The Five Unjust Men

While most media interest has been focused on Bowe Bergdahl's negotiated release, the five men he was exchanged for are very much more interesting.  Thomas Jocelyn of the Long War Journal has profiles of each of them. "All five of the detainees were deemed "high" risks to the US and its allies by Joint Task Force Guantanamo (JTF-GTMO). Two of the five, according to files prepared at Guantanamo, have been wanted by the UN for war crimes." The real value of Bergdahl may have been to serve as an excuse to play these five men as chips in whatever negotiations the administration is embarked upon.

Consider the men swapped for Bergdahl.

Abdul Haq Wasiq ... intelligence official... "was central to the Taliban's efforts to form alliances with other Islamic fundamentalist groups to fight alongside the Taliban against US and Coalition forces after the 11 September 2001 attacks."

Mullah Norullah Noori ... "wanted by the United Nations (UN) for possible war crimes including the murder of thousands of Shiite Muslims" ... "associated with...senior al Qaeda members and other extremist organizations."

Mullah Mohammad Fazl ... [also] ... "wanted by the UN for possible war crimes including the murder of thousands of Shiites." Fazl "was associated with terrorist groups currently opposing U.S. and Coalition forces including al Qaeda, Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), Hezb-e-Islami Gulbuddin (HIG), and an Anti-Coalition Militia group known as Harakat-i-Inqilab-i-Islami."

Mullah Khairullah Khairkhwa ... former governor of Herat province ... "represented the Taliban during meetings with Iranian officials seeking to support hostilities against US and Coalition Forces" ... oversaw one of Osama bin Laden's training facilities in Herat, too. One US government memo noted that only Khairkhwa or bin Laden himself "could authorize entrance" to the facility, which was one of bin Laden's "most important bases".

Mohammad Nabi Omari ... "was a senior Taliban official who served in multiple leadership roles" ... "involved in attacks against US and Coalition forces" ... brother-in-law [of] ... the "Butcher of Khowst" ... "to have all personnel identified and vetted to prepare for future al Qaeda control of the area under Jalaluddin Haqqani" ... smuggle "an unknown number of missiles along the highway between Jalalabad and Peshawar," Pakistan ... with the intent of ... attacks near the Jalalabad airport ..."two Americans were killed during attacks against the Khowst, Gardez, and Jalalabad airports."

Fantastic Five Fantastic Five

Etc, etc. It is safe to say that these men are unlikely to retire to the peaceful condition of herder or bazaar trader. Much more probably they'll take up their former occupations such as the "murder of thousands of Shi'ite Muslims", or the commission of war-crimes and winning the title of "Butcher of [insert place here]".

What can the administration expect in exchange for the release of these men? First of all, the administration gets the privilege of speaking to the Taliban, who had hung up on them. The Wall Street Journal explains how Qatar brokered the release. The five men named above are to be given rock star welcomes in the Gulf.  With any luck someone in the Taliban office will now pick up the phone when the State Department calls.

KABUL—A deal struck with Taliban militants in Afghanistan to free Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, the only remaining U.S. prisoner of war, could revive efforts to broker peace talks between the insurgency and the Afghan government, officials in Kabul said.

On Saturday, U.S. officials made public an agreement with the Taliban to release Sgt. Bergdahl to U.S. Special Operations Forces in exchange for the release of five Taliban prisoners held at the Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba. The arrangement was brokered by the Gulf emirate of Qatar.

In a statement, the Taliban said the freed Guantanamo prisoners would arrive in Qatar on Sunday, where they would be greeted by members of the Taliban political office established in the Qatari capital city of Doha last year. The statement added that Sgt. Bergdahl was freed in a remote area of Afghanistan's eastern Khost province at around 7 p.m. local time.

What happens next? Nobody's talking. But one can infer that negotiations with the Taliban offer president Obama a way out of what appears to be a bad situation.  The WSJ article continues:

The potential peace opening comes amid a crucial political transition in Afghanistan. Mr. Karzai must step down this summer, and two candidates, former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah and former Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani, are vying to succeed him in the June 14 election.

A Western diplomat said Saturday's exchange, coupled with a new government in Kabul, could give new momentum to any peace effort.

"It seems to be a positive sign," the diplomat said about the prisoner releases. "It makes it easier to get the process going after there's a new president."

