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Delusion in Russia

How exactly does one engage in rational conversation with a country which is afflicted with . . . well . . . this?

Did you know Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was full of corpses when it took off from Amsterdam? Did you know that, for some darkly inexplicable reason, on July 17, MH17 moved off the standard flight path that it had taken every time before, and moved north, toward rebel-held areas outside Donetsk? Or that the dispatchers summoned the plane lower just before the crash? Or that the plane had been recently reinsured? Or that the Ukrainian army has air defense systems in the area? Or that it was the result of the Ukrainian military mistaking MH17 for Putin’s presidential plane, which looks strangely similar?

Did you know that the crash of MH17 was all part of an American conspiracy to provoke a big war with Russia?

Well, it’s all trueat least if you live in Russia, because this is the Malaysia Airlines crash story that you’d be seeing.

“But surely, the leadership class in general–and Vladimir Putin in particular–is better informed, Pejman,” I hear you cry. Alas, that may not be true.

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The Intellectual and Moral Derangement of Opponents of Israel

The periodic hate campaigns that get launched against the state of Israel are uniformly obscene and disgusting, but the current one appears to be working to set new records. Just by way of reminder, we have one of Israel’s mortal enemies (Hamas), an entity that has never accepted Israel’s right to exist–let alone a right to exist in safety and security–launching missiles against Israel and actively trying to kill as many Israeli civilians as possible. As though that were not execrable enough, Hamas is also actively trying to use Palestinian civilians as human shields. And yet, despite these facts, and despite the simple truth that the moral calculus is heavily in Israel’s favor, there are enough benighted people on the planet who claim that somehow, in some way, Israel is at fault for the current conflict between itself and the Palestinians. These people, confident in the belief that derangement is a contagion, are trying to spread that contagion to as many others as possible:

Tens of thousands protested in London Saturday afternoon against Israel’s military operations in Gaza, denouncing Israel as a terrorist state and castigating British Prime Minister David Cameron for backing Israel’s right to self-defense against Hamas rocket fire

Led by speakers on a podium, protesters holding placards and banners chanted pro-Palestinian and anti-Israel slogans.

At one point, a woman on the podium shouted “from the river to the sea” — a call for the elimination of Israel — and protesters responded by yelling “Palestine will be free.”

More:

Thousands of pro-Palestinian protesters marched in French cities on Saturday to condemn violence in Gaza, defying a ban imposed after demonstrators marched on two synagogues in Paris last weekend and clashed with riot police.

French President Francois Hollande said he understood emotional responses to the killing of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip in a flare-up of hostilities with Israel but would not allow violence to spill over into France.

“That’s why I asked the interior minister, after an investigation, to ensure that such protests would not take place,” he told journalists during a visit to Chad.

[. . .]

The far-left New Anticapitalist Party, an organizer of last Sunday’s rally and the banned one in Paris, urged protesters in Paris to defy the ban, prompting police to issue a warning.

[. . .]

In the first three months of 2014 more Jews left France for Israel than at any other time since the Jewish state was created in 1948, with many citing rising anti-Semitism as a factor.

Of course, it ought to go without saying that no one should dare call the organizers of these protests “anti-Semitic.” Because that would hurt their feelings, or something.

Now, for some sanity. Brendan O’Neill has a proper reply to the anti-Israel fanatics:

Why are Western liberals always more offended by Israeli militarism than by any other kind of militarism? It’s extraordinary. France can invade Mali and there won’t be loud, rowdy protests by peaceniks in Paris. David Cameron, backed by a whopping 557 members of parliament, can order airstrikes on Libya and British leftists won’t give over their Twitterfeeds to publishing gruesome pics of the Libyan civilians killed as a consequence. President Obama can resume his drone attacks in Pakistan, killing 13 people in one strike last month, and Washington won’t be besieged by angry anti-war folk demanding ‘Hands off Pakistan’. But the minute Israel fires a rocket into Gaza, the second Israeli politicians say they’re at war again with Hamas, radicals in all these Western nations will take to the streets, wave hyperbolic placards, fulminate on Twitter, publish pictures of dead Palestinian children, publish the names and ages of everyone ‘MURDERED BY ISRAEL’, and generally scream about Israeli ‘bloodletting’. (When the West bombs another country, it’s ‘war’; when Israel does it, it’s ‘bloodletting’.)

Anyone possessed of a critical faculty must at some point have wondered why there’s such a double standard in relation to Israeli militarism, why missiles fired by the Jewish State are apparently more worthy of condemnation than missiles fired by Washington, London, Paris, the Turks, Assad, or just about anyone else on Earth. Parisians who have generally given a Gallic shrug as French troops have basically retaken Francophone Africa, stamping their boots everywhere from the Central African Republic to Mali to Cote d’Ivoire over the past two years, turned out in their thousands at the weekend to condemn Israeli imperialism and barbarism. Americans who didn’t create much fuss last month when the Obama administration announced the resumption of its drone attacks in Pakistan gathered at the Israeli Embassy in Washington to yell about Israeli murder. (Incredibly, they did this just a day after a US drone attack, the 375th such attack in 10 years, killed at least six people in Pakistan. But hey, Obama-led militarism isn’t as bad as Israeli militarism, and dead Pakistanis, unlike dead Palestinians, don’t deserve to have their photos, names and ages published by the concerned liberals of Twitter.) Meanwhile, hundreds of very angry Brits gathered at the Israeli Embassy in London, bringing traffic to a standstill, clambering on to buses, yelling about murder and savagery, in furious, colourful scenes that were notable by their absence three years ago when Britain sent planes to pummel Libya.

As does Charles Schumer (hey, when Charles Schumer is right, he is right):

Amid the recent troubles between Israel and the Palestinians, many Americans and media commentators are drawing disturbing lines of parallelism between the two societies, asserting a false moral equivalency to the actions of each.

In essence, the claim goes like this: “Both sides are fighting each other with similar degrees of violence; both treat each other equally badly; each side is equally to blame for the violence, and they just can’t come together.”

That notion that there is a moral equivalency between the defensive and targeted actions that the rule-of-law-based Israel is compelled to take, and the proactive and indiscriminate actions that hate-based organizations like Hamas takes, is completely unfair, unfounded and infuriating to supporters of Israel — with good reason.

In fact, there is no moral equivalence between the actions and reactions of Israel and Hamas and the Palestinian community to the violence that has occurred.

Two glaring examples stand out. The first revolves around the difference between Israel’s and the Palestinian community’s reactions to the horrible kidnappings and coldblooded murders of four boys, three Israeli and one Palestinian.

No doubt the loss of these children is one beyond words. Both incidents were abhorrent.

But the reaction on both sides was not the same. How did Hamas and too many diverse parts of the mainstream Palestinian community respond to the kidnap and murder of three young Israelis? They cheered.

