The release of Sgt Bowe Bergdahl after 5 years with the Taliban was supposed to be a happy story, tying a bow around the end of the war in Afghanistan, while at the same time regaining offense in the administration’s constant domestic public relations war. America could declare victory and go home, now that our last man was out. And we were getting rid of the terrorist detainees, even if that simply meant freeing them.
But holes appeared in that story line with the first announcement of the price to be paid for Sgt Bergdahl’s release: 5 of the highest-value Taliban detainees from the Guantanamo Bay Naval Station. Bergdahl was not being “released” by the Taliban, as the administration framed the transaction. He was being traded for 5 murderous thugs who almost certainly had taken American lives in the past, and would probably do so again.
The PR tradeoffs were obvious: to the Islamic street, they were giving up Bergdahl, whose only strategic value was tactical, as a hostage. They were gaining the release of 5 men at the “hostage” level, so that’s a win for their side. More importantly, the symbolic and strategic value of the 5 men they were getting back was enormous. These are 5 potential leaders of the worldwide jihad.
The American public, too, could not but see the release of these high-value detainees as capitulation and rewarding the taking of hostages. Whether the administration insists on calling Bergdahl a prisoner or a hostage, the act of keeping him as leverage is the same.
Mr Obama and his aides, so far removed from the general public in their DC cocoon, failed to understand that most Americans don’t share their instinctive hatred of Guantanamo Bay. Closing down Gitmo is a nice goal, but it’s not an end that justifies too many other means.
By giving the enemy such a high ransom for Bergdahl’s return, the clear message to the Taliban and any other enemy of the United States — or any other potential ally — is that the opportunity for great reward exists if you only hold out long enough.
When the soldiers from Bergdahl’s unit began to come forward with their stories about Bergdahl’s separation from the unit, another key subtext of the narrative was shattered. Bergdahl himself could be seen as less than innocent, as having had a hand in his own capture.
It still isn’t clear what his final relationship with the Taliban was after 5 years, and it’s possible we may never know. He may have suffered 5 years of constant abuse, he may have developed a giant-sized Stockholm syndrome, or anything in between.
For the White House, the only thing to do was to go on offense and attack the men who served alongside Bergdahl. Administration aides accused the soldiers of “swiftboating” Bergdahl, referring to John Kerry’s fellow Vietnam Swift Boat compatriots who questioned his military service record during his 2004 presidential race.
Swift-boating is a tribal code word on the left, who believe the Swift Boat Veterans were lying for partisan gain. To most people, though, it means something different: to reveal after decades how a person behaved.
One reason why the Bergdahl thing is so overheated: Many Americans–including military “supporters”–have a cartoonish view of the military.
— Brandon Friedman (@BFriedmanDC) June 4, 2014
He was talking about you, American Military News readers.
White House aides have suggested that all criticism of the Bergdahl deal is lightly-masked hatred of the President.
That is, of course, ridiculous, but it satisfies the excuse-making energy of his followers enough to allow them to chalk up the Bergdahl bipartisan firestorm to anti-Obama fever. That this fever has been strong among the troops and Senate Democrats doesn’t seem to faze them.
Finally, just before the administration was about to use its ultimate fallback and accuse those questioning the operation with racism, we get a report from the UK Mail (H/T TheRightScoop) agreeing with American blogger Sean Davis. Davis said at the start that the purpose of the trade that freed Bergdahl was actually to free the Gitmo detainees; Bergdahl was just a side effect. The Mail Online even reports sources saying Mr. Obama turned down chances to free Bergdahl without a hostage swap at all.
Mr. Obama turned down chances to free Bergdahl without a hostage swap at all.
That last charge, if accurate, looks like giving literal aid and comfort to America’s enemies. It’s an action unworthy of the Commander-in-Chief, unworthy of the Presidency, and unworthy of the title American.
Follow @LHeal on Twitter.