Efforts are under way to negotiate a new power sharing arrangement between factions and ethnic groups in Afghanistan, a process in which without a substantial troop presence, the Obama administration will not have an oar in the water. One way to influence events is for the administration to reach a deal with a major player, i.e. the Taliban. The Council of Foreign Relations seemed to think a winning endgame in Afghanistan for the administration is a long shot, though it is perhaps Obama's only remaining option.

U.S. strategy in Afghanistan is "to deny safe haven to AQ and deny the Taliban the ability to overthrow" the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, the Pentagon states in its November 2013 progress report to Congress.... Some military analysts see the Pentagon's complete withdrawal from Iraq in late 2011 as a cautionary tale for Afghanistan. ...

But even if Karzai and Obama sign a BSA and international forces remain in Afghanistan after 2014, the Pentagon is set to end combat operations against the Taliban. ... The United States sees political reconciliation with the insurgency as "the solution to ending the war," according to the August 2013 joint U.S. Embassy, Kabul–U.S. Forces-Afghanistan strategic framework.

But as the Council of Foreign Relations article points out, the Taliban are not too hot on the idea of political reconciliation. "Talks between the Afghan Taliban and the seventy-member Afghan High Peace Council, which Kabul established in 2010 to broker peace, have suffered repeated setbacks over the past three years. Most notably, in September 2011, Kabul's chief peace negotiator, former president Rabbani, was assassinated."

Ken Hughes at History News Network argues that Obama may be grasping for a "decent interval" -- a phrase made famous in the Vietnam era. The president may be hoping to persuade the Taliban to wait awhile before renewing hostilities so he can claim victory.

It's a sordid story, too long kept secret, but it needs to be told today, when the editor of Foreign Affairs in the pages of the New York Times actually urges President Obama to model his exit from Afghanistan on Nixon's exit from Vietnam. That's a formula for political triumph at the cost of geopolitical failure, moral squalor and human devastation.

"We want a decent interval," Kissinger scribbled in the margins of his thick briefing book (as historian Jeffrey Kimball discovered). "You have our assurance."

It's a strange phrase, nearly forgotten, but "decent interval" meant something in the latter days of Vietnam, when our leaders groped for a way to get out of the war without admitting they couldn't find a way to win it. As Daniel Ellsberg wrote a few months before the secret trip, “During 1968, Henry Kissinger frequently said in private talks that the appropriate goal of U.S. policy was a ‘decent interval’—two to three years—between the withdrawal of U.S. troops and a Communist takeover in Vietnam."

This interval, it was argued at the time, would protect the nation's credibility from the humiliation of defeat. But a transcript prepared by Kissinger's own aides of his first meeting with Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai reveals how willing Nixon was to sacrifice America's credibility abroad to preserve his political credibility at home. As Kissinger explained it, the president would agree to complete withdrawal of American troops in return for Hanoi's release of American prisoners of war and a ceasefire ("say 18 months or some period").

A release of prisoners in exchange for a chimerical victory. It would be a sham of course. But maybe shams are the stock in trade of politicians.  That would close the circle. The sixties are back again. Just as John Kerry the protester went to Paris, John Kerry the Secretary of State can go to Doha. Two Vietnams in one lifetime. How awesome is that? Mark Twain may have been right. History never repeats itself, quite. But it rhymes.

Recent items of interest by Belmont readers based on Amazon click-throughs.

Asia's Cauldron: The South China Sea and the End of a Stable Pacific

A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State

Lawrence in Arabia: War, Deceit, Imperial Folly and the Making of the Modern Middle East

The Frackers: The Outrageous Inside Story of the New Energy Revolution

Quantum: Einstein, Bohr and the Great Debate About the Nature of Reality

The Wrong Enemy: America in Afghanistan, 2001-2014

Did you know that you can purchase some of these books and pamphlets by Richard Fernandez and share them with you friends? They will receive a link in their email and it will automatically give them access to a Kindle reader on their smartphone, computer or even as a web-readable document.

The War of the Words for $3.99, Understanding the crisis of the early 21st century in terms of information corruption in the financial, security and political spheres

Rebranding Christianity for $3.99, or why the truth shall make you free

The Three Conjectures at Amazon Kindle for $1.99, reflections on terrorism and the nuclear age

Storming the Castle at Amazon Kindle for $3.99, why government should get small

No Way In at Amazon Kindle $8.95, print $9.99. Fiction. A flight into peril, flashbacks to underground action.

Storm Over the South China Sea $0.99, how China is restarting history in the Pacific

Tip Jar or Subscribe or Unsubscribe to the Belmont Club