Is the Prisoner Swap Hysteria a sign of GOP War withdrawal Symptoms?

By Juan Cole

The United States has been continually at war since October of 2001. In many of the succeeding years, until Dec. 31 2011, The US was at war in both Iraq and and in Afghanistan.

Wars fulfill multiple functions for the US elite. They justify vast expenditures that benefit the political clients of the president. They throw tax-payer money to a small group of arms manufacturers. They can revive faded fortunes. In the last decade the Republican Party, more cautious about shooting wars in the 1950s and 1960s, became the war party.

The problem for the happy warriors among the conservatives is that they can’t stop Obama from winding down America’s decade of war. They continually carp that Obama should have kept troops in Iraq past 2011, while carefully avoiding any admission that it was George W. Bush who failed to achieve a Status of Forces Agreement with the Iraqi parliament, which was unlikely to grant one to Obama, either. Without a UN authorization, and without a SOFA, US forces fighting in Iraq would have been open to prosecution both abroad and in Iraq.

They are further unhappy that Obama has announced that as of January, 2017, there will be no US troops in Afghanistan. For the first time in over a decade and a half, the US will not be at war.

The end of the Afghanistan War makes it impossible for the US to go on holding prisoners from that country’s Taliban regime of the 1990s, like the five former officials released on Sunday to Qatar. These individuals faced no trials either in the US or internationally. There were no grounds on which to continue to hold them. Letting them go 18 months early to retrieve the last US soldier held in enemy hands was not a difficult decision, given their imminent release in any case.

The five former officials of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan were not terrorists. They were state actors. The US civil code defines terrorists as non-state actors. State actors can be war criminals, in which case the US could refer them through the UN Security Council to the International Criminal Court. But it makes nonsense of language and law to brand them ‘terrorists.’ After World War II, tens of thousands of German Nazis and Japanese militarists taken prisoner during the war were repatriated by the allies. Where they dragged their feet, using the POWs for slave labor, the Red Cross complained that they were violating their 1929 Red Cross obligations. The US released many persons initially held as Class A war criminals, such as Nobusuke Kishi (the “Showa-era Devil”), without trial. He later became prime minister of post-war Japan.

Now we have the Geneva Conventions, which Obama argued apply to the prisoners at Guantanamo. The Geneva Conventions require that POWs be promptly released at the end of hostilities.

Obama clearly saw this prisoner swap in the light of the imminent end of hostilities in Afghanistan, as an early implementation of steps that would have to be taken swiftly in 2017 anyway, to meet US treaty obligations under international law. Those politicians demanding that officials of the former Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan remain in Guantanamo forever with no charges filed against them and after hostilities have ceased are asking for a Star Chamber, for something that is un-American and which is illegal in US law.

The Republican Party, with the exception of its Libertarian wing, has become so wedded to perpetual war that it has been thrown into a fit of hysteria by this release of former Afghan officials. The hysteria has even led to the ridiculing of Bergdahl’s father for having a beard, which its anchor likened to Taliban beards. Categorizing American critics of a war as the enemy is the most wretched sort of demagoguery; Henry David Thoreau went to jail rather than pay a poll tax for Polk’s Mexican War; was Thoreau a stealth Mexican? GOP leaders are having war withdrawal. That is the real reason for the firestorm of protest they have raised, none of it based on law or high-minded principles. Indeed, one of the functions of war for the GOP has been to allow them to sidestep that pesky rule of law thing (admittedly, not a temptation the Obama administration has entirely avoided, either).

We have been treated to fearmongering and alarmism of the sort the Bush-Cheney administration routinely engaged in throughout their 8 years, in an attempt to reduce the courageous American public to a quivering mass of submissive fear. If terrorism is the attempt to terrify people into submission for political purposes, it was Bush-Cheney who engaged in it.

The former Afghanistan government officials who have been released are not exactly spring chickens. The idea of them on the battlefield, while not impossible, is not a foregone conclusion. They are hated in Afghanistan itself. Releasing them to Qatar’s supervision is better than simply letting them go, as the president in office in 2017 would have to do.

