Bowe Bergdahl is to be charged with desertion. This is not exactly a surprising development. As I said when he was released, Bergdahl is "a deserter at best and at worst enemy collaborator". I incline to the latter view myself, but, be that as it may, there are innumerable instances throughout human history of soldiers who abandon their comrades and attempt to aid the enemy.
What makes this case unique is the behavior of Bergdahl's commander-in-chief. As I wrote on June 3rd last year:
Nevertheless, Barack Obama decided to honor this man in the Rose Garden, and to embrace his parents. In front of the President and the world, Bergdahl's father sent greetings to his son in Arabic and Pashto, and began with the words, "In the name of Allah the most gracious and most merciful..."
This is, to put it at its mildest, odd and unsettling.
When others objected, the White House dispatched the National Security Advisor, Susan Rice, to tell the American people that Bergdahl "served the United States with honor and distinction". She surely knew, as did the President, that that was a lie.
Given the background checks an ordinary law-abiding citizen requires these days merely to be permitted to be in the presence of the President, the White House must also have known that the man Obama embraced in the Rose Garden that day - Bergdahl's father - was a Taliban sympathizer. Here's me on June 6th last year:
The fact is [Bowe Bergdahl] walked out and he left America behind ...and he did it, by the way, on the advice of his father. He wrote to his father saying, 'I hate America, it's a horror, I want to renounce my citizenship.' And his father emails back, 'Follow your conscience...'
I don't think this point has been emphasized enough. Yes, one can argue that it's appropriate to cut Bergdahl Jnr some slack - thankless war, out on the front line, the strain of it all beginning to tell... But what's the father's excuse? He gets communications from his son indicating he's about to crack. He knows that out there, beyond their vulnerable encampment, is a primitive tribal society where pretty much everyone would either ransom his boy or cut to the chase and saw his head off to make a blockbuster jihadist snuff video for the bazaars of Jalalabad. Surely any responsible parent would say, "Look, I know it can't be easy for you out there. But there are people who wish to do you harm beyond the fence. Stick with it, talk to your platoon leader... You're serving honorably in a worthy cause..." You don't encourage him to take a one-way ticket into the badlands of Afghanistan.
And just to underline that: the justification for Bergdahl Snr's wacky behavior - the Taliban beard, the invocations of Allah, the Arabic and Pushtu, the pledge that the death of every Afghan child will be avenged - the justification for all this is that, well, he's also been under a lot of strain. He hasn't seen his kid for half-a-decade. That could unhinge anyone. Give the guy a break...
But the point is he was pulling this strange stuff before his son was kidnapped.
Which makes that Rose Garden ceremony even more bizarre in its weird optics - the President of the United States embracing a Taliban sympathizer at the White House. There was no need to hold such an intimate photo-op. Yet Obama chose to do it. Why?
That's still the most important question of l'affaire Bergdahl. Obama didn't just trade five high-value Taliban leaders-cum-war criminals for one American deserter, but he chose to honor that deserter as an American hero. And, in so honoring him, dishonored all the comrades he deserted.
As for those five Taliban A-listers, as of June 1st they'll out of their nominal emirate-probation in Qatar and free to roam the world killing infidels once more. Me on June 9th last year:
That's the point to remember about this debacle: There is no deal. None. Washington gave away five war criminals who are already pledging to get back to killing - and the superpower got nothing in return. The deserter and his kooky dad are merely the cover for the fact that the United States entered into an end-of-war prisoner exchange without ending the war.
The annals of war are littered with chumps like Bergdahl. His case is only significant because of the patronage he enjoyed from the man charged with winning this war. A final quote from me - June 3rd last year:
Here's the history of America's longest war in two anti-American losers, John Walker Lindh and Bowe Bergdahl, confused young men with a gaping hole at the heart of where their sense of identity should be, stumbling through the Hindu Kush trying to "find themselves".
In the fall of 2001, the first confused anti-American loser trying to find himself, John Walker Lindh was on the enemy's side - and was tried, convicted and jailed for life [CORRECTION: 20 years].
By the spring of 2014, the last confused anti-American loser of the Afghan war, Bowe Bergdahl, was on our side - and was honored by the President with a family photo-op in the Rose Garden and declared by the laughably misnamed "National Security Advisor" to have "served the United States with honor and distinction".
To reprise my current line on "the leader of the free world":
If he were working for the other side, what exactly would he be doing differently?
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