It's great that Gilad Shalit is finally a free man, reunited with his family. In the cold calculus of war, it is hard to see how Israel did not make a mistake in trading Shalit for thousands of Palestinian prisoners, unless it's willing to contend that those prisoners are not dangerous men, which seems to be the opposite of what it's saying.
Ever since Shalit's capture, Israel effectively made his capture a potent international symbol of Hamas' perfidy. Shalit held no value to Hamas except as a symbol; well, if that's the way they wanted it, Israel would highlight the emotional resonance of holding a young soldier hostage for so long. The problem with that approach is that it bargained up Shalit's price in negotiations. Shalit's capture was already very raw for Israelis -- and very, very understandably -- and successive Israeli governments' emphasis on Shalit only increased domestic pressure to get him home at any price. Hamas saw an opening and took it.
It's worth contrasting Shalit's case with that of PFC Bowe Bergdahl. Bergdahl has been a prisoner of the Taliban for two years. The Taliban sporadically release risable, pornographic videos of Bergdahl for propaganda purposes. But the U.S./NATO military command, as much as it wants Bergdahl released, do not make Bergdahl a major public symbol. That would only increase the Taliban's negotiating position, making it more likely that ISAF would box itself into the corner that Israel just faced.
I don't want to criticize Benjamin Netanyahu for striking the deal with Hamas to release Shalit. The decision must have been agonizing. It's just important to recognize the steps that led to such an awful decision, and not to repeat them.
Update, 5:37 p.m.: Herman Cain. Wow. Just... wow.
BLITZER: Could you imagine if you were president…and there were one American soldier who had been held for years and the demand was al Qaeda or some other terrorist group, “You got to free everyone at Guantanamo Bay” – several hundred prisoners at Guantanamo. Could you see yourself as president authorizing that kind of transfer?
CAIN: I could see myself authorizing that kind of transfer but what I would do is I would make sure that I got all of the information. I got all of the input, considered all of the options. And then, the president has to be the president and make a judgement call. I can make that call if I had to.
Every Gitmo detainee for one American soldier? So, Cain: would you empty Gitmo for Bowe Bergdahl?
I can tell you what the Cain Doctrine would be: if you mess with Israel, you're messing with the United States of America. Is that clear?
So I wonder if this "Gitmo for one soldier" thing is the sort of insanity that results when "Thou Shalt Not Criticize Israel" becomes a first principle.