Monday, June 30, 2014

Celebrating the 4th of July by speaking freely

Celebrating the 4th of July by speaking freely
One of the most profound outcomes of the 1776  Declaration of Independence was the eventual protection of freedom of speech institutionalized in the first amendment to the 1789 Constitution.  Speaking out against the King was considered treason punished by prison or  hanging.  In spite of that, our founding fathers  took the risk, even signing their “John Hancock’s”  and later writers of the Constitution made sure Congress shall make no laws …abridging freedom of speech”.
 Sometimes what is protected from whom is misunderstood.  My husband, a refugee from Communism, who often speaks his mind, complained that he was not free to say everything he thought because someone might take offense. I even heard a politician on TV be angry at his ability to do likewise. “Whatever happened to freedom of speech?”, he groused.
 Do not confuse being politically correct with your first amendment rights granted by the Constitution. The operative words are "Congress shall pass no  laws" that will abridge your right to speak".  It protects your rights to be even politically incorrect.  That does not mean that your friends, relatives, co-workers, or potential political supporters have to like what you say, or cannot argue against you, or cannot  vote against  you and for the other guy  if you are a candidate. It just means you will not be thrown into a dungeon or hanged if you  speak out against the government or express your opinions.
That  concept of freedom to speak  has been both  limited and expanded since 1789  and the arbiter is the US Supreme Court.  Campaign contributions are considered free speech even if  made  by a corporation,  and now the Supreme Court has agreed  to rule on whether threats made on Facebook to kill a spouse is protected by the constitution. Usually slander against an individual  or a celebrity by a newspaper or some individual has not been Constitutionally protected (though even situation  may yet be expanded to limit  slanderous speech by  individuals ) , but the wrong can be  addressed  by a law suit in civil court. Even  anti abortion demonstrators  standing on sidewalks no longer are held back by a buffer zone per a Supreme Court ruling this June.
 The Supreme Court has been asked time and time again where    limits should be set  to deny the right in some circumstances..  After all, some speech may hurt others, and the Supreme Court has most famously drawn the line with a 1919 decision written by Oliver Wendell Holmes: “The most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man in falsely shouting fire in a theatre and causing a panic … … in such circumstances and are of such a nature as to create a clear and present danger”.
 With Twitter and  Facebook,  new  internet tools are being  used  to  slander, threaten, and cyberbully. This  will keep the Supreme Court for years to draw  lines of whether  such  kinds of speech cross some constitutionally protected  line.

A version of this appeared in the Sky Hi Daily News July 4, 2014 (

Links to more about it, go to ruled by the Court today did not address the first amendment rights, though they were raised.  This case is also known as the "Holly Lobby" case regarding the rights of corporations to deny providing birth control under Obamacare provisions.  The ruling was very specifically and narrowly applied to closely held corporations claiming freedom or religion. However, the downside was laid out in a blistering dissent by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg and deserves reading to understand the impact of the decision. The summary of her comments are at:

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Weekly Address: Focusing on the Economic Priorities for the Middle Class Nationwide | The White House

Weekly Address: Focusing on the Economic Priorities for the Middle Class Nationwide | The White House

The President picks up a similar theme that I blogged about at the first of the week.  I think, too, the Administration is missing a bet of positioning the consumer protections of Obamacare as middle class and womens'  issues, a case I made for that in the blog.  To me, it shows that the Administration is still gun shy of promoting  its own health care program, probably reflecting some poll numbers.  Those numbers will not change until Democrats themselves "screw their courage to the sticking post " (Shakespeare) and start emphasizing the positives, that Obama helped far more than those who felt the negatives.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Could the House sue the President for refusing to carry out laws? Recommended analysis

Recommended analysis of an issue being advanced by GOP members of Congress. My take away: probably not; It would require a huge shift of the Supreme Court's established tradition and constitutional interpretation to get involved in this kind of action
Lyle Denniston looks at a big constitutional barrier to the courts acting as an arbiter of...