The GOP has to get over it. We won’t be at war much longer. And if their platform is again in 2016, as it was in 2012, that the US should have retained a division each in Iraq and Afghanistan and should intervene militarily in Syria and other conflicts as well, I think they will find that the public is just as unenthusiastic about that platform two and a half years from now as it was a year and a half ago.


Fox News: POW Bergdahl’s Dad Looks Like a Taliban Member

33 Responses

  1. Although I hope I am wrong, I am far from persuaded that our government will be winding down wars. They will be likely continued and called something else. Little “security operations” in Yemen, Pakistan, Somalia, Libya, Mali, Ukraine, and many other places, ultimately in the US itself conducted by militarized local police or national guard troops against dissidents who demonstrate peacefully if noisily. Happening already, no?

    • You’re describing what “peace” has actually looked like between major wars for the last half-millenium. Try 1815-1914.

  2. I agree, Professor Cole, with your humorous characterization of the GOP going through withdrawal from the war on terror and hysterically acting-out in the MSM over the prisoner swap. They have been living in Fat City when it came to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and they are showing all the classic symptoms of war junkies jonesing shamelessly in public. In fact, they remind me of a classic John Lennon song “Cold Turkey” in which he acts outs in vivid details his own experiences with heroin withdrawal. One minor point when you alluded to the big bucks being made in the military/industrial complex off the war on terror. It has also been a bonanza for the manufacturers of drones. I read an article that the United States has over 7,000 drones in its various fleets spread throughout the branches of the armed forces and the CIA. That’s not chump change. Drone manufacturers even have their own trade show now which was held the last time in Washington, D.C. The United States is the largest manufacturer of drones in the world, and Israel is close behind it in second place.

    • In a few years, you will be able to buy useful drones in Toys R Us. There’s nothing in there the Chinese can’t mass-produce. We’ve already outsourced the manufacturing of powerful chips and memory to the 3rd world. And then it just becomes a legal fight between our citizens over how far personal drones can be weaponized. At which point, I hope the libertarians and neo-Confederates are rewarded with having their own cranks and malcontents start assassinating every local boss and politician they have a grudge against, until no one in his right mind will want to be rich in America. “Liberty” will produce an oppression of the rich far worse than socialism ever would.

  3. Well said. You actually see the true colors of the neocons when it comes to the well being of the soldiers who fight in their misguided and needless wars. They think of soldiers as cannon fodder who are expendable in their quest to, as in the case of Afghanistan, pump $10.7 million an hour (According to the Washington Post0 into the pockets of the blood sucking war industry, who intern keeps them in office.

    Everyone from McCain to Krauthamer, and that covers a lot of blood thirsty warmongers, are casting this young man aside not caring one bit that he might be a conscientious objector who saw war as it is and rejected it.

    Even this young man’s parents are getting the Fox News kick in the groin for supporting their son. To quote a great misanthrope, Daffy Duck….Fox News is….Despicable!

  4. I think that the right wing Republicans would say that the GITMO detainees are non- combatants. (My old brain lost that word.) The “War on Terror” isn’t over so we can continue to hold them.

    Yes, they need to get over it and accept that military power cannot solve all problems.


    Dem’s fightin’ words to the War Party.

    With the midterms just five months from now, negotiating with the Taliban for the release of Sgt. Bergdahl might be a way to get the War Party barking for more war which could lead to disaster for them in November.

    How many Republicans will try and bring back their glory days by showing the “Mission Accomplished” banner to counter the Taliban’s “Don’t Come Back” sign?

    How long will it be before John McCain and Lindsey Graham accuse Obama of “cutting and running” from the terrorists?

  6. Since its inception, the Republican Party has been in favor of war.

    Initially, war was to open the American plains for EuroAmerican economic exploitation, but quickly pivoted to eliminating the economic power of slave-owning rivals preventing this.

    Once the American First Nations were defeated, the aims of the War Party sought to become a world player, taking the colonial empire of a collapsing Spain so as to gain entry to the club.

