Last month, the National September 11 Memorial and Museum opened its doors at Ground Zero in New York. Lost in the solemn remembrances of that day was the fact that America remains at war. Every day, those affiliated with the terrorists who committed the atrocities 13 years ago plot to kill Americans, including here in the U.S. homeland.
This inconvenient fact should be foremost in our mind when we review the president's decision to release five hardened Taliban terrorists with the blood of Americans on their hands in exchange for a detained U.S. prisoner of war.
Although the release of Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl is welcome, the conditions under which it occurred are very worrying. The president has elevated a terrorist group to the position of a nation state's military, in effect, legitimizing the Taliban. This apparent shift in U.S. policy is troubling for a number of reasons.
First, it demonstrates to other non-state actors and terrorist groups that the U.S. government is willing to deal on a peer-to-peer level, even with terrorist groups that do not respect the laws of armed conflict. Second, this demand from the Taliban, which was not new, shows that the U.S. was, over time and under pressure, ultimately willing to accede to its requests. Third, this change in policy may endanger the lives of Americans abroad, both military and civilian, by making U.S. citizens more attractive to pirates, terrorists and any other thugs who expect to get paid or have their demands met in return for the release of a captive American. For instance, al-Qaeda affiliates, particularly in the Sahel, Horn of Africa and Libya use this method as their primary means of revenue generation.
This also comes as the president has announced his intention to withdraw all U.S. forces from Afghanistan by 2016. The Afghans need to step up and take on more responsibility for their own security. But this decision to send five senior terrorist leaders to Qatar who within a year will be able to return to the battlefield even though they have killed innocent Afghans in the past, as well as announcing a date certain for U.S. withdrawal based on nothing more than a political timeline, sends the wrong message to our Afghan allies as well as our enemies at a key moment in the Afghanistan War.
The prisoner swap is part and parcel of a broader problem with the president's approach to the war on terror.
Put simply, he doesn't seem to understand that we are still at war.
The president has tried to argue that the threat from Islamist terrorism is receding. He and his top lieutenants frequently talk about al-Qaeda's leadership being "decimated" or "on the run."
The reality, however, is that al-Qaeda is not defeated. Under President Obama's watch, it has instead morphed into affiliates operating in as many as a dozen countries. The threat from these disparate groups is not subsiding. In fact, it is metastasizing across the Middle East, the Sahel and Horn of Africa, Libya, the Sinai and, yes, Pakistan and Afghanistan. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper has gone so far as to say that he is unable to state that the threat from al-Qaeda "is any less" than it was 10 years ago.
Sen. Marco Rubio represents Florida in the U.S. House of Representatives.