Sunday, June 22, 2014

GOP’s new message of helping the middle class is hot air.
The GOP’s change in tune has a sour note.  Have you noticed a shift in message?. It has switched from “trickle down is good for you”   to “the GOP cares about the middle class and families”. The GOP must have been reading recent polls that showed they were 10 points behind Democrats when asked if the Republican party” cares about my problems” (CBS News Poll, May 16-19) and 20 points behind in “helping the middle class” (ABC/Washington Post poll April 24-27). The GOP’s  newly touted support of the middle class is  an empty glass  filled with hot air and the Democrats need to call them out on it.
Democrats  have either been silent or stuck in the wonky weeds of defense on middle class issue, recently. The best defense in the 2014 midterms is a good offense by  answering the question themselves:” Who can best help the middle class?”  For example:
Here is how the GOP, including Cory Gardner running for Senate in Colorado,   plan to help the middle class.
 The GOP in Congress  recently blocked legislation allowing those with older student loans to refinance  at a lower rate . How does that help the middle class?
Killing Obamacare  is still their main refrain.   They want to leave families once more  deeply in debt with medical bills and policies that deny coverage of pre-existing conditions or preventative care. The past system left the middle class one medical event away from  foreclosure and bankruptcy whenever an uncovered major medical event occurs.  The GOP has provided no alternatives that would provide  those protections. Instead,  they have proposed “ solutions” of malpractice reform and cross state insurance competition that even  the Congressional Budget Office estimated would have little effect in making insurance affordable for the pre Obamacare uninsured.. How does that help the middle class?
The GOP  makes it difficult for women who need to work to keep their families afloat financially by  putting barriers to family planning, whether making choice of when and how many children to have. Some, including Gardner,   have advocated making some forms of birth control illegal or  favored  preventing women from getting low cost pills from their employer’s insurance.  Most oppose equal pay for equal work .Many in the  GOP oppose raising the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour, which would bring those working a 40 hours week above the poverty level. How does that revitalize the middle class?
Creating jobs? The GOP has opposed funding rebuilding highways and bridges and infrastructure improvements that would have long lasting higher paying jobs for millions over the years. (Keystone pipeline they tout  as a jobs program creates only  two years of  temporary jobs). Their jobs plan mostly consists of  giving  more tax breaks to big business.   If we learned anything over the years,  trickle down theories have failed in practice. How has that helped the middle class?
Visit for both the ABC and CBS polls .
A version of the above appeared in the, all editions, 6/27/2014

Some additional thoughts that fill in some blanks:  Can we afford to do these things to help the middle class?
There are deficit hawks who put cutting the deficit  above everything regardless of the impact on the economy and the tool in their toolbox of government shutdown.  (The GDP took a serious dip when that was last tried and political approval ended in the toilet).  Their one and only pathway is to reducing  the deficit is to cut government expenditures without raising revenues. However, the only government expenditures they want to cut are social programs and education; defense gets fed well.
The problem is two fold:  every serious look at the deficit, i.e. Simpson Bowles,  said we must raise more revenues.  My fear:slashing and burning middle class perks  and poverty safety nets will only increase the disparity between the rich and poor....a destabilizing element in any democracy,  politically unsustainable and therefore unattainable.

Update: Polls are showing a great decline in middle class income and hope. Below is one released in July 2014.  Buried in this is the middle class decline and loss of hope.  Who gets the blame will determine much of the 2016 presidential race and it could impact the 2014 midterms. If the Democrats can pin the blame on Republicans and sell it, they may have a chance. When all is said and done, that is why the 47% issue that scuttled the Romney momentum.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Some old columns I wrote regarding political solutions in Syria and Iraq are haunting forecasts of events to come

Much of the finger pointing for the Iraq meltdown has been directed at Nouri al-Maliki, the Shia Prime Minister of Iraq,  who failed to create a government that included the Sunni, and in fact, set out to disenfranchise them and persecute them. In 2006, then Senator Joe Biden proposed partitioning Iraq as a way to deal with the religious conflicts.  The issue came up again in finding a way toward a political solution in Syria.  Here are two columns I wrote about the approach, published both in the Sky Hi Daily News and on my web site ( or the blog.

