Before Afghanistan, wars were between nations, political entities which could control their own populations and military forces. Nations set rules of engagement, signed treaties, accepted and promoted standards like the Geneva Convention for treatment of POW’s. That hardly describes the Taliban government we defeated before trying, fecklessly, to reinvent it as a democracy. But, our enemies, deprived of the semblance of government, are turning to other methods. These politically and religiously motivated fanatics are finding success in the kidnapping business.
Rohde’s compelling story of his 7 months’ captivity by the Taliban encapsulates the political dilemma we face. In the wake of our recent celebration of D-Day victory and the old ways of war, it is important that the public now become aware of how things have changed. There is no going back. War is not the same. Because of nuclear weapons, the major nations will no longer fight one another, or at least not in all-out battle.
Economics isn’t the same either. The global economy will not be reversed. The third world will continue to produce cheap goods by exploiting cheap labor and Europe will not any time soon divorce itself of dependence on Russian oil. We have no choice but to cooperate with all civilized nations in policing the international thuggery of terrorism, and a vital part of that cooperation needs to be a uniform policy for dealing with ransom demands. But with Israel trading 1,000 for 1, is that even possible? I can see ears and fingers arriving in the mail already.
Terrorism is an age-old police problem turned international, yet some politicians are insisting on putting the (financial) emphasis the old kind of war. Can we adapt? We don’t need half a million-person Army and billion-dollar jet fighters to fight terrorists, we need special forces, drones, and police skills.
David Rohde has the right priority, I think, when he says (referring to demonizing Bergdhahl)
The focus of our anger should be the kidnappers. They are the problem, not hostages, their families, or a government that meets a demand. We must unite in fighting the perpetrators of a craven crime—not each other.