The official Hamas spokesman called the kidnappers “heroes.” The mother of one of the suspected kidnappers, Abu Aysha, said, “If he [my son] truly did it — I’ll be proud of him till my final day.”

And is it no wonder, given the vitriolic hatred of Israel that has been preached in textbooks and schools to two generations of Palestinian children. Such propaganda has been propagated by not only Hamas, but by the Palestinian Authority, and has created a perverse mythology throughout Palestinian society that calls suicide bombers “martyrs” and extols kidnappers and murderers as heroes.

Those who killed the Israeli boys have not been found, and the cooperation of Palestinian authorities in the hunt for them has been lukewarm at best.

Compare that to the reaction of the Israeli people to the murder of the Palestinian teenager. Israelis were aghast. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu immediately called the murderers “terrorists” who committed deeds equal to the terrorism on the other side and said that Israel must find “who is behind this despicable murder.” The Israeli government has made every effort to bring those responsible to justice, and there are now six arrests.

And Eric Yoffie:

On “NBC Nightly News” on July 12, David Gregory spoke of growing pressure from the United Nations for a ceasefire in Gaza. He noted that the United States and many other nations believed that Israel had a right to self-defense. Nonetheless, Gregory reported, these countries were likely to be sympathetic to calls for a ceasefire because of the “disproportionate” number of casualties between the two sides. Among the residents of Gaza, the death toll then exceeded 100, while Israel had suffered dozens of injuries but no casualties.

Mr. Gregory was simply reporting the news, but I found his comments disturbing, nonetheless. What does it mean to say that the casualties are “disproportionate”? And is that really the moral issue that we need to be concerned about?

The implication of the “disproportionality” claim is that, given their losses, the people of Gaza are the real victims. But morally and politically, this is an intolerable and distorted interpretation of the realities in the region.

The reason that Hamas has not killed more Israelis is not because they haven’t tried. In the seven years during which it has controlled Gaza, Hamas and its proxies have fired more than 5000 rockets into Israel; almost 800 have been launched just this past week. Each one has been aimed at civilians and intended to murder and maim. The reason that more Israelis have not died is that the weapons are mostly crude and inaccurate and that, over time, Israel has prepared herself with shelters, warning sirens and an anti-missile system. In addition, Israelis have been just plain lucky.

But that luck could change at any moment. If a single rocket were to hit a school or a mall, the number of dead could balance out in a flash. Then, to be sure, you would have “proportionality,” but there is no moral calculus by which additional dead civilians is a preferable outcome.

For Israel, the fundamental issue is the responsibility of its government to protect its citizens. As missiles have fallen on her cities over the years, the government has not succeeded in providing that protection. The reasons are many, including sensitivity to American wishes and a concern for world opinion; but the desire not to hurt the innocent is the most important. Now, however, as children in the south continue to live in terror and civilians throughout Israel flee to shelters several times daily, Israel’s leaders have concluded that they must act.

There is something bizarre, in fact, about the idea of “proportionality” being used as a moral criticism against Israel. A proportional response by Israel to the attacks of the last seven years would mean that every time a rocket is fired by Hamas at an Israeli civilian center, Israel would respond by firing a rocket at a civilian center in Gaza. Israel, of course, rejected that, then and now. Still, when Hamas violated the ceasefire yet again and got its hands on longer-range rockets, something had to be done.

Joshua Muravchik informs us why the casualties are “disproportionate”:

. . . Already, UN Human Rights Commissioner Navi Pillay, EU foreign policy czarina Catherine Ashton, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty [International], the British press and the usual array of “progressive” voices are assailing Israel for this fight in which Hamas is the aggressor and Israel is acting, with unmistakable reluctance, only in self-defense. True, most casualties are on the Palestinian side. Why? Israel has spent billions on civil defense and [the] Iron Dome to protect its citizens. Hamas urges its subjects to disregard Israeli warnings and to stay put in targeted buildings in order to become “martyrs.” They’re fulfilling their mantra: “You love life; we love death.”

And finally, David Harsanyi shows why Jeff Bezos was unwilling to part with any money in order to keep Ezra Klein & the Gang around at the Washington Post:

Not long ago, Vox’s Max Fisher argued that Israel was liable for the entire conflict in the Middle East. He then accused Israel of welcoming Hamas’ execution of three Jewish teenagers as a pretext to engage in the vengeful massacring of Arab civilians. And then he lamented the fact that Hamas’ rocket barrage was met with Israel’s technological superiority and, consequently, a lopsided outcome.

Nowadays, as Hamas ignores cease-fires and is caught using children as human shields by the United Nations, many apologists have given up. Not Fisher, who attempts to whip up some moral equivalency in a new piece titled “Yes, Gaza militants hide rockets in schools, but Israel doesn’t have to bomb them”:

This is the one thing that both Hamas and Israel seem to share: a willingness to adopt military tactics that will put Palestinian civilians at direct risk and that contribute, however unintentionally, to the deaths of Palestinian civilians. Partisans in the Israel-Palestine conflict want to make that an argument over which “side” has greater moral culpability in the continued killings of Palestinian civilians. And there is validity to asking whether Hamas should so ensconce itself among civilians in a way that will invite attacks, just as there is validity to asking why Israel seems to show so little restraint in dropping bombs over Gaza neighborhoods. But even that argument over moral superiority ultimately treats those dying Palestinian families as pawns in the conflict, tokens to be counted for or against, their humanity and suffering so easily disregarded.

A “partisan” writing about a conflict as if he we an honest broker is distracting, but read it again. You might note that one of the institutions he’s talking about is the governing authority of the Palestinian people in Gaza, which, applying even the most basic standards of decency, should task itself with safeguarding the lives of civilians. Instead, it makes martyrs out of children and relies on the compassion of Israelis to protect its weapons. This is a tragedy, of course, but Israel does have to bomb caches of rockets hidden by “militants” in Mosques, schools, and hospitals. Since Hamas’ terrorist complex is deeply embedded in Gaza’s civilian infrastructure there is really no other way. And that only tells us that one of the two organizations mentioned by Fisher has purposely decided to use Palestinian as pawns and put civilians in harm’s way.

It is also preposterous to claim that Israel is showing “little restraint in dropping bombs over Gaza neighborhoods.” Actually, Israel is far more concerned with the wellbeing of Palestinians civilians than Hamas. This week, 13 Hamas fighters used a tunnel into Israel and attempted to murder 150 civilians in Kibbutz Sufa, with Kalashnikovs and anti-tank weapons. On the same day, Israel issued early warnings before attacking Hamas targets – as it often has throughout this conflict in an effort to avoid needless civilian deaths Hamas is hoping for. It was Israel that agreed to a five-hour cease-fire so that UN aid could flow into Gaza last week. It is Israel that sends hundreds of thousands of tons of food to Gaza every year, millions of articles of clothing and medical aid. That’s more than restraint.

