from Pressure Points and Middle East Program

The Trade for Sgt. Bergdahl: Why America Isn’t Israel

June 2, 2014

Blog Post

The administration’s decision to release five high-ranking and dangerous Taliban detainees is controversial. To the argument that the United States should not negotiate with terrorists, defenders of the decision sometimes cite Israel. The Wall Street Journal discussed the argument this way:

It’s true that Israel has also traded Palestinian prisoners, sometimes hundreds at a time, for its captive soldiers. One difference is that Israel conducts those swaps in the context of an otherwise tough antiterror policy. This includes unilateral targeting of Hamas and periodic military operations against terrorist havens. No one doubts Israeli resolve. The same isn’t true of the Obama administration....

I would make a different argument. I’d summarize it this way:

---NUMBER OF ISRAELI TROOPS STATIONED OVERSEAS: APPROX. ZERO

---NUMBER OF AMERICAN TROOPS STATIONED OVERSEAS: APPROX. 250,000

The trade for Sgt. Bergdahl has given terrorists a real incentive to capture and trade American servicemen and women-- and they are very vulnerable. Israeli troops are in Israel, where they are well protected. Occasionally someone tunnels under the border or raids over it, but not often; and Israeli troops in the West Bank take very special care to prevent kidnappings. Americans are in about 150 countries and there are thousands in places where they roam without much protection: 11,000 in Kuwait, 9500 in the UK, 40,000 in Germany. All three countries have significant extremist activity that keeps their police very busy.

Today they are at greater risk because they are more valuable to terrorists. That is a cost of this trade that comparisons to Israel do not correctly measure.

 

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