I was at the gym this morning and the guy on the treadmill next to me was watching Fox News. Despite my best efforts, I couldn’t stop looking at the broadcast, which focused on the controversy surrounding the release of Bowe Bergdahl.
Now I’m sure there are all sorts of legitimate questions that might be raised about the way the Obama administration handled the whole thing and I’m sure people are asking those questions. But I want to focus for a moment on the question that was raised about a hundred times in the half hour I was sneaking glances at this Fox News broadcast.
This was the question of whether the Obama administration should “negotiate with terrorists” and Fox brought one commentator after another who expressed their shock, horror, and outrage at the very notion. The common theme was that President Obama had very likely committed something like treason — if not treason itself — by negotiating with the Taliban and by releasing prisons from the American detention facility at Guantanamo Bay. And, if not treason, it has certainly made the U.S. look weak; in fact, Fox News repeated six times during the broadcast that a recent poll asked whether or not Americans believed Obama has made the U.S. weaker internationally and 55% believe he has. You know who else believes it? This guy:
"I fear that the administration’s decision to negotiate with the Taliban for Sgt. Bergdahl’s release could encourage future terrorist kidnappings of Americans," Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., said Sunday in a statement.
Of course, this whole thing is patently ridiculous, which anyone who stays at a hotel anywhere in America ought to know:
But security experts like Bruce Hoffman, director of Georgetown University’s Center for Security Studies, said that however common the refrain “we do not negotiate with terrorists” has become, it is “repeated as mantra more than fact.”
"We have long negotiated with terrorists. Virtually every other country in the world has negotiated with terrorists despite pledges never to," Hoffman said. "We should be tough on terrorists, but not on our fellow countrymen who are their captives, which means having to make a deal with the devil when there is no alternative."
Hoffman lists a series of high-profile instances when U.S. presidents have negotiated with terrorists. There was the Iran hostage crisis that started in the 1970s and eventually led to the release of 52 Americans. Or the Iran-Contra affair of the mid-1980s when the U.S. government sold arms to Iran partly to win the release of U.S. hostages in Lebanon.
Charles “Cully” Stimson, a security expert at the conservative Heritage Foundation think tank, said there are even more examples of small-scale negotiations with terrorist groups that the public, and many members of Congress, just don’t know about.
Under President George W. Bush, Stimson helped coordinate the Pentagon’s detainee operations in Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and other places around the world. He said presidential administrations of both political parties routinely have been forced to deal with terrorist groups for “information, supplies, personnel — a lot of different topics.”
"We have had very quiet negotiations, or discussions at least, with terrorist groups over the years on a whole host of things," Stimson said. "They just haven’t usually come to light."
So, yes, we negotiate with terrorists. And so does everyone else … even a country like Israel, who is likely the most cautious in the world when it comes to terrorists and whose administration nonetheless managed to negotiate a massive prisoner exchange with Hamas that its citizens recognized as a major victory.
So, honestly, let’s see if Fox News and the GOP can’t move beyond this nonsense about negotiating with terrorists being a form of treason and get back to the pressing issues that have defined them over the past couple of years … like repealing Obamacare or holding Benghazi hearings.