The Real Reason for the Bergdahl Controversy

USA_PFC_BoweBergdahl_ACU_Cropped— by Steve Sheffey

Should we have traded five Taliban prisoners for one U.S. prisoner of war? It is amazing that we are even asking this question.

Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, who is rarely accused of being soft on terrorism, negotiated with Hamas and traded more than 1,000 prisoners, many of whom with blood on their hands, for Gilad Shalit, whose conduct prior to his capture was not exactly heroic.

These are painful decisions, but countries like the U.S. and Israel do not leave their soldiers behind, and certainly not run a character and fitness test before deciding whom to rescue. General Dempsey was right when he said about Sergeant Bergdahl, “Like any American, he is innocent until proven guilty.”

More after the jump.
When we end wars, we trade for prisoners. Can you imagine the reaction if President Obama had refused to make this trade and Bergdahl had died or disappeared? Would our Republican friends have accepted “we let him die because we had questions about how he was captured” as an excuse?

The five Taliban prisoners would have been released in a few months anyway, so we really did not give up anything.

Also, these released prisoners will be monitored, and their movement will be restricted. Former Bush administration official John Bellinger noted that the “Administration appears to have reached a defensible, hold-your-nose compromise by arranging, in exchange for the release of Sergeant Bergdahl, for the individuals to be held in Qatar for a year before they return to Afghanistan.”

But was it legal for President Obama to make this trade? The National Security Council spokesman, Caitlin Hayden, provided a convincing answer:

[T]he Secretary of Defense may transfer an individual detained at Guantanamo to a foreign country if the Secretary determines (1) that actions have or will be taken that substantially mitigate the risk that the individual will engage in activity that threatens the United States or U.S. persons or interests and (2) that the transfer is in the national security interest of the United States. The Secretary made those determinations.

In The New York Times, David Brooks wrote that “the president’s instincts were right. His sense of responsibility for a fellow countryman was correct. It’s not about one person; it’s about the principle of all-for-one-and-one-for-all, which is the basis of citizenship.”

So what really is behind the Bergdahl controversy? Obama ended two wars without being blamed for surrender, and that does not sit well with our Republican friends. In The Dish, Andrew Sullivan explained it perfectly:

What the Bergdahl deal does is give the right a mini-gasm in which to vent all their emotions about the wars they once backed and to channel them into their pre-existing template of the traitor/deserter/Muslim/impostor presidency of Barack Hussein Obama. This venting has been a long time coming, it springs from all the frustrations of losing wars, and it can have pure expression against a soldier with a hippie dad and a president they despise. It’s a bonanza of McCarthyite “stab-in-the-back” paranoia and culture war aggression. They don’t have to vent against Cheney, the true architect of the defeats, because now they have a cause celebre to pursue Obama over.They also get to avoid the messy awful reality that Cheney bequeathed us: an illegal internment/torture camp with 149 prisoners with no possibility of justice or release. Permanent detention and brutal torture of prisoners are not issues to the right. They invariably refuse to acknowledge the extraordinary cost of Gitmo to the moral standing of the US or its increasingly tenuous claim to be a vanguard of Western values. Instead, they wallow in terror of the inmates — being so scared of them that they cannot even tolerate them on American soil — and impugn the very integrity and patriotism of a twice-elected president when he tries to untie the knot Bush left him.

They have no constructive solution to this problem, of course. They have no constructive solution to anything else either — whether it be climate change, healthcare or immigration. But they know one thing: how to foment and channel free-floating rage at an impostor/deserter president for inheriting the national security disaster they created. This they know how to do. This is increasingly all they know how to do.

Click here to sign up to Steve Sheffey’s newsletter.

Setting Record Straight on Funding Israel’s Defense, Stopping Iran

— by David Harris

In a joint appearance today before the House Budget Committee, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey testified regarding the proposed FY2013 budget-and they set the record straight when it comes to helping provide needed funds for America’s closest ally in the Middle East, Israel.

Despite the fact that President Barack Obama increased military assistance to Israel in his proposed FY2013 budget, Rep. Tom Price (R-GA) used the occasion to repeat GOP talking points regarding missile defense funding for Israel-which brought this response from Secretary Panetta:

With regards to Israel, we have significantly increased the amount of funds that we provide to Israel. It’s now $650 million, which more than doubles what was the level in the prior administration of about $320 million. We have provided significant funding for Israel’s Arrow and Sling ballistic missile defense programs; we’ve secured funding for Iron Dome system, which is a great defense system for them, against short range rockets; and whatever decisions we have made with regards to Israel and her assistance level, has been made in conjunction with them.

Further questioning from Rep. Price about Iran also brought this clarion response from General Dempsey:

There’s no group in America more determined to prevent Iran from achieving a nuclear weapon than the Joint Chiefs of Staff. I assure you of that.

More after the jump.
Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) asked further clarifying questions regarding funding for Israel’s defense; in response, Panetta further explained:

Our support to Israel is unshakable, and we’ve reflected that frankly in our budget request. The budget request by the way is done in collaboration very closely with the Israeli government. Since taking office, the Administration has requested money for a number of missile systems that they have, the Arrow and David’s Sling ballistic missile defense programs, as well as the Iron Dome system which is a very effective system for defense against short range rocket attacks. The total amount of assistance that we provide Israel is $650 million, which is more than double what was provided in the last administration, which was at a level of I think about $320 million. So we are making a significant contribution to Israeli defense.