Quite right, of course, but as always, the argument over Israel’s actions ends up pitting responsible and sane people against those whose complaints against Israel always amount to “the dastardly Jews aren’t allowing their enemies to kill Jews quickly enough.”

The Cover-Up Begins

I trust that no one is surprised by this:

Ukraine accused Russia and pro-Moscow rebels on Saturday of destroying evidence to cover up their guilt in the shooting down of a Malaysian airliner that has accelerated a showdown between the Kremlin and Western powers.

As militants kept international monitors away from wreckage and scores of bodies festered for a third day, Russian President Vladimir Putin urged the rebels to cooperate and insisted that a U.N.-mandated investigation must not leap to conclusions. Moscow denies involvement and has pointed a finger at Kiev’s military.

The Dutch government, whose citizens made up more than half the 298 aboard MH17 from Amsterdam, said it was “furious” at the manhandling of corpses strewn for miles over open country and asked Ukraine’s president for help to bring “our people” home.

After U.S. President Barack Obama said the loss of the Kuala Lumpur-bound flight showed it was time to end the conflict, Germany called it Moscow’s last chance to cooperate.

European powers seemed to swing behind Washington’s belief Russia’s separatist allies were to blame. That might speed new trade sanctions on Moscow, without waiting for definitive proof.

I am not sure how much more proof is actually needed. If it were not for the obstruction of the Russian separatists, there would be a full-scale forensics investigation already underway. And does anyone actually believe that the Russians are really trying to get the rebels to cooperate with the investigation?

Did the Russians Down the Malaysian Airliner?

It sure seems like it:

Social media posts by pro-Russian insurgents — most of them hastily removed — suggest the rebels thought they had shot down a Ukrainian army plane before realising in horror that it was in fact a packed Malaysian airliner.

The Twitter and blog messages were immediately publicised by top Kiev officials in their furious information war with the Kremlin for global opinion and the hearts and minds of ethnic Russians caught in the worst East-West crisis since the Cold War.

Confirmation of separatist fighters killing 298 passengers and crew on a flight from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur would further complicate Russian President Vladimir Putin’s efforts to paint their uprising as a fight for self-determination.

Russia’s state media avoided any mention of the controversial posts and instead reported militia leaders’ later charges that the Ukrainian air force had shot down the Boeing 777 liner instead.

There is, of course, a great deal more to learn about this story, but the indications are strong that Russian separatists were behind the downing. And of course, given that the separatist movement in Ukraine would not be possible without Russian backing and support, Moscow–and the Putin regime–very likely has blood on its hands.

Speaking of which . . .

Back in March, when Vladimir Putin’s Russia was rearing its increasingly antagonistic head, supporters of Mitt Romney saw a measure of vindication. Russia, it seemed, had become the United States’ No. 1 geopolitical foe — the same distinction Romney claimed for it in 2012 (and President Obama scoffed at). Well, here we are, four months later, and we finally have some good data to evaluate that claim.

And we can say that, at least for now, the American people agree with Mitt Romney (pretty much).

According to a new survey from the Pew Research Center, Americans see Russia as the No. 1 future threat to the United States.

Twenty-three percent of Americans give that distinction to Russia, while 19 percent say it’s China and 16 percent say it’s Iran. (Just 7 percent cite North Korea.)

Sometimes, public opinion gets it very, very wrong. In this case, public opinion gets it quite right. Maybe Team Obama will take notice and acknowledge as much . . . one of these days.

If Only We Had a Rational Foreign Policy Discourse . . .

In a world where Reason ruled the roost and rationality was the order of the day, more people would be asking Jeffrey Goldberg’s question: Why is Hamas, by its own actions, undermining the creation of a Palestinian state by pursuing policies that will not lead to the destruction of the state of Israel? It’s a good question, and one that I would love to get an answer to, but for whatever reason, it doesn’t seem to be on the lips of many pundits and observers, which should count as a gargantuan failure in ratiocination on the part of the pundit class.

Speaking of muddled thinking, behold Chris Bertram, who seems to think that because Israel uses the Iron Dome missile defense system to save the lives of innocent Israeli citizens, while Hamas uses Palestinians as human shields, Israel is somehow morally deranged (“the current death score is 159-0,” Bertram tells us, as though this statement is dispositive of something). Of course, Bertram does not acknowledge that Hamas uses Palestinian civilians as human shields, and that it actively puts the general Palestinian population in danger through its actions, but that is likely only because it would undermine his (reflexive?) anti-Israel bias. Bertram does take the time to call William Saletan some names, but other than proving that playground insults are the best that Bertram has to bring to the table, this does nothing to enlighten any reader. I suspect, of course, that enlightenment is not Bertram’s goal; he is likely just smart enough to see that Hamas is the culpable party in this conflict, and he wants to muddy the waters by engaging in a furious bit of handwaving that is supposed to convince us that Jewish people are at fault for not dying as quickly as Bertram might like them to die.

This Passes for “Moderation” in Iran

Those who believed that an era of political and social liberalization was about to dawn in Iran will not like reading this article:

Eight social media activists in Iran have been sentenced to a total of 127 years in prison, after they criticised the country’s government on Facebook.

The eight people – whose identities have not been revealed – were administrators of unnamed Facebook pages.

An Iranian court found them guilty of using the pages to spread anti-government propaganda, attemp to undermine national security, and insult Iran’s leaders. It is unclear whether they were acting together.

It is understood that those convicted will appeal the ruling, having each been handed sentences between 11 and 21 years, Iran’s IRNA news agency reported according to Sky News. The terms were passed in April after the eight appeared in court several times.

The rest of us will be appalled, but entirely unsurprised.

Quote of the Day

In our postmodern times it is increasingly irrelevant where the good and the bad reside. Does it matter that the Israeli youth dream with being inventors and scientists, while the youth of Hezbollah and Hamas dream with being martytrs? Apparently not. Does it matter that in Israel children are not taught to hate the Arabs, while among the Arabs, the Protocols of Zion and Mein Kampf are best sellers, and that the Egyptian TV broadcast a repulsive series where the Jews would extract children’s blood for their rituals? Apparently this doesn’t matter either.

The only thing that matters is that Arabs and Palestines look weaker compared to Israel’s might. The victim is the weak; the perpetrator is the powerful; other reasons are irrelevant. That is why public opinion tolerates anything from Palestines and Arabs, and condemns everything that comes from Israel.

Yet Israel is the planet’s most vulnerable country, surrounded by a sea of fundamentalists, hallucinating preachers, and dictators who anxiously wish to erase it from the map. Ever since independence Israel was harassed, not so much for its Jewish character, but for being the embodiment of modernity and progress, democracy, pluralism, tolerance, free press, an independent judiciary, the alternance in power, the individual and human rights. It won Nobel prizes in sciences and literature, it invented effective irrigation systems, it educated eminent artists, and it contributed discoveries to the biological sciences.

