Those who object to President Barack Obama’s recent prisoner exchange raise a bracing question: How many Taliban terrorists is one freed U.S. soldier worth?
That question lies at the heart of the backlash that President Obama has received after doing what many of his critics have been urging him to do: take action to free U.S. Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, who has been held prisoner by the Taliban for the past five years.
The objections come mainly over the way he did it: He traded five high-ranking Taliban detainees from the prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, whom many sources call the most dangerous U.S. detainees on the island.
Yet the president makes no apologies, he says, for following the time-honored American military ethos: Leave no man or woman behind. The big dispute, his opponents fume, is over the price.
But what, I ask, is the alternative? When a civilized country is drawing down a military action, as the U.S. is withdrawing from Afghanistan, it does not leave its soldiers behind, even if big questions surround them like the current uproar around Bergdahl.
We are not, for example, like Joseph Stalin. After beating Adolf Hitler’s army in the Battle of Stalingrad, the Russian dictator was offered a high-value POW, his own eldest son, in exchange for a captured German field marshal. Yet Stalin refused. “I will not trade a marshal for a lieutenant,” he is reported to have said. The son, famously unloved by his father, would die in a German prison camp.
At the other, more honorable extreme, it’s hard to beat the risks taken by Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu when he approved the release three years ago of 1,027 Palestinian prisoners — including convicted terrorists responsible for hundreds of Israeli deaths — to free Gilad Shalit, an Israeli sergeant who had been held captive by Hamas for five years.