    China was the next focus but too many other nations got there first. Half of these were cast out after WWI ended, with those nations seeking to reclaim their former colonial status by fomenting the next global war. All of this was good for the War Party, because their factories armed both the effort to do so and the effort to prevent it.

    A coup was plotted against FDR, because he stood in the way of what was to be a very profitable goal: carving up the formerly-isolated Russian Empire and exploiting the raw assets suspected (since proven) to exist there, but which couldn’t be tapped due to the ossified Russian aristocracy. Wall Street only lined up behind NSDAP once it became clear that Russian Communists didn’t follow the laws of business.

    And so on.

    Without war, the Republican Party has nothing to offer the world. Without war, people won’t be frightened into seeing the GOP for what it is: a cabal of greed seeking to do what those they oppose are allegedly seeking to do. All that matters is that the GOP wins the contest for global domination. Little will be given to those who make it possible, for their usefulness will have ended. Keeping people from realizing this is key to achieving the goal.

  7. The GOP criticisms of Obama’s actions are just typical tribal politics of which the Democratic (sic) Party is just as guilty. It’s wrong if the other tribe does it, but when our leader does it, it is okay.

    • Very true, but timing is the key. In 2008, Obama labeled Afghanistan as the “good war,” vs. the Bush gang’s bad war in Iraq. Once he was elected, Obama went even further with his “war of necessity” and sent thousands of extra troops for what was supposed to the big battle of Kandahar. The Taliban didn’t cooperate and Gen. Petraeus’s COIN strategy crapped out.

      Now, Obama is doing what he should have done five years ago and that puts the GOP in a very difficult situation. Their leaders want more war, but nobody else does.

  8. ” GOP leaders are having war withdrawal”

    Perhaps these almost exclusively chickenhawk warmongers had or would participate in the wars they so concientiously avoid and keep their children out of they could avoid this oh so unpleasant withdrawal, or better yet be killed and not bother the rest of us anymore!

    • Bowe Bergdahl’s father grew a beard to exhibit solidarity with the Taliban and had communicated with Taliban leaders via Twitter to express his desire to see Guantanamo detainees discharged and to criticize the U.S. for its conduct against Afghan civilians.

      Some have compared him to the Israeli Noam Shalit, who likewise expressed sympathy to Palestinians while his son was in captivity in Gaza.

  9. Dr. Cole,. thank you for 11 plus years of incredible posts. They help me counter the rantings of the right wingers and the israeli war hawks. My request is if you would be so kind to elaborate more in detail or in a few short paragraphs why the released Talibanis are hated in Afghanistan. Also, remind me again what party Karzai beliongs to and if it is true Karzai and Taliban have been negotiating for peace and how the territories get ruled. Last, I have been saying that the Taliban of today is not what it was 11 years ago when it was funded by Bin Laden’s network. Is that true? Thank you!!! I’ll hang up and listen. (-:

  10. I think GOP hissy fits should be considered firstly as calculated political theatre, and only secondly as genuine or policy oriented. The goal is to create a general atmosphere of discomfort towards Democrats. Many undecided voters will vote based upon their vague emotional response towards candidates and parties. These calculated hissy-fits are designed to create an emotional atmosphere favorable to the GOP.

    • And it’s been working ever since “Who Lost China?” in 1949. And we still can’t come up with a cure for the hysteria of ordinary citizens that their lives will be worse without the hegemony. It bothers me that the peace movement never seemed to come to grips with this issue, or even desired the support of the herd that they held in such contempt.

      • “And we still can’t come up with a cure for the hysteria of ordinary citizens that their lives will be worse without the hegemony.”

        That is not unique to the United States.