Above all, Israel s tired of war. Already several generations of stoic Israeli citizens have defended the country with one hand while working with the other. Israel always wanted to be Athens but was forced to be Sparta. But this absurd postmodernity will never understand it.

Marco Aguinis. About the only statement that I disagree with is the one that claims that Israel was harassed “not so much for its Jewish character.” Not so, alas. Israel was–and continues to be–very much hated “for its Jewish character,” in addition to its “embodiment of modernity and progress, democracy, pluralism, tolerance, free press, an independent judiciary, the alternance in power, the individual and human rights.”

Some Facts on the Latest Violence in the Middle East

1. The Israelis go to extraordinary and laudable lengths in order to ensure that they don’t kill civilians while trying to protect themselves against attacks from Hamas. Would that Israel’s enemies were so humane. Incidentally, you can bet your bottom dollar that all those who decry Israel’s supposed inhumanity towards the Palestinians will completely ignore William Saletan’s article, and the many like it that seek to educate people about what is really going on in the Middle East.

2. You would think that given the violence and given America’s interest in tamping that violence down, President Obama might want to pick up the phone and have a conversation with Prime Minister Netanyahu. As of yesterday, however, that conversation has not happened. I suppose it is possible that the lack of a conversation might be the fault of Prime Minister Netanyahu, but I highly doubt that the prime minister would pretend to be washing his hair if the president of the United States were to call and say that he would like to chat about the whole war situation currently going on between Israel and Hamas. To be sure, I recognize that the president and the prime minister don’t exactly like each other, but now might be the ideal time to put such enmity aside and work for a greater good, no?

I’m Sure People Will Find a Way to Blame Israel for This

Oh, look–enemies of the only Jewish state on the planet are up to their usual tricks. Again.

For second time on Tuesday evening, Gaza terrorists launch rocket at central Israel; Tel Aviv and Jerusalem open public bomb shelters.

Air raid sirens rang out in Greater Tel Aviv, and in Jerusalem, Kfar Saba and the Binyamina area on Tuesday evening, marking an increase in the Gazan rockets’ range, on the first day of Operation Protective Edge.

An Iron Dome battery intercepted the incoming rocket over Tel Aviv. Hamas announced it had fired four M-75 rockets at the capital. Two loud thuds were heard in downtown Jerusalem shortly after the rocket warning siren went off at 9:56 p.m. Thousands of residents entered bomb shelters, while others remained outside and in cafés.

More. It should, of course, surprise precisely no one that the Israelis might decide to fight back against those who aim to extinguish their country. But as the title of this blog post indicates, it is a near certainty that a certain group of people will respond to the news that Israel is being assaulted by claiming that somehow, and in some way, Israel has asked for it. Neither facts nor a sense of history matters to this group; the only thing that matters is the destruction of a country that happens to be a Jewish state.

Oh, but don’t dare call these people anti-Semites. They might get the vapors, or something.

Inequality in Iran

This is what happens when a government is not only massively totalitarian, but also corrupt beyond belief:

The nouveaux riches in Tehran drive Porsches, Ferraris and Maseratis and live in multimillion-dollar luxury apartments replete with walk-in closets, Bosch appliances and computerized shower systems.

I was stunned when I caught a glimpse of what Iran’s megarich can afford — on, of all things, a program made by Press TV, an English-language news organization sponsored and monitored by the Iranian state. It was not just the wealth that struck me, but how freely Iran’s “one percenters” flaunted the symbols of Western decadence without fear of government retribution.

Thirty-five years after a revolution that promised an egalitarian utopia and vowed to root out “gharbzadegi” — the modern Westernized lifestyles of Iran’s cosmopolitans — how have some people become so rich?

Much of Iran’s wealth, it turns out, is in the hands of the very people in charge of maintaining social justice. Hard-line clerical leaders, together with the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (the branch of Iran’s military in charge of protecting the country’s Islamic government), have engineered a system where it is largely they, their family members and their loyal cronies who prosper.

“When Ayatollah Ali Khamenei became supreme leader in 1989, he built his own system of patronage by building a network with the I.R.G.C.,” said Alireza Nader, an Iran expert at the nonpartisan RAND Corporation and an author of its report “The Rise of the Pasdaran: Assessing the Domestic Roles of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps.” Saeed Ghasseminejad, an economist, and the political scientist Emanuele Ottolenghi, writing in The Wall Street Journal, estimated that the Revolutionary Guards Corps controls about 20 percent of the market value of companies traded on Tehran’s stock exchange, across the telecommunications, banking, construction, metals and mining, automotive and petrochemical sectors. Mr. Nader said the corps was also involved in sanctions-busting and the smuggling of alcohol and drugs into Iran, both forbidden under Islamic law.

The corps also runs large parts of the economy. Since 2006, Al-Monitor reported, it has been awarded at least 11,000 development projects, from construction and aerospace to oil and gas. Khatam al-Anbiya, a company that acts like the United States Army Corps of Engineers on the construction of roads, bridges and public works, subcontracts to firms owned by businessmen with connections to the Guards.

And of course, it ought to go without saying that if one confronts any of the thugs running the Iranian government about the fact that they have constructed a mafiocracy in Iran, they will either try to deny the undeniable, or they will pretend that God somehow wants the governing mafia to be wealthy and prosperous . . . while the rest of the country suffers.

Not a Good Week for Hillary Clinton

First, there was this. Then, there was the fact that Diane Sawyer–of all people–laid into Clinton over Benghazi (in the event that you do not recall, Benghazi has been deemed not to be a scandal, nope, no chance whatsoever that it might be a scandal, nothing to see here, move along, don’t worry your pretty little heads about this story, darlings). And then, there is the fact that her book . . . well . . . it isn’t so good:

Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton’s new memoir “Hard Choices” officially launches Tuesday morning, but it’s already being savaged by critics for being overly cautious and, as a result, uninteresting.

“TRUTH BOMB 1: ‘Hard Choices’ is a newsless snore,” Politico’s Mike Allen wrote in his Monday-morning newsletter. He went on to describe the book “written so carefully not to offend that it will fuel the notion that politics infuses every part of her life.”

“In this book, like in ‘The Lego Movie’ theme song, everyone is awesome!” Allen quipped.

The New York Times’ book-review section seemed to agree with Allen’s assessment.

“There is little news in the book,” The Times’ Michiko Kakutani wrote Sunday. “And unlike former Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates’s rawly candid memoir ‘Duty,’ this volume is very much the work of someone who is keeping all her political options open — and who would like to be known not only for mastering the art of diplomacy, but also for having the policy chops to become chooser-in-chief.”

