Bowe Bergdahl has caused quite the uproar among the military community lately. The soldier, who may or may not have deserted his post in 2009, was recently released in a prisoner exchange for five Taliban members who had been held at Guantanamo. For all the debate regarding whether Bergdahl is a traitor, the conditions of his release, or why the United States ‘negotiated with terrorists’ in this instance, many people are missing the forest for the trees.
The question should not be “why did the US exchange five Taliban commanders for a soldier who left his post under ambiguous conditions?” Rather, American citizens would be better served to ask “what the heck are we doing in Afghanistan?” Or perhaps, “why is the US in a position to conduct a prisoner exchange in the first place?” An even more telling question would be how the US has managed to indefinitely hold people without charge for more than a decade, regardless of US law, international law, or common sense. Most importantly, citizens ought to be asking “why are we in the unenviable position of being targeted by terrorists?”
Alas, these questions are profound in their perceived naivete. As Thomas Paine wrote, however, “a long habit of thinking a thing right does not make it so.” Just because we have been waging an arduous, costly, ineffective war for 12+ years does not mean that we ought to continue. By the same token, the new norm of indefinitely holding people without charge in the name of “security” does not make the practice just (and it does not make you safer). Similarly, the propaganda about how Americans are hated for “their freedoms” should have been debunked long ago.
For all the hand-wringing the Bergdahl exchange caused, five Taliban members are not the source of our foreign policy woes. Waging aggressive, undeclared, and unnecessary wars against civilian populations around the world is a more likely culprit. I do not aim to defend the Taliban government or their despicable practices while in power, but I also recognize that actions have consequences; it is absurd to argue that the Afghan war has made Americans (or anyone, really) safer from future acts of terror. Terrorist acts, by definition, are random, unpredictable, and decentralized. Indeed, one could argue that American interventions are fertilizer sown over fields already ripe with strife. There are thousands upon thousands of people around the world whose only experience with America reeks of violence, death, and destruction. This will have unintended consequences.
From Afghanistan to Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Yemen, and beyond, the marks of American military intervention and economic sanctions are being indelibly carved. The US has a long history of interfering with sovereign nations under illegitimate auspices, and a somewhat recent history of engaging in drone warfare around the world. These two tendencies are incredibly more dangerous to lives and freedom than any Taliban commander.
As for Bergdahl, it is good that he is home safely. The same should be said for the rest of our troops.