Swapping Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl for five terrorists is a signal to the Taliban and al-Qaida that President Barack Obama is determined to pull out of Afghanistan, no matter what the cost, and should be a "fire bell in the night" for Americans, says former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton.
"The friends and family of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl are understandably happy and relieved that he is free from Taliban captivity after five years," writes Bolton in a column for Monday's edition of the New York Post
. "But we, as citizens, must nonetheless ask whether President Obama’s deal
to obtain Bergdahl’s release — involving the exchange of five high-ranking, hard-core terrorists imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay — was, in fact, in the U.S. national interest."
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The agreement, said Bolton, was a "substantial setback" in the war on terrorism and for countries worried about "declining American power and resolve."
"Clear-eyed presidents must put America first in national security matters," he said. "All of us as individuals are safer when our country and leaders are strong, and all of us as individuals are more at risk when they are weak. And today we are in ever-increasing danger because of weakness in the White House."
Just days before Bergdahl's release, Obama said in his speech to West Point graduates that no matter what, U.S. forces will be out of Afghanistan by 2016, Bolton wrote.
"If the terrorists still had even the slightest doubt that they needed only a minimal amount of patience to regain control in Kabul, Obama has done everything in his power to eliminate that," Bolton wrote. "He is surrendering in Afghanistan."
Bolton also wrote it is "despicable" for a president to equate a service member with terrorist criminals.
"This is the worst form of moral equivalence, the inexcusable mistake of equating two radically different kinds of people or policies," Bolton said. During the Cold War, he said, the United States was right to exchange spies for spies with the Soviet Union but did not exchange soldiers for criminals.
In addition, Bolton wrote, Obama was "way off the mark" by trying to "disguise his error" by saying the exchange was consistent with the military's tradition of leaving no service members behind — a claim most of the military would reject.
Bolton wrote it has been the United States' policy for years to refuse to negotiate with terrorists, especially for exchanging hostages, as doing so puts a price on Americans' heads.
"The Reagan administration was wrong in Iran-Contra to deal for hostages, and it almost cost [Ronald] Reagan his presidency," Bolton wrote. "It is equally wrong today."
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