Sunday, June 8, 2014

Some Thoughts on the Curious Case of SGT Bowe Bergdahl

Coincident as it has been with the 70th Anniversary of the landing at Normandy, the case of SGT Bowe Bergdahl's prisoner exchange presents the chattering class (charter member here) with a golden opportunity to dispense asininity and sloppy logic with impunity.  Never one to miss such a golden opportunity, I wade now into this cesspool to give CW readers the benefit of my asininity and sloppy logic.  Let's start with two very straightforward propositions that I hope you will accept without debate--because they are not debatable.

1.  The Administration was absolutely correct in attempting to secure SGT Bergdahl's release.  This is the basic unit of issue of trust that military members and their families have come to expect.  That the Administration continued throughout Bergdah's absence to try to secure his release is good, honorable, and right.

2.  SGT Bergdahl is guilty of nothing.  That's correct.  He has not been accused of or charged anything, and in our system, he remains an innocent man.  This--by the way--is one of the very things that we who have served are signing up to protect.  We give an oath to the Constitution, and this presumption of innocence is a by-product of the rights extended ALL Americans under this document.

Now, let's get to the debatable part.

1.  This canard that "we don't leave anyone behind" has become conflated with a sense that "...we should do everything necessary to get our prisoners back."  This is absolute bunk.  To prove it, let's do a little thought experiment.  Let's say that Corporal Joe Boffamatta receives the Medal of Honor for heroism, and then rejoins his unit in Afghanistan.  In the course of a firefight with the Taliban in which he personally kills 14 and saves the lives of 11 of his own men, he is captured, and is seen being beaten and led off tied up by his captors.  Here we have a case of a man who is BEYOND THE SHADOW OF A DOUBT brave, and loyal and worth getting home.  In negotiations with the Taliban over his release, the Mullahs say, "yes, you can have him back, but we would like the City of Secaucus, NJ in exchange.  Would we take the deal?  Should we take the deal?  Of course not.  These are silly questions.  But I use them to illustrate the undeniable fact that the exchange of prisoners follows a logic of return on investment and deal-making.

2.  SGT Bergdahl's conduct and the circumstances of his disappearance are important and should be investigated to the fullest extent, now that he is no longer under Taliban confinement.  I believe that he committed treason, and that a trial will show this.  But returning to point #2, this has NOTHING to do with whether or not the government should try to secure his release.  We are presented here not with a question of whether or not we should negotiate to secure his release, but what terms such a release would be secured under.  Simply put, SGT Bergdahl's freedom was not worth the release of five senior Taliban operatives.  Put another way, making a deal was not wrong.  Making a bad deal was wrong.

3.  Let us for the sake of argument (and because it is true) assume that the folks we have locked up at Guantanamo are pretty bad actors, that the level of threat they represent is high.  It is safe to assume this in my view, because keeping the bad actors--the truly bad--would be about the only thing to justify the world-wide criticism we've received for keeping the prison camp open.  And so, that which we house there are prisoners we believe would be of great value to terrorist organizations.  The little fish have already been released.

4.  So while I applaud the Administration for continuing to secure Bergdahl's release, the deal they cut is unacceptable.  Just as the nearly perfect soldier in my example above is not worth the surrender of a U.S. city, the freedom of this soldier is not worth the surrender of five very bad actors.  Even if there were not a hint of misconduct on Bergdahl's part--there would be serious questions about the terms of this deal.  But there IS a hint of misconduct on Bergdahl's part--enough to impact the terms of a deal, but not the desire to achieve one.

5.  An interesting question would be "how many Guantanamo bad actors WOULD Bergdahl's freedom have been worth".  My answer would be one.  A one-for-one exchange would have been sufficient.

6.  Finally, the Administration has fumbled this beyond recognition.  The Rose Garden Ceremony with the parents of a soldier they KNEW would immediately come under suspicion, followed by ridiculously overblown rhetoric from Administration figures on Bergdahl's service are the actions of the Gang that Couldn't Shoot Straight.  Additionally, their hyperbole with respect to Bergdahl's disappearance and the quality of his service are first and foremost, the putting of lipstick on a pig, the pig of a bad deal.  Bad for the Army, bad for the United States.


LL said...

The Army knew that Bergdahl deserted - twice - in the face of the enemy. Whether he's guilty under the law may pivot on his state of mind. Was he insane/is he now insane to the extent that he is unable to participate in his own defense (See: Sgt. Shoeman in WAG THE DOG

The shameful conduct of the Obama Administration is in keeping with what we've come to expect.

TigerHawk said...

I fundamentally agree with your point -- there are countervailing values, including signalling our own that we will try hard to get them back, on the one hand, and not hurting our security to do it, on the other. A tough call, and presidents get to make these calls. It *may* also be that with the information available to the president ex ante, you or I would have made the same decision if we had sat in his chair.

However. What could the White House possibly have been thinking with the Rose Garden deal? How could the president's staff allow him to screw up like this? My guess is, they were not thinking at all, and that they (somehow) did not know about the cloud of suspicion over Bergdahl. The question then becomes, how is such incompetence possible? Perhaps it is what we have come to expect from this crew. But all joking aside, is there a chance that the military has come to dislike Obama so much that it sand-bagged him by not warning the White House whelps that they were about to step on a mine?

Mudge said...

I don't know, there is a certain appeal to turning our cities (and their leftist voters) over to the Taliban for a couple election cycles. Then, when they all start voting with half a freaking clue, maybe then we could send in the Marines to exterminate all the vermin and return to normal order in the United States of America.

Cass said...

What a lovely surprise! I enjoyed this immensely, and not just because I agree with pretty much everything you said.

Watching Obama being blindsided by the reax from the military has been somewhat amusing. He treats the military like it was an identity group mostly interested in what is perceived to benefit "them and theirs".

Hard to fathom the depth of cluelessness that expects a group of people who are willing to die to defend larger interests aren't as self-interested or blindly tribal as he expected them to be :p

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