Negotiating With Terrorists

As discussion of the Bergdahl exchange gets more and more out of control, it’s nice to find someone knocking down one of the major misperceptions, as does Slate‘s Fred Kaplan with the “negotiating with terrorists” meme:

Many columnists and congressmen make a big point that America doesn’t negotiate with terrorists. Well, sometimes America does, but the key thing here is that the Taliban delegates, with whom U.S. officials have been negotiating in Qatar over the fate of Sgt. Bergdahl, are not terrorists. They represent a political faction and a military force in Afghanistan; they are combatants in a war that the United States is fighting. In other words, Bergdahl was not a “hostage” (another erroneous term uttered by Rogers). He was a prisoner of war, and what happened on May 31 was an exchange of POWs.

The United States and practically every other nation that’s ever fought a war have made these sorts of exchanges for centuries. In recent years, American officers have turned over hundreds of detainees to the Afghan government, which in turn freed them in exchange for favors of one sort or another from the Taliban. During the Iraq war, American commanders frequently made similar swaps. The Israeli government (which can’t be considered soft on terror) trades prisoners with Hamas and Hezbollah all the time. In the most dramatic case, Gilad Shalit, an Army private abducted by Hamas, was traded for 1,027 Palestinian and Arab prisoners, 280 of whom had been serving life sentences for terrorist attacks against Israel.

The example of Israel should end this particular argument pretty firmly. You can say the Obama administration paid too high a price for Bergdahl, but discussing the price with the Taliban was no kind of “outrage.”

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.