Will Iraq be another Bosnia?
Sept 8 2010
Civil war blood bath, a healing self-governing country, or a purgatory? What will become of Iraq with our withdrawal of U.S. combat forces and eventually even the 50,000 left there? No one knows for sure, but our experience in Bosnia could give us an idea of what is likely to happen. We may be in for a long term headache.

Between 1992 and 1995, a bloody civil war raged in Bosnia until ethnic cleansing was completed, minorities were purged of geographic areas, and the population grew weary of the killing fields. The Dayton Accord brought the active fighting to an end. NATO and the United Nations nursed the country through some of the immediate post-war times. European Union troops serve as peacekeepers to this day. Pre-war population was 4 million. It is estimated that as the result of the war there were 240,000 casualties, mostly Muslim. The United Nations reports that there were 2.2 million refugees of which only 1 million have returned and still 113,000 mostly elderly reside in the country as internally displaced refugees.

The Bosnian federal government does not function well, ethnic conflict continues within ruling bodies, corruption abounds, and the country is threatening to break apart with elections scheduled this coming October. Serbians in their nearly purified, semi-autonomous state of the Srbska Republika are threatening to negate the Dayton Accord; Croats are demanding their own autonomous region; Muslims demand more power, too.  

Louise Arbour, former chief prosecutor for the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia and Gen. Wesley Clark, former NATO Supreme Allied Commander, writing in a recent issue of Foreign Policy Magazine, fear a political, social and economic meltdown. They applaud the NATO foreign ministers agreement this spring once again to give guidance to Bosnia and to bring the country closer to NATO, perhaps future membership.

There are some striking similarities between Iraq and Bosnia. Each contains three sectarian groups large enough to fight against domination by another group. In Bosnia, it is the Croatians, the Serbs, and the Muslim Bosniaks. Iraq is split among Shia and Sunni Muslims and Kurds. In both countries strong dictatorships kept the lid on ethnic conflict. In Bosnia, Tito suppressed any ethnic nationalism; in Iraq, Saddam did likewise though he also brutalized Shia and Kurds, favoring his own Sunni ties. When the lids were removed, the cauldron of hatred boiled over as groups jockeyed and fought for supremacy or to protect their status. Third parties, whether NATO or western coalitions, attempted to let the steam out to give them time and room to get their governing acts together.

Bosnia's ability to govern itself is still questionable 15 years after the war, and the process has a weak and fractious beginning in Iraq which is still struggling to form a government.

Where Iraq gives us more hope is a tradition of unified national identification and the proud heritage of the cradle of civilization. Bosnia, however, never considered itself a nation. Instead, its ethnic factions looked to bordering states containing similar ethnic groups for leadership. Bosnia was only a state carved within a Yugoslavia, patched together with borders artificially drawn after World War I.   Iraq has a national military tradition of army discipline, while Bosnia partisans perfected guerilla warfare tactics to fight the Nazis and others in World War II. Iraq has also found unity in wars against their long time enemy, Iran.

It is this difference, national identification, that gives some hope that Iraqi self governance will be more successful than in Bosnia. The Obama administration seems to be cautiously optimistic that Iraq will not come unglued.

Always an unspoken question is whether the West would ever intervene actively again to head off a bloodbath in either country. If experience in Bosnia is any guide, it may be a long time before we can stop worrying about Iraq.

- Felicia Muftic has been a frequent visitor to the Balkans since 1959.