The New Republic’s Isaac Chotiner didn’t think Kakutani was hard enough on Clinton. In a piece criticizing The Times’ review, Chotiner panned “Hard Choices” for its “dullness and lack of critical energy.” Slate’s John Dickerson called it “the low-salt, low-fat, low-calorie offering with vanilla pudding as the dessert. She goes on at great length, but not great depth.” The list goes on.

To be sure, Hillary Clinton is out to win the presidency, not a Pulitzer (please, let us not pretend that she is not running). But I am glad to see that others have noticed the startling lack of depth to her book, and to her public thoughts. I recognize, of course, that Clinton’s “everyone is awesome!” stance is meant to maximize her chances of winning the presidency, but (call me a dreamer, if you must) I also think that it is useful to point out that when it comes to Clinton, there is surprisingly little there there.

More on Clinton’s book:

. . . Over nearly 600 pages, she gives a grand tour of American foreign policy as seen from the communications operation of the U.S. State Department. There are dozens of pages devoted to singing the praises—and naming the names—of the people she worked with and the things she accomplished. There are hundreds of pages of history, recounting the major events of the last five years in a useful, matter-of-fact voice that would be well-suited to a high school textbook. There are some wonderful admissions and asides, like her habit of digging her fingernails into her hand when she gets sleepy at meetings, or the time when former French President Nicolas Sarkozy declared, while watching a traffic jam of motorcades after a frustrating day of summits in Copenhagen, “I want to die!”

There are also carefully constructed personal recollections of some of the hard choices she made, like her support for the Osama bin Laden raid, with which President Barack Obama agreed, and her support for arming the Syrian rebels, with which Obama disagreed. But as often as not, the hard choices are so polished as to lose their edge. She admits to a shouting match with the former CIA director over whether or not to authorize a particular drone strike, but on the subject of her approach to drone strikes in general she offers only diplo-babble fortune cookies. She agrees with Obama that the strikes raised “profound questions,” and writes that it’s “crucial that these strikes be part of a larger smart power counterterrorism strategy that included diplomacy, law enforcement, sanctions, and other tools.” Got it?

There are other hard choices she clearly runs away from making. After mentioning the controversy over the National Security Agency’s mass collection of domestic phone records without a warrant, she offers a puzzle instead of a position: “Without security, liberty is fragile,” she writes. “Without liberty, security is oppressive. The challenge is finding the proper measure: enough security to safeguard our freedoms, but not so much (or so little) as to endanger them.” Even the NSA will struggle to decode that one.

She devotes an entire chapter to the need to take on climate change, imploring policy makers to save the world in the most vacuous language of policy making, which keeps rearing its head throughout the book: “Building a broad national consensus on the urgency of the climate threat and the imperative of a bold and comprehensive response will not be easy, but it is essential.” But she makes no mention of her position on the Keystone pipeline, which is arguably the most central domestic climate change issue she faced, and which coincidentally divides the Democratic Party.

Perhaps there is no reason to expect more from a politician in mid-stride. Barack Obama’s first book, Dreams of My Father, was widely hailed as a deeply personal literary work in its own right. The book he wrote before his 2008 campaign, The Audacity of Hope, was a far inferior list of policy maxims, Republican bashing and feel-good utopianism. But assuming she continues her campaign, Clinton has a problem to solve that Obama never had before he ran: She must convince voters both within and without the Democratic Party that she is a real person people can believe in, not just a political brand that is repolished and reintroduced to the public at regular intervals under the soft lights of a primetime television interview.

When it comes to the book, it may be safe to say that life is imitating the Onion: “In a particularly open and honest moment, Clinton reveals that she disagrees with Obama about some things and agrees with him about others.” Yeah, there appears to be a lot of that in Clinton’s memoirs.

And finally, there is this:

At Wednesday’s Rahm Emanuel-Hillary Clinton show for her book tour, she was responsible for another unforced error.

“I actually write about Rahm in the book,” Clinton said. “I asked him not to read it before we sat and did our interview! But it was in the very first chapter, the chapter I rightly call ‘Team of Rivals’ because that’s what it was in the beginning. A senator from Illinois ran against a senator from New York just as had happened way back with a senator from Illinois named Lincoln and a senator from New York named Seward. And it turned out the same way.”

Maybe Hillary is not ‘ready’ as Lincoln was never a senator because he lost that election to Stephen A. Douglas.

Imagine the headlines if “George W. Bush” were substituted for “Hillary Clinton.”

How the Bowe Bergdahl Story Became Politicized

It wasn’t Republicans who did it:

President Obama complained yesterday that Sergeant Bergdahl is “not a political football.”   That should be true, but unfortunately President Obama is responsible for kicking off the football game by announcing the Taliban-Bergdahl swap in a Rose Garden appearance, rather than leaving the announcement to Secretary Hagel and Chairman Dempsey.  The White House should not be surprised now that Republicans have been equally political in their response.

Obama’s Bergdahl announcement reflects a consistently counterproductive pattern by the Administration of politicizing both the opening and closure of Guantanamo, an issue I have written about periodically here at Lawfare.   For example, the White House insisted on having the White House press secretary announce the return of two Algerian detainees in July 2013, rather than leaving it the Department of Defense.   I said at the time that “The White House should stop politicizing Guantanamo (as should Congressional Republicans) and should instead reach out to Republicans to help solve this vexing national security problem.”   And in his NDU speech last year, the President could not resist taking a shot at his predecessor by claiming that Guantanamo was “a facility that should never have been opened.”  I responded that:

If President Obama wants to close Guantanamo, or reduce the number of individuals held there, he will need bipartisan political support, and trying to pin blame on others is not a productive way to get them to help him solve the problem.  President Obama and Administration officials would do better to acknowledge that the detention of terror suspects captured immediately after 9-11 has been a difficult dilemma for two Administrations and that there were no easy answers then, and there are no easy answers now.

[. . .]

The Bergdahl swap was a “hard national security choice” of the kind to which this blog is dedicated. President Obama made a defensible decision. If that decision has now become a political football, he has no one to blame but himself.

Well put.

Last I Checked, Leon Panetta Is Not a Republican

There are those who believe that it is wrong to have concerns about the deal that freed Bowe Bergdahl, and that it is wrong to be concerned that Bergdahl may have been a deserter. Most of these people think that Republicans are cynically ginning up outrage about the Bergdahl story, and overplaying their hand in the process.

So I wonder how they will respond to the concerns of a former Democratic secretary of defense and director of central intelligence, who served in the Obama administration:

A former top adviser to President Obama on Wednesday questioned the release of dangerous terrorists in exchange for an imprisoned American soldier as anger spread among lawmakers in Washington over the secret deal to free Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl.

“I don’t fault the administration for wanting to get him back. I do question whether the conditions are in place to make sure these terrorists don’t go back into battle,” former CIA director and Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta told a gas industry gathering in Pittsburgh.