Rep. Wasserman Schultz also asked further about this Administration’s action to deter Iran’s nuclear ambitions, and Panetta added:

The Administration, the President has made clear that we will prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon. Period. This isn’t about containment, this is about preventing them from gaining a nuclear weapon and nobody should make a mistake about our intent here. What we have done is to work with the international community to make clear to Iran that they have to deter from the effort that they are making to develop their nuclear capability; they have to stop what they are doing in terms of promoting violence abroad, providing assistance to terrorists abroad; they have to stop any kind of effort that would close the Straits of Hormuz. We have made very clear what those red lines are-the international community has joined together in a series of very tough sanctions, diplomatic sanctions, economic sanctions, and I can tell you that those sanctions are biting. They’re isolating Iran, they’re impacting on their economy, they’re impacting on their ability to govern their own country. The whole point of those sanctions is to put pressure on them to make clear that they have to join the international community, live up to their international responsibilities; but if they don’t, we have put every option on the table to make clear to them that there is nothing that we will hesitate to do to stop them from developing those kinds of weapons.

Regarding the nature of the sanctions, Panetta closed his answer by adding:

These are the most sanctions we have ever applied against one country. The sanctions we’ve just applied impact on their energy, impact on their banking system, and those will continue to take effect. The combination of what we have done I think has sent a very clear signal that the behavior that they are engaged in is not to be tolerated.

Gen. Dempsey in Israel: “America is Your Partner”

— by David Streeter

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey visited Israel to conduct high level meetings regarding the Iranian threat. The New York Times reported on Dempsey’s trip:

The meetings were closed and their contents were not revealed. But General Dempsey, on his first visit to Israel as military chief, was quoted in brief remarks released by the office of Israel’s defense minister as saying, ‘We have many interests in common in the region in this very dynamic time, and the more we can continue to engage each other, the better off we’ll all be.’…

General Dempsey began his visit here with an intimate dinner on Thursday evening at a restaurant in Jaffa with his counterpart, Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz, Israel’s military chief of staff. The men were joined by their wives. Early Friday, General Dempsey was greeted at Israeli military headquarters in Tel Aviv with an honor guard and held meetings with General Gantz and other senior commanders.

The top generals ‘discussed military-to-military relations, the new U.S. defense strategy, budget and economic issues and regional security challenges,’ Col. Dave Lapan, the Special Assistant for Public Affairs in the Office of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in a statement.

Other meetings were held with Mr. Netanyahu, Mr. Barak and Israel’s president, Shimon Peres. General Dempsey also visited Yad Vashem, Israel’s official Holocaust memorial, where he wrote in the visitors’ book, ‘We are committed to ensuring that such a human tragedy never happens again.’ He departed Israel before the onset of the Sabbath at sundown on Friday.

Each of the meetings ‘reinforced the deep and special relationship shared by Israel and the U.S.,’ Colonel Lapan said, and ‘served to advance a common understanding of the regional security environment.’…

Mr. Peres told General Dempsey on Friday that ‘Even today in a very complicated situation we can find a common ground. We have profound trust in your democratic system and your armed forces.’ General Dempsey assured Mr. Peres that ‘America is your partner and we are honored to have you as a partner in that regard.’


The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the United States Military, General Martin E. Dempsey, visited Israel On January 19th — 20th, 2012. This was General’s Dempsey’s first visit to Israel, and he was hosted by the IDF Chief of the General Staff, Lieutenant General Benny Gantz.
During his visit, General Dempsey held a private meeting with Lieutenant General Gantz, as well as a briefing with senior commanders of the General Staff, focusing on cooperation between the two militaries, as well as mutual security challenges. During his visit, General Dempsey also met with the Minister of Defense, Mr. Ehud Barak, with the Prime Minister, Mr. Benjamin Netanyahu, and with the President, Mr. Shimon Peres.

General Dempsey was welcomed to the IDF General Headquarters in Camp Rabin (the Kirya) by an IDF honor guard of soldiers and to the sounds of the national anthems of Israel and the United States of America. General Dempsey also visited the Yad VaShem Holocaust Memorial Museum, where he was very moved by the exhibition.

In brief remarks after the tour, Dempsey noted the significance of the date — 70 years to the day of the infamous Wannsee Conference held in that Berlin suburb on Jan. 20, 1942. It was at that meeting that senior officials of the Nazi regime discussed their “Final solution to the Jewish problem.”

“We are committed to ensuring that such a human tragedy never happens again,” Dempsey wrote in the museum’s visitor’s book.

Gen. Dempsey: All Options “Executable” to Stop Iran

— by David Streeter

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey told CNN that all options remain on the table for stopping Iran’s nuclear weapons program. He said he is “satisfied” that the options being considered will be “executable” if needed. According to CNN:

As Gen. Martin Dempsey toured around the globe over the last eight days, one issue was prominent-Iran’s nuclear intentions.

Dempsey, in an exclusive interview with CNN, warned that Iran is playing a dangerous game that could ensnare the Middle East, the United States and others into conflict and a renewed nuclear arms race. From Iraq to Afghanistan, Kuwait to Saudi Arabia, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff heard about growing concerns about Iran’s ambitions.

‘My biggest worry is they will miscalculate our resolve,’ Dempsey said in an interview conducted during a stop in Afghanistan. ‘Any miscalculation could mean that we are drawn into conflict, and that would be a tragedy for the region and the world.’…

Behind the scenes Dempsey is quietly leading the ongoing military planning for an attack against Iran’s nuclear weapons in the event the president gives the order to do so.

‘We are examining a range of options,’ Dempsey said, echoing the ‘all options on the table’ line used by administration officials.

Dempsey, the highest-ranking officer in the U.S. military, said the military options are achievable.

‘I am satisfied that the options that we are developing are evolving to a point that they would be executable if necessary,’ he said.

Dempsey’s remarks coincided with an announcement by the Treasury Department that 10 new Iran shipping companies and a shipping executive were blacklisted through expanded sanctions measures. The Washington Post also reported that the value of Iran’s currency has dramatically plunged due to the country’s increasing isolation.