A version of the following post  appeared  in the Sky Hi Daily News during the week of May 8, 2013.:

 Syria’s civil war  is emerging as a  US foreign policy crisis  and there is a gnawing feeling  of “been there, done that in Iraq and Afghanistan”.  While it was probably a  mistake, last year Pres. Obama drew a red line that would trigger greater US involvement if  Syrian Pres. Assad’s used  chemical weapons. There is some evidence Assad did.  
Empty threats risk future threats not being taken seriously and the president has been under pressure to make good on his threat. At least Obama is right in being cautious now. All of his options carry risks. Ethnic  civil wars like the one in Syria are the tar sands of  outsider intervention; easy to get into and  difficult  to get out of , and risk  spreading conflicts beyond borders.
The New York Times reported Israel  wiped out Syria’s main chemical weapons facility and long range missile storehouses last week.   While the strikes served Israel’s purpose to take out Syria’s arming  Hezbollah in Lebanon, it  may  also have made the chemical weapons redline  issue  moot.     No  one is claiming Israel’s strikes were a proxy for making good on a US threat, but  it served that purpose, too.
Military aid to the rebels and no fly zones should still be on the table because they promote an end that serves our national interests. . Israel’s airstrikes demonstrated the weakness of Syria’s air defense and the feasibility of enforcing no fly zones. Boots on the ground have wisely  been ruled out by about everyone in the US. We learned some hard lessons  in Afghanistan and Iraq.
The situation on the ground has changed since last year,  with Al Qaeda- like organizations  hijacking many of the rebel groups and with few  moderate  forces left to arm.     Our weapons could fall  into the wrong hands, making the situation more dangerous. We can only hope our intelligence assessments are accurate.
 Giving military aid  and enforcing no fly zones could   be the catalyst to get  Russia to force Assad to step down, since  military aid to the rebels could tip the stalemated conflict against Assad. The final outcome is still mostly in Russia’s hands. Assad is their client.   Russia’s reluctance to force Assad out is understandable. The fall of Assad could put Al Qaeda like rebels in charge,  closer to their borders.
Russia may be gambling that our  reluctance to get involved  will not change. Beware. We found ourselves eventually caught up in the Balkan Wars in the 1990’s as the former Yugoslavia broke up.   Media coverage of  ethnic cleansing , fleeing refugees, and the shelling of Dubrovnik  and Sarajevo  turned  US public opinion around  to support intervention.  Western countries also   feared Bosnia could become a stronghold for Al Qaeda Europe.  
During  the Balkan conflict NATO put only peacekeeper boots on the ground, but they enforced   no fly zones and  bombed Serbia  during the Kosovo  conflict.  Military aid flowed freely to all parties, with Russia supplying Serbia and the West backing Croatia.  
The conflict  in the Balkans  was ultimately  resolved by diplomats and the agreements  contain models that could benefit both Russia and the West in Syria.   Croatia and Serbia were carved from   the former Yugoslavia.  These new nations  were left with even fewer ethnic minorities  though these were already   areas with  historical cohesiveness.  Croatia joins the European Union this July  and last month Serbia agreed to enter in negotiations to resolve Kosovo’s status.
 Bosnia, still balanced  demographically  between Muslims, Croatian Catholics, and Serbs,  is a less successful result of the settlement. Ethnic factions are hunkered down in cohesive geographic sectors,  barely working together cooperatively on a national level.   At least the shooting, ethnic cleansing  and threat to Europe was  stopped. 
 Syria  also has  some  religious cohesive regions . A Balkanized solution just might work for Russia and the US.   
For Felicia Muftic’s  Balkan background, visit
Column translated into Croatian is also posted at

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Iraq: the neocons are the definition of insanity, but others are delusional about the alternatives.

  Doing the same thing and expecting a different result is the definition of insanity, attributed to many including Ben Franklin and Albert Einstein.    So, the neocons want   us  to do a repeat of our involvement in the Iraq war and expect the same results.  Yesireee.  How do we like that outcome today?

Let us face it: We are and have been involved in a centuries old Shia v Sunni civil war ,whether we intended to do so  or not. We had cast our lot with the Shia except when we harnessed a Sunni uprising  to win the war against Saddam Hussein . Such religious based conflicts are  far beyond our control, but  we  played the factions off to suit our own single minded determination to find WMD, protect oil interests,  or get regime change.  Policies set in motion by the Bush administration and  the subsequent  Obama administration’s attempt to extricate ourselves from it have now come to bite US interests in our posterior. The threat is worse than Saddam ever was.

