Why did President Obama release five of the most dangerous prisoners he had in Guantanamo in exchange for a man who is, at best, a deserter and, at worst, a traitor? Why did he take the risk of bypassing Congress? Didn’t he realize the fallout that would hit him?
I believe the answer is that Obama’s real goal was to release the five terrorists from Gitmo as part of demonstrating to the Taliban that he could do so. Swapping them for Bowe Bergdahl was just window dressing to make the deal look like we got something in return.
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Obama thinks he has to close Guantanamo. He was elected promising to do so and he likely feels he can’t leave office with the prison still open for business. He won’t say so now, but his dirty secret is that he plans to clean the place out by the time he’s out of Afghanistan. Never mind that the war on terror is far from over. He needs the prison to be empty.
Obama didn’t realize that Bergdahl himself would prove so controversial and did not count on that backlash, but he was prepared to weather the storm for releasing the Guantanamo inmates.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid gave it up on Tuesday when he said: “Guantanamo has been there far too long, and I think that we should get them [the detainees] out of there as quickly as we can." He added: "We've been held up from doing that by the Republicans not wanting any of them to be tried here in the United States even though our record here is really quite good. So I'm glad to get rid of these five people, send them back to Qatar."
Obama needs something from the Taliban, something he’s prepared to negotiate for by releasing their men from Gitmo: He needs an orderly withdrawal from Afghanistan. Nobody hanging onto the skids of a chopper as it flies out the last American soldier. His pullout is essentially a surrender and the toughest part of any retreat is to protect your remaining forces as you pull others out. With the military and public relations consequences in mind, Obama needs an easy exit. No Taliban claims of victory. No last minute raids on our depleted forces. Just a clean get-away.
The Taliban needs us gone and also needs to spring their confederates from Gitmo so they can bring more mayhem on the West and particularly on America.
Their needs overlap, so they cut a deal.
For Obama, releasing the five terrorists was to prove good faith to the Taliban and show that he can, indeed, free anyone he wants and get away with it legally and politically.
For the Taliban, it was a way to get five of their guys and open the door to getting them all.
If I’m right, we have to up the ante in the debate over the Bergdahl swap and ask the key question: Mr. President, Are you planning to free all the Guantanamo detainees when we pull out of Afghanistan?
And Congress needs to get busy seeing to it that he doesn’t.
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