Elliott Abrams

Pressure Points

Abrams gives his take on U.S. foreign policy, with special focus on the Middle East and democracy and human rights issues.

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

by Elliott Abrams
June 2, 2014


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:



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.


Post a Comment 6 Comments

  • Posted by Dean Smallwood

    Regarding Obama and one more in a long string of ill-conceived and bungled initiatives , how many times do we have to ask , ” What was he thinking ? “

  • Posted by Duke

    Why make a comparison to Israel’s policy at all? This exchange is a welcome sign that US cares about its citizens, especially the ones that put their lives on the line defending the US interests and security.
    Empty the whole Guantanamo of those stinkers and exchange them for any American that falls into captivity of the terrorists. As a matter of fact, if Guantanamo detainees show up in combat against US forces somewhere in the world that is a great chance for us to eliminate the right bastards.
    Abrams does not seem to understand what is the essence of this exchange.

  • Posted by Raymond Justus

    why was a traitor released

  • Posted by Brooks White

    Israel’s smaller population base available to be soldiers in the field is significantly less than the U.S.. Given this more limited base and the cost of training a soldier, there is a greater reason not to leave a soldier behind.

    Leaving no soldier behind is a more recent U.S. myth.

    The more interesting question is why the President did not trust Intelligence Committee leadership in the Congress to give them advance notice. The decision to return or leave this soldier posed no national security risk, although the trade may.

  • Posted by Peter


  • Posted by Matt

    Yeah but during OP Cast Lead i killed 1300 people, i released 1000 terrorist it is the same 1000, I really did not give up anything it was the same 1000. And Shin Bet are up to the task. The real issue was living or bones Ahmadi was in no rush and wanted to send back bones. So i asked Garry Adams to go to Gaza to speak to Hamas.

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