Panetta, who was in the Cabinet for four of the five years Bergdahl spent in Taliban custody, said he opposed a swap for the terrorists held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, when he was Defense secretary.

“I said, ‘Wait, I have an obligation under the law,’” Panetta said during a lunchtime address at the Hart Energy Developing Unconventionals DUG East conference at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center, Downtown. “If I send prisoners from Guantanamo, they have to guarantee they don’t go back to the battlefield. I had serious concerns.”

He said talks fell apart because the Taliban “asked for five top guys.” He did not say when during his 2011-13 tenure in the Pentagon that discussions took place.

“I just assumed it was never going to happen,” Panetta said.

The second paragraph of that excerpt basically sums up my position on this entire story. So, now that Panetta is expressing his reservations, is it all right for the rest of us to have reservations as well, or will the new story line be “Leon Panetta: Longstanding Member of the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy”?

More on the Bowe Bergdahl Story

I am beginning to sense a certain theme:

A soldier claims that he was told by his chain of command to not say anything about Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl walking off an Afghan base in 2009.

Retired Army Spc. Josh Fuller told Fox News Wednesday that he was told to keep quiet about Bergdahl leaving his post and getting captured by the Taliban.

“We had all known that he had deserted his post and there was never anything about him getting captured or a POW until a little while later when it came down from the chain-of-command that we needed to keep quiet about it, not say anything and that we’re going with the narrative that he’s captured,” Fuller told Fox News.

Fuller, who stated that Bergdahl pretty much kept to himself and didn’t socialize with other soldiers, said that attacks on the base increased after Army sergeant left.

“Whenever he went and walked off the base, only stuff that we know, that we trained for, that the sports that we know on vehicles, how are moves are, stuff like that, they were getting hit very precisely,” Fuller explained to Fox News.

“And the ambushes we used, the certain tactics that we used, the Taliban was picking up on those things and the Haqqani network started using the same things as well.

“So they were very precise and very accurate. You could tell it was somebody on the inside that had that info.”

More:

Three former members of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl’s platoon spoke to The Associated Press on Tuesday about Bergdahl’s disappearance, his freedom and how he should be treated now that he’s out. The interviews were facilitated by a public relations firm, Capitol Media Partners, co-owned by Republican strategist Richard Grenell. All three men said Bergdahl should be investigated for desertion. Army Secretary John McHugh said Tuesday that after Bergdahl has recovered, the Army will “review” the circumstances of his disappearance.

Joshua Cornelison, 25, who was a medic in the platoon:

Cornelison said Bergdahl was unusually reluctant to talk to fellow soldiers about his personal life or his background.

“He was very, very quiet. He kept everything very close to the vest,” Cornelison said, speaking from Sacramento, California. “So, after he actually left, the following morning we realized we have Bergdahl’s weapon, we have Bergdahl’s body armor, we have Bergdahl’s sensitive equipment (but) we don’t have Bowe Bergdahl.” At that point, Cornelison said, it occurred to him that Bergdahl was “that one guy that wanted to disappear, and now he’s gotten his wish.”

Cornelison, who completed his Army service in 2012, said he believes Bergdahl should be held accountable.

“Bowe Bergdahl needs to be held 100 percent accountable for all of his irresponsibility and all of his actions. He willfully deserted his post and he needs to be held accountable for that,” he said.

Still more:

Former Army Sgt. Evan Buetow was the team leader with Bowe Bergdahl the night Bergdahl disappeared.

“Bergdahl is a deserter, and he’s not a hero,” says Buetow. “He needs to answer for what he did.”

Within days of his disappearance, says Buetow, teams monitoring radio chatter and cell phone communications intercepted an alarming message: The American is in Yahya Khel (a village two miles away). He’s looking for someone who speaks English so he can talk to the Taliban.

“I heard it straight from the interpreter’s lips as he heard it over the radio,” said Buetow. “There’s a lot more to this story than a soldier walking away.”

The Army will review the case of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl “in a comprehensive, coordinated effort,” Secretary of the Army John McHugh said Tuesday.

The review will include speaking with Bergdahl “to better learn from him the circumstances of his disappearance and captivity,” he said.

The night Bergdahl disappeared, says Buetow, the platoon was at a small outpost, consisting of two bunkers and a perimeter of military trucks. Buetow was in one of the bunkers, and Bergdahl was supposed to be in a tent by one of the trucks.

Then a call came through on the radio.

“I’ll never forget that line, ‘Has anyone seen Bergdahl?'” says Buetow.

Oh, look. More:

Among the most tantalizing mysteries surrounding Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl’s departure from his U.S. military base in 2009 is this: Was he trying to find the Taliban? Or did he simply wander away and get captured? Politicians and members of the military have criticized the Obama administration’s decision to swap five jailed Taliban leaders for Bergdahl, saying the soldier may have deserted.

Until now, few details have emerged about the circumstances of Bergdahl’s disappearance from his base. But The Washington Post has reached Afghan villagers who spotted Bergdahl shortly after he slipped away from his base. To them, it’s clear something was wrong with the American. And he seemed to be deliberately heading for Taliban strongholds, they say.

“It was very confusing to us. Why would he leave the base?” said Jamal, an elder in the village of Yusef Khel, about a half-mile from the American military installation. (Like many Afghans, he goes by only one name). “The people thought it was a covert agenda – maybe he was sent to the village by the U.S.”

Locals remember Bergdahl walking through the village in a haze. They later told Afghan investigators that they had warned the American that he was heading into a dangerous area.

“They tried to tell him not to go there, that it is dangerous. But he kept going over the mountain. The villagers tried to give him water and bread, but he didn’t take it,” said Ibrahim Manikhel, the district’s intelligence chief.

“We think he probably was high after smoking hashish,” Manikhel said. “Why would an American want to find the Taliban?”

And of course, the response to all of this from the Obama administration is less-than-impressive:

White House aides are accusing soldiers who served with Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl are “swift boating” him following his release over the weekend after five years in captivity.

NBC News’ Chuck Todd reported Monday that the White House did not expect this sort of vitriolic backlash exchanging five high-level Taliban members held at Guantanamo Bay for Bergdahl, who left his Army post in 2009 in Afghanistan and was subsequently taken captive.

“They did not expect this backlash on Bergdahl himself,” Todd reported on NBC’s “Today.” I’ve had a few aides describe it to me as we didn’t know that they were going to ‘swift boat’ Bergdahl. And that’s a reference to that political fight back in 2004 over John Kerry’s military service.”

Just to be clear, we have multiple accounts that Bergdahl deserted his post in violation of the rules found in the Uniform Code of Military Justice, and the White House response is that anyone who brings up this issue is “swift boating.” The mind reels. Query: Are the Afghan villagers who were quoted above and who have validated concerns that Bergdahl deserted also “swift boating”? Will we soon be confronted by the accusation that the Republican party has political operatives posing as Afghan villagers and engaged in all kinds of dirty tricks?

