Monday, June 9, 2014

Bowe Bergdahl: The Case of the Prisoner Exchange Dialogue


Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl was released back to the United States just recently.

However, there is a big firestorm as to whether a "prisoner exchange" was the "right thing to do" with regard to Bergdahl especially in light of certain indications that Bergdahl may have deserted his post.

There are certain considerations the United States military and civilians should understand.  There is no doubt that we have been at war with the Taliban in Afghanistan for a decade now.  It is a common occurrence that prisoner exchanges happen between formerly belligerent enemies.  And while these exchanges may not be "even" swaps, they do happen and it's usually so many people in exchange for 1 or more people on the other side.

Prisoner Exchanges Are Important for the World to See

Why?  No person, unless they are a traitor working for the other side, should be left behind in the grips of a former enemy.  It's just bad business.

When prisoners are exchanged, and the world sees such exchanges, we can rest comfortably knowing that there is an interest in making prisoner exchanges happen and we won't give up on our people.

When we give up on our prisoners, it send a statement to our armed forces that "We don't care about our vets.  They are expendable - even to rot in enemy hands."  This is intolerable to most people.  Even if there may be questions of desertion.

Winning at Prisoner Exchanges

There is no "winning" in prisoner exchanges.  There is only "winning" at war.  Prisoner exchanges may be looked at in several ways:

The person(s) the enemy hands back are every bit as dangerous to the enemy as the enemy prisoners we release back to the enemy.

If we choose not to get our POW people, the enemy wins and gets to keep them.

If we get our POW people, by stealing them away, these are fewer captives they must care for, feed, clothe and guard.  The enemy wins.

If we exchange our POW people for the enemy's POW people, the enemy wins by getting their people back in their custody.

If we choose to do nothing, the enemy captors still win.

It works the same way with us.  No matter who the "enemy" is - the POW exchange will never be ideally perfect because there are plus and minus signs on both sides of the POW exchange ledger.  There is no real way to engineer a plan were we win and the enemy loses completely.  It's just not the real world and it is even more unrealistic to look at POW Exchanges as a way to profit from war.

The Good News About POW Trades

There is one upside to POW Trades - when we trade enemies for the our own POW people - it's the POW who really wins.  And, his family wins also.  We send a clear message to the world that we care about our vets and that, regardless of the circumstances, we won't leave anyone behind.  We value our people whom we miss and wish we had back in our lives - regardless of the circumstances and regardless of past mistakes.

Contributor:  Michael Hathman

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