If we do not repeat the previous Iraq strategy, what are  the alternatives? All bad. Obama is making some tough decisions and whatever he does will be criticized. Leaving ISIS (the advancing Al Qaeda extremists) in position to do us real damage is no option .

 Ultra  Obama critic  Sen. Lindsey Graham(R-SC) called  Pres. Obama delusional as he himself  skirted a call  to put boots on the ground. Graham  deludes himself. Graham on CNN Sunday AM  advocated  to get involved with Syria, blast ISIS  with air power, and   get rid of al-Maliki, forcing a new government to be inclusive, as if ISIS  already at Baghdad’s gate would want to accept a deal while they are ahead..

  Iran  will likely  enter the civil war because there is  an  opportunity  to realize their long standing desire to dominate  the entire middle east. Graham’s solution? Sit down and ask Iran pretty please not to take over Iraq. Give me a break.  Iran will do what Iran wants. We have few
 bargaining chips.

Involvement in Syria? The reason the US did not intervene fully in Syria was precisely fear our aid would land in the hands of ISIS, who had hijacked the opposition to Assad

The danger with air intervention is that ISIS imbeds itself with the  local population. One mistake causing civilian collateral damage  and we would turn the entire Sunni population against the US forever, destroying our ability to make peace..   The unintentional US air  strike killing friendly Afghan troops  this month should be instructive to the starry eyed. .Mistakes will happen.

  Short term, there are  some steps that make sense:   turn Baghdad into a fortress  as  Iran and the Kurds  get involved, pretty please or not.  It may be a risk we have to take. Long term, ISIS could overplay its hand, imposing extreme Sharia law on a culture whose traditions are  so  secular.

 The very best  outcome  could be  a  long,  bloody stalemate, or even a  fear of it , that  could motivate  a  political settlement. One was  first proposed by then Senator  Joseph Biden in 2007:  partition the warring groups in a federal system, similar to the Bosnia solution. 

This column was published 6/15/14.  Thomas Friedman's NYT column 6/18/14 takes his thinking in the same direction. What is discouraging is that Bosnia has not yet gotten so desperate, it has unified in spirit, though in name it is still one country. Bosnia, too, was ruled 500 years by the Ottomans and then governed after two world wars by Tito, a dictator, whose death left  a vacuum, followed by the bloodiest conflict in Europe since WWII, that was only ended by NATO intervention and the Dayton Accord, that divided Bosnia into 3 ethnic states with a federal government, now corrupt, gridlocked, and ineffective.  As imperfect as it is, it is better than the alternative of continued bloodshed..  

A version of this  post appeared in all editions of the  June 20, 2014

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Bergdahl Affair: No good deed goes unpunished