Look, I am perfectly well prepared to believe that Bowe Bergdahl is innocent until proven guilty. And even if he is guilty, I am prepared to believe that he acted out of stupidity. Given the time he spent as a captive of the Taliban, I would fully and completely understand if his sentence were commuted so that he serves no jail time. And finally, I accept entirely the Obama administration’s argument–and that of the military–that we leave no service man or woman behind and that any and every reasonable effort must be made to rescue an American soldier, sailor, pilot or Marine who is being held captive by enemy forces.

But the evidence that Bergdahl deserted is piling up. To deny that things at least look bad for Bergdahl is to deny reality itself. And as I wrote in my original post, it is entirely appropriate to denounce the prisoner exchange that was made for Bergdahl as being contrary to the best interests of American national security policy. It is entirely appropriate to denounce the Obama administration’s violation of law in failing to inform Congress. And it is entirely appropriate to denounce a possible desertion of post, and the deaths of American soldiers that alleged desertion may have led to.

Your Unsurprising News of the Day

“Happiness in Short Supply in Iran.” Tell us about it:

The media storm that erupted after police arrested six young Iranians for dancing to the Pharrell Williams song “Happy” in an online video prompted Iranian President Hassan Rouhani to tweet, “Happiness is our people’s right. We shouldn’t be too hard on behaviors caused by joy.” Iran’s leadership is right to be concerned about the country’s happiness. Gallup’s most recent rankings of positive emotions find Iran at 93 on a list of 138 countries. Iranians also reported the highest negative emotions in the world, second only to Iraq.

[. . .]

Iranians have every right to feel negative, given the high unemployment coupled with high inflation in their country that has crippled their ability to provide for their families, along with international sanctions over their nuclear program that have hurt their livelihoods. Additionally, 48% of Iranians in 2013 said they would not recommend their city or area where they live to a friend or associate as a place to live.

(This story was covered here.) So, I guess the big takeaway here is that it just happens to be very difficult to feel happy in a country run by a repressive, totalitarian, dictatorial government which lacks any sense of priorities or perspective, and which repeatedly acts against the best interests of Iran and the Iranian people.

Who woulda thunk it?

The Strange Case of Bowe Bergdahl

By now you have doubtless heard of Bowe Bergdahl, the American soldier who was recovered after five years of captivity in the hands of the Taliban–and who had to be recovered via a prisoner swap with the Taliban. I am glad for Bergdahl and his family–he longed to be back in the United States, I am sure, and his family longed to have him with them. But that doesn’t change the fact that there are serious concerns regarding Bergdahl’s case. Those concerns are alluded to here:

Amid jubilation Saturday over the release of U.S. Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl from captivity by the Taliban, senior Republicans on Capitol Hill said they were troubled by the means by which it was accomplished, which was a deal to release five Afghan detainees from the military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Top Republicans on the Senate and House armed services committees went so far as to accuse President Obama of having broken the law, which requires the administration to notify Congress before any transfers from Guantanamo are carried out.

“Trading five senior Taliban leaders from detention in Guantanamo Bay for Bergdahl’s release may have consequences for the rest of our forces and all Americans. Our terrorist adversaries now have a strong incentive to capture Americans. That incentive will put our forces in Afghanistan and around the world at even greater risk,” House Armed Services Committee Chairman Howard P. McKeon (R-Calif.) and the ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, James M. Inhofe (Okla.), said in a joint statement.

Lawmakers were not notified of the Guantanamo detainees’ transfer until after it occurred.

The law requires the defense secretary to notify relevant congressional committees at least 30 days before making any transfers of prisoners, to explain the reason and to provide assurances that those released would not be in a position to reengage in activities that could threaten the United States or its interests.

The Obama administration claimed that because of what it termed “unique and exigent circumstances, such a transfer should go forward notwithstanding the notice requirement.” The problem with this argument is that it may well be legally unavailing. Even Jeffrey Toobin, who ordinarily sacrifices intellectual honesty and rigor to advance a particular partisan and ideological agenda through his writings, is forced to call shenanigans on the Obama administration’s behavior in the Bergdahl case:

CNN legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin declared on Monday that President Barack Obama “broke the law” when his administration failed to give Congress notice of at least 30 days before releasing five ranking Taliban members from Guantanamo Bay. Toobin said that a presidential signing statement did not absolve Obama from culpability for failing to abide by the law mandating congressional notification.

“I think he clearly broke the law,” Toobin said. “The law says 30-days’ notice. He didn’t give 30-days’ notice.” Toobin added that Obama’s opinion expressed in a signing statement “is not law.”

“The law is on the books, and he didn’t follow it,” Toobin added.

CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer noted that former President George W. Bush also issued signing statements even though they thought their action may not have been constitutional or legal. “But liberals were outraged by George W. Bush’s signing statements,” Toobin noted.

“You realize, of course, you’re accusing the President of the United States of breaking the law” Blitzer observed.

“I do think that his critics have a very good point here,” Toobin asserted. He noted that Congress and the courts are unlikely to do anything about it. “But, you know, it matters whether people follow the law or not,” he concluded.

And of course, more luminous legal lights than Toobin have concluded the same thing. Here is Ilya Somin on the matter:

The Obama administration’s recent decision to release five high-ranking Taliban commanders in exchange for captured soldier Bowe Bergdahl clearly violates a 2013 law that requires that Congress be given 30 days advance notice of such releases. While the Obama administration has previously suggested that the the 30 day notice requirement is unconstitutional, it is in fact authorized by Congress’ power to make “rules for the Government and Regulation” of the armed forces.

Read the entire analysis. The White House has been forced to apologize for having failed to alert Senate Intelligence Committee chair Dianne Feinstein of the prisoner swap. One wonders why the rest of Congress doesn’t deserve an apology as well. Meanwhile, it is worth noting that Bergdahl may have engaged in some misconduct of his own:

For all the yellow ribbons strewn across his hometown in Idaho and the gratitude expressed by his parents in an emotional visit to the White House on Saturday, it’s looking increasingly unlikely that Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl will receive a hero’s welcome when he returns to the United States after nearly five years in Taliban captivity.

From military forums across the country, a groundswell of anger is rising over the Obama administration’s silence on perhaps the most controversial question surrounding the deal that freed Bergdahl in exchange for five senior Taliban members: Was he a deserter?

So far, the U.S. government has shied away from the long-nagging question, which raged anew Monday with growing clamor on the Internet about the circumstances of Bergdahl’s disappearance from his unit’s small forward position in Afghanistan on June 30, 2009.

