'No soldier left behind' [Commentary]

The developing story of Bowe Bergdahl raises troubling questions for the country

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Like most Americans, the Ehrlichs celebrated the return of a captured U.S. soldier from Afghanistan. What parent would not possess a degree of empathy for the parents of Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, held by the Taliban since June 30, 2009?

A positive aspect of a returned U.S. soldier is the notion that the U.S. military, the greatest force for good on planet Earth, recognizes its obligation to rescue its own. It's what a civilized, just nation does in consideration of the risk assumed by its young soldiers.

Yet, this developing story raises troubling questions for a country committed to eliminating radical Islam as a threat to stability and freedom throughout the world. The first issue is rather obvious and applies to every prisoner exchange negotiation: What kind of precedent is set when a ransom is paid for a kidnapped victim? Some question if such a willingness to negotiate with the bad guys does not lay the predicate for more of the same in the future. Recall al-Qaida in northern Africa is a regular participant in kidnappings in order to raise money for its terrorist activities. An equally important concern pertains to the high value of the returned terrorists.

Indeed, the detainee group at issue here was not exactly the junior varsity. This was a front line group of dangerous militants, per a 2008 Pentagon assessment (subsequently made public by our "friends" at WikiLeaks). The Afghan five:

•A founding member of the Taliban and liaison to al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden;

•A provincial governor during the Taliban regime "who continues to be a significant figure encouraging acts of aggression";

•A deputy minister of intelligence in the Taliban government "central to the Taliban's effort to form alliances with other Islamic fundamentalist groups";

•A former Taliban army chief suspected of personally supervising the murder of thousands of Shiite Muslims and believed likely to rejoin "in hostilities against U.S. and coalition forces in Afghanistan";

•And a suspect in a joint al-Qaida Taliban cell in Khost and "one of the most significant former Taliban leaders detained" at Guantanamo.

The credibility challenged Obama Administration assures us the five detainees pose no threat. (The freed Taliban members will be forbidden from traveling outside of Qatar territory for a year and their activities will be monitored by Qatari and U.S. officials.) Yet, only time will tell whether one or more of these previously active participants will show up on a future battlefield. I hope the administration is correct in its assessment, but I have a nagging suspicion the world has become a more dangerous place with these five bad actors back in play.

A further cause for concern applies to the specific facts of this case. You see, it is not clear why Bowe Bergdahl wandered away from his post that summer night almost five years ago. Increasingly, it appears the young soldier simply deserted.

Further confirmation of this allegation (and an alleged anti-American email) will change the tenor of the story for many, particularly if it is shown that other soldiers lost their lives in rescue attempts over the last several years. Already, the families of these men (joined by a number of Mr. Bergdahl's former comrades in arms and some members of Congress) are raising objection to the high price paid for a disillusioned soldier who may have willingly made himself available to the enemy.

What is most likely not at issue are the actions of Bob Bergdahl, Bowe Bergdahl's father, in support of his son. Despite his changed appearance (a bushy, unkempt beard) and brief remarks in Pashto (the language of southern Afghanistan) during an uncomfortable White House Rose Garden appearance with the president, most people are willing to give desperate parents the benefit of the doubt.

Still, one wonders how the White House staff could have allowed the president to be placed in such an awkward situation — let alone to have National Security Advisor, Susan Rice, (of ALL people) assure the country that Sergeant Bergdahl "served with honor!"

Some on the right incorrectly see the Bergdahl chapter as an attempt to change the subject from the deepening Veterans Affairs health care scandal. They are wrong. This prisoner exchange was entirely predictable given the administration's very public commitment to close "Gitmo," leave two unpopular wars on schedule regardless of consequences and change America's image in the Muslim world.

Yet, despite all good intentions regarding "No Soldier Left Behind" and a desire to keep campaign promises, what this administration calls "overseas contingency operations" remains a murderous holy war for the jihadists of Radical Islam. Remember, they see war in terms if millennia, not years. And, unlike this president, they prefer not to provide us dates certain for their withdrawal.

Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s column appears Sundays. The former Maryland governor and member of Congress is a partner at the law firm King & Spalding and the author of "Turn this Car Around" and "America: Hope for Change" — books about national politics. His email is ehrlichcolumn@gmail.com.


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