  11. One more thing ( here I go again back on my soap box, sorry, Professor Cole ) on this swap deal. This kind of holy horse hockey always happens with any war that turns into a military misadventure or foreign policy blunder. I remember the same kind of childish behavior from the right to the the left in the aftermath of our defeat in the Vietnam War. It reminds me of my kids actually when they were young. I’d tell them to go to bed when I just couldn’t deal with them and they would start acting up and making more noise. I’d go upstairs asking them who’s making all the noise and they would just point at each other. JFK said it all long ago after the fiasco of the Bay of Pigs invasion in Cuba. Victory has many fathers but defeat is an orphan. Well, the American people know an orphan when they see one. And no elected politicians on either side of the aisle that voted for this war nor officials in the Bush administration are volunteering to take a DNA test to establish who the parents are. Imagine that.

  12. Thank you, sir, for this as usual trenchant and thoughtful piece. It would be so nice if the war machine were to be actually dialed down, and not left to go in search of new Areas of Responsibility, like what we so archly call “stabilization” in places like Africa. And as I have noted, the military plans to be the central operator of all responses of the Empire and the various local militaries our leadership plans to be “interoperating with,” to Important Stuff like “climate collapse,”on into the far future.

    Regarding the number of US troops to continue for how long in Afghanistan, I hope you are correct in your statement that they’ll all be out of there by 2017. Having watched the wind-down of Vietnam, as a former participant and “student protestor,” I’m maybe less salubrious. Not only are there still troops from other states kicking in doors and training the ANA to prop up the Kabulistas that we will be paying for until at least 2024, there are tens of thousands of “contractors,” both paramilitary and semi-civilian, also on the profitable ground, and it may be so for quite a while as “we” take a stab at doing better “this time” in propping up a West-friendly Regime. So, poking around in Google, one finds these bits of context:

    “White House: U.S. will have 9,800 troops in Afghanistan after 2014”, link to

    “15,000 foreign troops likely to stay in Afghanistan beyond 2014 “, link to

    For those who get rich off of “services” to the “troops,” there’s this bit of comfort: “Iraq – Afghanistan Contractor Census, 1st quarter (Oct – Dec 2014) – “, link to There’s more in their trade press, too, of course…

    And of course there’s the “pivots” to remember, to AFRICOM and PACOM and all that. Anyone interested in what else will be shakin’, post-Notagainistan, should maybe Google “US military global commands” and set back with a cold one…

    So I hope and pray, for the sake of the folks still wearing that ever-expensively-being-replace camo uniform, that we will actually figure out a way to address climate collapse, and the other instabilities that “we” are so much a part of creating, by something other than More Of The Same…

  13. Bowe Bergdahl will continue to be a controversial figure.

    The Taliban had claimed that Pfc. Bergdahl was captured while intoxicated and apparently had inadvertently strayed from his unit.

    The Pentagon in 2010 had declared it had “incontrovertible” evidence that he was a deserter and cited an alleged “note” found that indicated he was leaving “to start a new life”.

    The “note” evidence had doubt cast upon it by Sen. Saxby Chambliss, the ranking GOP member of the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, who stated that the confidential U.S. intelligence file on the Bergdahl abduction given to him by the government did not mention the existence of any note.

    The Pentagon statement also does jibe with why the U.S. Department of Defense issued a press release in 2011 announcing that Bergdahl had been promoted to sergeant and inviting persons to contact its public relations office with any questions on Bergdahl.

    Bergdahl’s hometown cancelled a homecoming celebration for him due to the continued controversy created by the Pentagon’s prior statements on his alleged deserter status.

    • …and Pat Tillman, who had also apparently discovered the effing rotten fraud at the heart of the Great Imperial War thingie, was reported by the same Brass Gong Show that inveterately and reflexively lies about so much else, was recorded and reported as dying as noble a death as John Wayne died for us in “The Sands of Iwo Jima…” Say again, Charlie Poppa Tango?

    • Mark Koroi, could you please cite your source for the Pentagon doc in 2010 that allegedly declared Bergdahl a deserter? And your post is incorrect that Hailey officials cancelled the parade due to controversy created by the Pentagon. According to town officials, it was cancelled due to hate mail and nasty phone calls creating a security nightmare for the town.

      • The Bowe Bergdahl Wikipedia page cites recent articles in the U.S. News and World Report, Yahoo News and Miami Herald for the 2010 Pentagon document.

