• Twitter
  • Facebook
News-Sentinel.com Your Town. Your Voice.
Opening Arguments

That swap

The "leave no man behind" defense of that swap:

Retired Gen. Stanley McChrystal on Wednesday urged Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl’s critics not to “judge” him until all the facts are in and sharply defended the extensive and risky search efforts that claimed the lives of some of his fellow soldiers.

 “We did a huge number of operations to try to stop the Taliban from being able to move him across the border into Pakistan,” McChrystal told Yahoo News in an exclusive interview. “And we made a great effort and put a lot of people at risk in doing that, but that’s what you should do. That’s what soldiers do for each other.”

Bergdahl’s release as part of a prisoner swap involving five Taliban commanders has drawn angry scrutiny in Congress. It has also prompted some of his former comrades in arms to paint him as a deserter unworthy of the frantic search efforts on his behalf.

[. . .]

Asked whether he would have made the same prisoner swap, McChrystal replied: “We don’t leave Americans behind. That’s unequivocal.”

I think that's generally true and an important principle to hold onto. It's sort of like expecting a doctor to treat every paient to the best of his ability instead of stopping to ask whether that patient deserves to be saved or not. After the doctor is through, then the apporpriate people can decide what kind of person has been saved and what should be done with him. Likewise, we should excpect the military to do everything it can to not leave anybody behind, regardless of the worth of the soldier involved. After the soldier is brought home, then the proper people can decide what kind of soldier he is and what should be done with him.

This is, of course, a separate consideration from whether the deal was a good one or a bad one.  Trading five very bad guys for one sorta, kinda good guy doesn't seem like a good bargain. Alas, the West makes these kinds of swaps all the time and usually comes out on the losing end of the deal.

One thing I haven't seen much commentary on is how such trades today differ from ones in the past. When a war was over, say our struggle with Japan and Germany in World War II, it was natural and expected to exchange prisoners. No matter how fierecely we fought each other, a new relationship needed to be forged in peacetime. But what if the war never ends, or we don't know when it's over, as has often been said about the "war on terror"? How does it -- or how should it -- change the calculation when there is a good chance the prisoners we're releasing will be back in the war fighting against us again?