The Bergdahl Affair: No good deed goes unpunished
President Obama has to be coming to the conclusion that no good deed goes unpunished. He is standing by his policy of never leaving a uniformed troop of ours behind on the battle field.   Howls of protests erupted, some silly; some unfactual,  some substantive .  Senators (including Sen John McCain) in February who had criticized  the President for not extricating Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl  with such an exchange,   reversed themselves. Most  passed themselves off as jurors and hangmen before a court martial judged whether he was a deserter. Others virtually changed the terms of eligibility for retrieval, implying  it only applies to those we do not suspect as being deserters.
  When the POW/MIA movement began ,there were suspicions raised that maybe there were some left in Viet Nam  who did not want to return. Regardless,  the black and white flag became symbols of leaving no one behind, dead or alive. That policy institutionalized  also meant that even a lowly PFC  POW had high value as a bargaining chip to be kept  alive  so long as a bargain was possible.
 A legal definition: a deserter is one who goes AWOL for more than 30 days with the intent of not returning. Sgt Bergdahl was quickly grabbed by the Taliban  . A court process, not politicians, is appropriate to judge intent or ability to return.
Assume for argument’s sake,   Bergdahl was a mixed up kid who did desert his unit and  he was not sick at all. Was his deteriorating  health  just a pretext for Obama to claim  he had  to  ignore the  30 day notice to Congress?   Some  by just looking at videos  have provided their own mental health diagnoses  (“looks drugged to me”) or his physical shape (“he’s walking, isn’t he”) as silly  proof he was really not sick.
The deal had been in the works for  nearly two years and Congress knew about it. Most had opposed it, but with end of war looming , the window for action was closing.  Clearly,  Bergdahl’s life was in jeopardy now. If the deal had collapsed, his value to the captors became a negative as US ops continued the hunt, and he would be killed. The captors had recently threatened it. Imagine the political fallout and charges of ineptness against Obama if that would have happened.
   Obama was also clobbered with charges the deal was  bad , that  Bergdahl was not worth five dangerous  Taliban leaders, even though there were no plans to put them on trial.  That  position   is subject to   speculation. Are the aging Taliban too old to fight effectively? Could the Qataris really keep the released detainees from the battlefield for a year?  Was this a token  olive branch to give the newly elected Afghan government a chance to bury the hatchet with the Taliban,  a move which the US  had urged outgoing Pres. Hamid Karzai to make  for years and he had refused?
We have a policy of never negotiating with terrorists, claimed critic Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), inaccurately . We have done it  since Pres. Jimmy Carter’s days. Besides, the Afghan Taliban, with whom we negotiated via Qatar,  is not formally on a terrorist list, though some offshoots are.
This affair highlights an  unsettled  issue.   Usually at a war’s end there is a prisoner exchange. What about the detainees in Guantanamo then?

A version of this appeared in the Sky Hi News print edition 6/13/2014

Footnotes and fact sources:,

Thursday, June 5, 2014

NY Times story reveals negotiations leading to the Bergdahl deal and my comments about it

Behind P.O.W.’s Release: Urgency and Opportunity -  Fascinating background story shows the Bergdahl exchange had been negotiated for over a half year.  When the deal was reached, the Administration acted quickly.  Was Bergdahl really sick? There appears to be evidence he was, in spite of the the armchair  diagnoses carried on by politicians and talking media heads who have no access to his medical and psychological well being.

 In any case, once the US troops ceased combat operations, there was little possibility that there would be enough forces left to find and free him or that he would live that long or that the negotiations would fail , making Bergdahl losing any value to the Taliban and would be disposed of, killed by them. So...the administration worked quickly thinking that their actions would be  a PR positive.  How wrong they were.  Pres. Obama must beginning to think that no good deed goes unpunished.

Today the argument from the supporters of the exchange is that the Taliban brass in Gtmo for 12 years were not a threat as the opponents of the exchange charge because they were getting old. Threats, too, were made by US military that if they left Qatar and joined the militants, special forces would shoot to kill; capture and imprisonment were no longer an option.

No one yet has seen this exchange in the wider terms of the wind down of the war and the need for the new regime to make peace with the Taliban or to continue prosecuting the war on their own.  The broader question is that when the US totally withdraws from Afghanistan in two years, what then with the Gtmo detainees not charged with crimes but just kept as, whether you call it not, prisoners of war and kept from the field of combat for the duration.  That is a hot potato that will be handed off to Obama's successor and perhaps both the GOP and HIllary Clinton should hope that Obama takes the fall for them.

Sen. Saxby Chambliss  (R-GA) on Morning Joe (MSNBC) today shot holes in most arguments posed by opponents of the deal, including knowing of no proof that 6 soldiers died searching for Bergdahl and that the Senate was not informed of the negotiations.  Indeed he got an apology from the administration for the failure to give the 30 days notice and acknowledged he knew about the earlier negotiations. He did reaffirm that he thought the 5 for i deal was a bad one.  Chambliss is not running for re election and is freed from having to toe anyone's line.  For that his views carry  a great deal of weight that he is speaking what is on his mind.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

The Bowe Bergdahl issue

The Bowe Bergdahl issue

Should the policy be: bring home  one of our troops held captive even though we suspect he  was a deserter? Or should we leave him under enemy captivity to rot forever or when the war is completely over as declared by us? Prisoner exchanges are customary at wars’ end. We did not ask that question regarding Viet Nam where “POW/MIA bring them home regardless “was the policy,.even though some of the MIA’s could have been deserters, too.   