Military-related blogs, Twitter accounts and Facebook pages were filled with screeds from commenters accusing Bergdahl of being a “traitor” or a Taliban “collaborator.” The online publication The Daily Beast published a nearly 2,000-word first-person account by a former Army infantry officer who said he was privy to details of Bergdahl’s disappearance and who stated flatly that “he was a deserter, and soldiers from his own unit died trying to track him down.”

The mother of one of six soldiers who’ve been identified as being killed in circumstances related to the search for Bergdahl was furious over the opaque handling of the case, telling Army Times that the Pentagon “really owes the parents of these fallen soldiers the truth.”

But instead of addressing the desertion issue head-on, complained many military analysts and war veterans, the Obama administration is allowing the debate to fester, only deepening the skepticism of current and former service members who demand to know how Bergdahl left his unit, how many U.S. forces were killed in the search effort, and whether there are plans to conduct a legal review of his case and, if necessary, prosecute him.

Michael Waltz, who as an Army major commanded U.S. Special Forces in eastern Afghanistan at the time Bergdahl disappeared, said the sergeant deserted and shouldn’t have been accorded POW status.

“He just walked off after guard duty and wandered into the nearby village,” Waltz told McClatchy in an interview Monday. “This guy needs to be held accountable when the time is right, of course. Every American deserves to come home. I’m happy for his family. But he needs to be held accountable.”

More:

Sometime after midnight on June 30, 2009, Pfc. Bowe Bergdahl left behind a note in his tent saying he had become disillusioned with the Army, did not support the American mission in Afghanistan and was leaving to start a new life. He slipped off the remote military outpost in Paktika Province on the border with Pakistan and took with him a soft backpack, water, knives, a notebook and writing materials, but left behind his body armor and weapons — startling, given the hostile environment around his outpost.

That account, provided by a former senior military officer briefed on the investigation into the private’s disappearance, is part of a more complicated picture emerging of the capture of a soldier whose five years as a Taliban prisoner influenced high-level diplomatic negotiations, brought in foreign governments, and ended with him whisked away on a helicopter by American commandos.

The release of Sergeant Bergdahl (he was promoted in captivity) has created political problems for the Obama administration, which is having to defend his exchange for five Taliban detainees held at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, but it also presents delicate politics for Republicans who are attacking, through surrogates, America’s last known prisoner of war.

The furious search for Sergeant Bergdahl, his critics say, led to the deaths of at least two soldiers and possibly six others in the area. Pentagon officials say those charges are unsubstantiated and are not supported by a review of a database of casualties in the Afghan war.

“Yes, I’m angry,” Joshua Cornelison, a former medic in Sergeant Bergdahl’s platoon, said in an interview on Monday arranged by Republican strategists. “Everything that we did in those days was to advance the search for Bergdahl. If we were doing some mission and there was a reliable report that Bergdahl was somewhere, our orders were that we were to quit that mission and follow that report.”

Still more:

It was June 30, 2009, and I was in the city of Sharana, the capitol of Paktika province in Afghanistan. As I stepped out of a decrepit office building into a perfect sunny day, a member of my team started talking into his radio. “Say that again,” he said. “There’s an American soldier missing?”

There was. His name was Private First Class Bowe Bergdahl, the only prisoner of war in the Afghan theater of operations. His release from Taliban custody on May 31 marks the end of a nearly five-year-old story for the soldiers of his unit, the 1st Battalion, 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment. I served in the same battalion in Afghanistan and participated in the attempts to retrieve him throughout the summer of 2009. After we redeployed, every member of my brigade combat team received an order that we were not allowed to discuss what happened to Bergdahl for fear of endangering him. He is safe, and now it is time to speak the truth.

And that the truth is: Bergdahl was a deserter, and soldiers from his own unit died trying to track him down.

There is a question as to whether Bergdahl will face a firing squad, though I certainly doubt that it will come to that. Meanwhile, to quote Lando Calrissian, this deal is looking worse all the time:

Qatar has moved five Afghan Taliban prisoners freed in exchange for a U.S. soldier to a residential compound and will let them move freely in the country, a senior Gulf official said on Tuesday, a step likely to be scrutinized by Washington.

U.S. officials have referred to the release of the Islamist militants as a transfer and said they would be subject to certain restrictions in Qatar. One of the officials said that would include a minimum one-year ban on them traveling outside of Qatar as well as monitoring of their activities.

“All five men received medical checks and they now live with their families in an accommodation facility in Doha,” the Gulf source, who declined to be identified, told Reuters. “They can move around freely within the country.”

Are we supposed to be pleased with this state of affairs? Or with this?

The five Guantanamo detainees released by the Obama administration in exchange for America’s last prisoner of war in Afghanistan, Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, are bad guys. They are top Taliban commanders the group has tried to free for more than a decade.

According to a 2008 Pentagon dossier on Guantanamo Bay inmates, all five men released were considered to be a high risk to launch attacks against the United States and its allies if they were liberated. The exchange shows that the Obama administration was willing to pay a steep price, indeed, for Bergdahl’s freedom. The administration says they will be transferred to Qatar, which played a key role in the negotiations.

In the initial statements released about the deal, the White House declined to name the detainees who would be leaving the Cuba based prison Obama has been trying to close since his first day in office.

A senior U.S. defense official confirmed Saturday that the prisoners to be released include Mullah Mohammad Fazl, Mullah Norullah Noori, Abdul Haq Wasiq, Khairullah Khairkhwa and Mohammed Nabi Omari.

While not as well known as Guantanamo inmates like 9-11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the Taliban 5 were some of the worst outlaws in the U.S. war on terror. And their release will end up replenishing the diminished leadership ranks of the Afghan Taliban at a moment when the United States is winding down the war there.

Of course, it should surprise no one to know that the usual suspects on the port side are busy informing us that we should not be allowed to discuss any details whatsoever of Bergdahl’s possible desertion, of the fact that soldiers lost their lives searching for him, and of the fact that the Obama administration failed to give proper notice to Congress about the entire affair. Again, I want to state that I am personally happy for Bergdahl in that he has been released by the Taliban, and that he is reunited with his family. And to be sure, Bergdahl is innocent of any charges against him until proven guilty. But contrary to port side opinion, it is possible to be both happy for Bergdahl’s release, and at the same time, concerned about the possibility that he might have deserted, and that his desertion may have cost the lives of American soldiers who were tasked with the responsibility to go look for him. It certainly is possible to be displeased with the fact that the Obama administration broke the law by failing to give Congress notice of the prisoner transfer. And it certainly is possible to be displeased with the fact that a prisoner transfer took place; one that will encourage other terrorist groups to take Americans prisoner in the hopes that they will force the United States to bargain and give something away in order to secure the release of an American captive. There is a reason why the United States traditionally states that it does not negotiate with terrorists. That reason appears to have been forgotten by both the Obama administration and its apologists.

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