WASHINGTON – It is now official that Sgt. Bowe Bergdhal, held prisoner by the Taliban for many years, has been charged with desertion. Here are the basic facts. One day Bergdahl abandoned his post in Afghanistan, after having expressed unhappiness with his role as a US soldier. He was almost immediately captured by the Taliban. After a few years in captivity, he was eventually released by the Taliban in exchange for 5 Guantanamo prisoners.
A truly bad story
Everything in this story looks horrible; and everybody closely associated with it looks either bad or pathetic, starting with President Obama.
Let’s stress some basic facts. Right after Bergdahl’s abandonment of his post, an internal Pentagon report found “incontrovertible” evidence that he was a deserter. Most of the other soldiers serving with him thought the same.
Get all our boys back
And yet the Obama administration engaged in long and complex negotiations to get this man suspected of desertion back. Eventually a deal was reached whereby we would get Bergdahl in exchange for the 5 people detained at Guantamo.
After the fact, President Obama defended it by saying that it is American policy to get all our people back, whoever they may be –heroes or deserters. The wisdom of this deal is questionable. But let’s agree that we accept this principle: “We Americans do not leave anyone behind”.
A PR opportunity?
However, given what the military thought about Bergdahl’s likely desertion, why on earth did President Obama arrange a White House event in which he announced Berghdal’s release with Berghdal’s parents on his side?
Obama gave the impression that, after much suffering, a US hero was coming home, when he must have known that this was not the case. Why make this release look like a great success, when everybody knew or should have known that Bergdahl was no hero? This looked bad then and positively stupid now, after the official desertion indictment.
“Honor and distinction”
But, wait, it gets worse. Yes, National Security Advisor Susan Rice, after Bergdahl’s release, declared on national TV that the likely deserter (he had not been charged with anything at the time; but a Pentagon report expressing this opinion existed) had served America with “honor and distinction”. Talk about unforced errors. To go on record saying this on national TV was silly. Even worse, she later on defended her assertion by saying that anybody who volunteers to serve in the US armed forces must have good qualities, or something like that.
Today all this looks pathetic.
The long investigation
And no, we are not finished. After Bergdahl’s release, it took the Pentagon months and months to come up with this desertion indictment. And why so long, since the relevant evidence had been collected years ago? Well, because there was a desperate attempt to create as much distance as possible from the exchange deal involving the Gitmo prisoners and Bergdahl and the desertion charges.
Somehow, it is assumed that we are so stupid that after a few months we must have forgotten that Bergdahl (probable deserter) was part of the exchange.
Well, what do we make of this? I am not sure. But it looks as if the Obama national security team played the junior partner role in a poorly crafted PR campaign run by third class amateurs. This was supposed to be a triumph of good diplomacy and compassion. Whereas they exchanged dangerous prisoners for a deserter.
They made the President look foolish by portraying a likely deserter as an honorable soldier caught by the bad guys in the battle field, when it was known by all that Bergdahl had abandoned his post.
Susan Rice, the President’s National Security Advisor, (a job previously held by the likes of Henry Kissinger, Zbignew Brzezinski, Brent Scowcroft, Frank Carlucci, and Colin Powell), played the part of loyal staff who would say just about anything in order to please her boss.
What can I say. Let’s hope that the next White House crew will do better than this lot.