        The New York Times also recently cites GOP Sen. Saxby Chambliss, an Obama administration critic of the negotiations, confirming that the Obama White House has denied existence of the”note” that the Pentagon heavily relied upon in its 2010 conclusion that Bergdahl was a deserter.

        Also, the “hate mail and nasty phone calls” have been believed to be the result of the recently-disclosed 2010 Pentagon investigative report concluding a desertion occurred – that indirect causation was the gist of my post.

  14. Republicans the war party? In WW1, a Democrat was President – Woodrow Wilson. In WW2, a Democrat was president – Roosevelt. In the Korean War, at the start, it was Harry Truman, a Democrat, who sent US troops to Korea, and a Republican – Eisenhower, who brought them home. The Vietnam slaughters were initiated by Kennedy and LBJ – Democrats. It is only since Reagan that the Republicans have produced war presidents. Grenada, Iraq 1 and 2, Somalia,Afgghanistan.The biggest wars were all started by Demnocrats. Though Lincoln was a Republican, but that is two centuries ago.

    • Recourse to binary labels hardly works in this context. Look again, and you will see that those folks who started all those wars (Vietnam was Eisenhower’s, and even Wilson’s, maybe, if you look back far enough into colonial imperial history, link to , and the Dulles boys who by the way were indubitably “conservative”) were basically pushing the politely described as “conservative” agendas of the kleptocrats who have been tightening the screws on all of us for a couple of centuries now. Not enough space here, of course, to rehearse all the real stuff behind the idiot Exceptional Narrative of Exceptionalism…

      It’s laudable to speak up for one’s tribe, of course… You can’t go too far wrong if you really want to understand the stuff behind the curtain if you “follow the money” and go from the well established precept that “War is nothing but a racket…”

    • In 1968, candidate Nixon, with the collaboration of South Vietnam’s president, sabotaged LBJ’s peace negotiations with Hanoi. He should have been arrested for that, but LBJ lacked the guts to go after him. That’s been how it is between the GOP and Democrats ever since. That was the turning point.

      Not coincidentally, that was when the GOP began massively stealing the Southern white vote from the Democrats. The white South has supported every war and imperial venture since the Mexican War, until it has moved far enough to the Right to oppose anything a Democratic president chose to do, war or peace.

      So if you want a politically viable peace movement, then reverse the schemes of the Right to create Jim Crow 2, in which gerrymandering, prison and twisted polling rules allow fewer and fewer whites to control more and more Congressional seats.

  15. As for desertion, it is worthwhile to look at this from the advantage of history. The basic theory, touted by the pro-war side, is reasonable up to a point. We are fighting an enemy, and you abandoned us. However, if we read some relevant history, and reflect on the incompetence and criminality of the leaders at many levels running the war in question, then refusing to participate deserves at least some measure of sympathy. The people with superior rank but not necessarily superior intelligence over Sgt. Bergdahl should be grateful that he just took a hike and didn’t engage in the popular remedy of “fragging” applied in Vietnam.

    Recent material I have read about the First World War inspires some sympathy for those accused of desertion and disdain for the pro-war types. One story tells of a young man in civilian clothing subjected to the popular insult of being handed a white feather to signify cowardice. Later that day he attended a ceremony at which he was presented with a Victoria Cross, the British equivalent of the Medal of Honor. When it comes to war, the warmongers just don’t know what they are talking about.

  16. Republicans should also be sobered by the realization that the reason Obama could not bring them in on the prisoner exchange is the same reason he could not bring the Pakistanis in on the bin Laden raid.

  17. The Democrats in Congress are just as responsible for our decade of War as the Republicans.
    Why did Obama cover for Bush/Cheney’s lying us into the Iraq War ? Why did he continue the Afghan War when even he could not say what we were fighting for?
    Why? Because the Wars are very good Business and the 1% are making huge profits from our oil wars.
    Obama is just as much for sale as Bill Clinton was and the Democratic Leadership is as corrupt their Republican counterparts.
    We need a new Green Anti-corruption Party to take back our Democracy before it is too late.

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