06/03/2014 03:54 pm ET Updated Aug 03, 2014

Backlash About Bergdahl


The Obama administration's decision to swap five leaders of the Taliban, all of them committed terrorists who will soon return to their ghastly business, for Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl is incomprehensible to anyone who knows the first thing about national security.

It is an unwise decision on two levels. First, all of the evidence suggests that Bergdahl was a confused young man who walked away from his post in a combat zone, essentially turning himself over to the enemy. I would not condemn anyone absent a full review of the facts, he may have in fact been taken prisoner while visiting a latrine, but the facts we know are damning in the extreme. Under normal wartime conditions, such an act under military law would warrant a court martial.

The bigger issue is the exorbitant price we are paying to secure the release of this man. For as long as I can remember, the United States has had a policy of not cutting deals for prisoners. It is a hard standard to maintain, and often seems cruel to the families of hostages, but it has the salutary effect of discouraging kidnapping of our people. We worked long and hard to earn that reputation and now the Obama administration has tossed it out the window. It is hard to earn a reputation for probity, easy to lose it. We can now look forward to a rash of kidnappings of Americans who will be held indefinitely while our diplomats negotiate for their release.

It bears mentioning also that those five Taliban leaders are not marginal players. They are true masterminds of terror whose fanaticism leads them to commit atrocities. To set them free amounts to sentencing many innocent people to death, and more than a few of them will be U.S. soldiers who have not deserted their posts.

This decision, seen within the context of the president's confused ramblings at West Point a week ago, serves to underscore a chief executive who is uncomfortable with the military and hesitant to use power. At a minimum, the president is sending mixed signals to the people on the ground, whether in the armed forces or the diplomatic corps. A president simply cannot afford to do that. Messages become blurred as they sift down through the chain of command. It is absolutely imperative that they be clear as a bell. Everyone in the chain of command needs to know what the rules of engagement are, what is expected of them, and that they will be held accountable.

But with this administration, no one knows from one day to the next what the rules are and who if anyone will be held accountable. Congress is up in arms because President Obama did not follow the letter of the law in making this deal. I fear the problem is much worse than that.


Lt. Gen. Clarence E. "Mac" McKnight, Jr., (USA-Ret) is the author of "From Pigeons to Tweets: A General Who Led Dramatic Change in Military Communications", published by The History Publishing Company.