To begin with, while Bergdahl’s unit members considered him a deserter, resented having to search for him, and were angered by the 6 deaths resulting in the search, there may be more to the store than that.  

The media has a tendency to be  a kangaroo court, judge, jury and hangman before due process has been extended and the accused  in the media has had a chance to tell his/her story, and then found guilty, not guilty,  Shame on us for doing this.  This is not the way the justice system , military or civilian, works and we in media  have always added “alleged” or someother qualifier when we speculate in the media whether someone is or is not guilty before the person is found guilty in a court or court martialed. A person is considered innocent until proven guilty.  I see little of that happening in the talkasphere of commentators and they need to extend to Bergdahl the same policy as we extend to anyone else accused of a crime.   In fact, Bergdahl has not even been charged with desertion, which makes this media coverage  even worse.

Hello. The war is nearly over and troops are being brought home...leaving less than 10K  soon and 0 in a couple of years. Those left will not be on patrol or stuck is some outpost as Bergdahl’s unit the likelihood this could happen again is statistically reduced or that a captured GI could be held for ransom or prisoner exchange.  Besides, what are we also supposed to do: leave Taliban and non Al Qaeda prisoners to rot in Gitmo for ever, even when we decide the war is over, and without due process charges of war crimes?   None of the five Taliban were charged yet; they were just being kept on ice, whether we called them POWs or not.

Negoitating with the enemy?  The enemy is no longer another country in most instances; it is an organized group of militants we designate as  “terrorists”. Times are a’changing and we need to get over our past mind sets. and get a dose of reality. Besides, the Israelis, as often cited, frequently exchange prisoners with the groups they call “terrorists”, as do some of our other close allies..

Exchanging one of ours, a lowly PFC (sergeant) for five high value Talibans is puzzling.  It does not seem like a fair exchange and there is a risk their release will boost the extreme elements of the Taliban, making it difficult for the Afghan government to keep control and look after their security.  Whether or not the released five will be kept out of the conflict by Qatar is yet to be seen.  It is a risk. However, for years we,the US,  have tried to get Afghan Pres. Karzai to negotiate with the Taliban and bury the hatchet for Afghanistan’s own good. The end of his presidency has happened and the election of a new leaders are taking Afghanistan in the other direction  because they may see it will  help their security and success.  I  have a suspicion this exchange was an attempt to make good on that new direction because it is the only reason that makes sense from  such a lopsided deal.  While the Taliban was allied  with and harbored Al Qaeda, it is not  the exact same as Al Qaeda but an organization that long predated Al Qaeda and actually governed most parts of Afghanistan before 9/11. We may not like them, but the recent vote in Afghanistan with a large turnout and pro Western winners shows Afghanis do not like them either… a reason for optimism that the Taliban’s power will be diminished  in the new Afghanistan.

Congressional outrage?  Was this lack of notice to them by the administration an overreach of presidential power and a violation of law?  There is a clause in the law, which is an out.  The President can act in a unique situation. without the required notice doing to his signing statements.  Was this a unique situation? Did the signing statement give him that power? That is probably speculation for now to be  clarified and debated later, but until then, the media needs to make that point  to be fair.  The case made by the administration is that this kind of exchange for Bergdahl has been brought to Congress at least twice over the past couple of years and Congress needs only to be informed. Congress never had the ability to stop such an exchange; it  only has the right to be be informed.

Let us not forget and praise our special forces who did the planning and actual hand off in the extraction, knowing it could have been a trick or an ambush.  Bravo, again and again.