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David Rohde:

The furor surrounding the exchange of five Taliban prisoners for Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl this week has exposed the murky world — and impossible choices — of the families of Americans taken captive by militants.

Demands for vast ransoms or for prisoner releases put these families in the excruciating position of seeming to be able to save a loved one’s life. Meet demands and your beloved lives. Hesitate and carry responsibility for their death to your grave.

Yet few families have access to the sums of money that militants demand. Nor can they free prisoners held by the United States or a local government. Despite the fact that the families feel primary responsibility, they have no real control.

I’m biased about Bergdahl. Five years ago, I was kidnapped by the same Afghan Taliban faction along with two Afghan colleagues while I was on leave from The New York Times, researching a book in Afghanistan. An offer for an interview from a Taliban commander who had previously met twice with European journalists proved to be a ruse. We were abducted at the meeting point and then transported to the tribal areas of Pakistan.

Drew Altman:
With primaries underway and the midterms approaching, coverage of the Affordable Care Act will increasingly focus on politics. Many political reporters may take temporary control of the health-care beat during the leadup to November. News organizations should consider: How much Affordable Care Act political coverage is too much?

Already, the public says that coverage of the ACA is mostly about politics rather than what the law means for people. The question Americans most want answered is not how much the ACA mattered in some Senate or House race but: What does the law mean for me and my family? Almost half of Americans say they still cannot answer that question.

And yes, fault the news media for the public's ignorance.

More politics and policy below the fold.

Francis Fukuyama:

Twenty-five years ago, I wrote the essay "The End of History?" for a small journal called the National Interest. It was the spring of 1989, and for those of us who had been caught up in the big political and ideological debates of the Cold War, it was an incredible moment. The piece appeared a few months before the fall of the Berlin Wall, right about the time that pro-democracy protests were taking place in Beijing's Tiananmen Square and in the midst of a wave of democratic transitions in Eastern Europe, Latin America, Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.

I argued that History (in the grand philosophical sense) was turning out very differently from what thinkers on the left had imagined. The process of economic and political modernization was leading not to communism, as the Marxists had asserted and the Soviet Union had avowed, but to some form of liberal democracy and a market economy. History, I wrote, appeared to culminate in liberty: elected governments, individual rights, an economic system in which capital and labor circulated with relatively modest state oversight.

Looking back at that essay from the present moment, let's begin with an obvious point: The year 2014 feels very different from 1989.

Sam Baker:
None of this is to say that Republicans now support Obamacare, which they very much do not, or that it won't be a problem for Democrats in this year's midterms, which it will.

The law is unpopular, and its critics feel more strongly than its supporters. But with public opinion locked in place for months, "Obamacare" has become almost a party-ID question or a buzzword, rather than a dynamic issue.

The Obamacare war has been a constant in politics since 2009, with peaks and valleys of intensity. The peaks have almost always been tied to some external development—from the law's passage, to the Supreme Court decision upholding it, to delays in the employer mandate, to the blundering launch of HealthCare.gov, to a wave of cancellation notices.

If past is prologue, don't bet against more delays and policy flubs by the administration. But barring any major mistakes, Republicans don't have a lot of openings left to force the health care law back into the headlines.

Lindsay Beyerstein:
It's easy to raise a moral panic about the Slender Man, a shadowy internet meme few people over 25 had ever heard of, at least until this week. Administrators and parents can ban the lanky specter – can put a face on the faceless figure – and reassure themselves that they are barring the door to the bogeyman. A fictional, tentacle-sprouting villain doesn't require us to examine any uncomfortable truths about society.

But when the purported basis for violence or hatred is something more deeply ingrained in our culture, the threat becomes more difficult to face head-on. When crime is linked to deep social problems like misogyny and racism, our temptation is very much to look anywhere else for answers – and that's dangerous in itself.

Andrew Sullivan:
Obama, after all, inherited two failed and catastrophic wars of occupation. He was elected in large part to end them. Since the wars had been failures, no “victory” was possible, despite the astonishing human and economic cost. My own fear back in 2007 and 2008 was that any attempted withdrawal from Iraq could lead to a humiliation that the right would then deploy brutally against the traitor Muslim in the White House. I feared we would become stuck in quicksand because the Palinite right could not accept failure and tar Obama as a surrender-monkey. I worried about the same dynamic in Afghanistan. A Vietnam-style departure, handing the country back to the forces of Islamist extremism, would also be catnip for the Palinites. Even though they knew the war could not be “won”, they could pivot to blame Obama for “surrender without honor.”

That the president has somehow managed to extricate the US from those two catastrophes without such a rightist revolt is, to my mind, the real story here. You can put that down to various factors:

the public’s own utter exhaustion with the war; the freshness of the disasters in people’s minds; and the canniness of Obama’s long game in Afghanistan – giving the military much of what it wanted in the “surge”, showing the impossibility of a permanent solution, and slowly, painstakingly, withdrawing over the longest time-table available to him – eight long years. This has been one of Obama’s least noticed achievements, and shrewdest political moves: ending two wars without being blamed for surrender.

Stephen Saideman:
The latest controversy in U.S. politics is over the trade of five Guantanamo detainees for one American soldier – Bowe Bergdahl. The strange thing about this is how ordinary it is: swapping prisoners is normal in war, even in unconventional wars. So, what is really going on here? Mostly, it is about blame-casting – criticizing the Barack Obama administration no matter what it does. The best illustration of this is John McCain, who is currently blasting President Obama for this trade after advocating it a few months ago. So, what is going on here?

First, there is the concern that the five released Taliban leaders will go back into the fight. Sure, that is a concern but thus far the reports indicate that 29 per cent of the people released from Guantanamo join the Taliban again and engage the U.S. and its allies in combat. Is that high or low? It is a mighty low number. How so? Well, in the U.S., roughly two-thirds of the people released from prison are picked up for crimes within three years. So, I do not want to say that there is much rehabilitation going on in Gitmo, but that we need to be clear that it is unrealistic to expect a recidivism rate of 0 per cent. If we understand that, then 29 per cent does not look so bad. Even if the numbers are off somewhat, we need to think seriously about what these five guys would mean to the war effort. Would they turn the tide of the war? Well, since the U.S. and its allies are leaving in 2016 – with most out by the end of this year – this particular pebble is not going to make big waves when compared to the other dynamics in the Afghan war.

Tommy Christopher:
[Susan] Rice’s response to [CNN's Jim] Acosta, along with Obama’s posture of standing by the release while reserving judgment on Bergdahl’s capture, is a strong signal that the administration has no plans to shrink from the political fight that conservatives are carrying to them. Once all the dust has settled, and the facts are known, the mainstream media will have a lot of explaining to do if they fail to meet the bar their speculation has set, while the administration will have been right all along: Bowe Bergdahl deserves “due process,” as CNN calls it.
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