As Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl makes his way back home to Hailey, Idaho, the rest of America is pondering his release from the Taliban with mixed reviews.
Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) took the President to task yesterday for failing to inform Congress of the prisoner swap negotiated to free Bergdahl. Regarding Bergdahl, Feinstein also said that she wants to "know more about whether this man was a deserter.”
It's good to see Feinstein in the fray. While every issue in America from guns to dog poop is generally politicized along party lines, it's nice to see someone speak out without regard to the party line.
Some rantings of certain pols have a less sincere tone to them, if not altogether hypocritical.
In February, John McCain told Anderson Cooper that he would support a prisoner exchange to secure Bergdahl's freedom. Just last week Senator Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) urged the administration to do "everything in its power" to get Bergdahl returned to the United States.
Now, of course she and McCain are whistling a different tune. Apparently, getting our soldier back was a matter of some urgency, that is until a black president actually accomplished it.
It was pretty much the same thing with the killing of Osama bin Laden. It was one of our primary military objectives, one that the Bush administration spent 6 years hotly pursuing. After it was announced, Dick Cheney rebuked President Obama for making a public show of bin Laden's death.
I know (I don't really know, know, but I'd be willing to bet big bucks on it) that Cheney was watching FOX News when Dubya stepped out of that fighter jet and announced-VERY PREMATURELY-"Mission Accomplished."
Speaking of poop, as it hits the fan it seems that everything we never knew about Bowe Bergdahl is now coming to light. Clearly, he is not the heroic, patriotic soldier that we wanted to believe back then, but he may not be the traitorous, deserter that some would have us believe now.
Who was this 23-year old PFC who wandered away from his base in one of the most dangerous parts of Afghanistan? The late Mark Hastings wrote an in-depth piece for Rolling Stone about Bergdahl and his family that you can read about here.
One thing we learn in Hastings' piece is that Bowe Bergdahl may not have been the sharpest tool in the shed. At best, he was a confused young man looking for adventure and an unambiguous directive. At worst, he was a bit off.
Let's face it, if the French Foreign Legion-often the last resort of the some of the world's most desperate outcasts-rejects your application, you may have issues.
Bowe Bergdahl was the product of religious parents, home-schooling their only child in the middle of Bonefuck, Idaho. It would be a stretch of the imagination to think that he had a very complex or broad view of the world.
Was Bergdahl an enemy sympathizer? It does seem that he felt a great deal of compassion for the Afghan people, especially the children. Whatever they may grow up to be, the children are innocent of the crimes of their parents, most of whom are villagers trying to eek out a living from a hostile land.
These are people who have never known peace in their lifetime.
As a man, it's understandable that Bergdahl felt for the Afghan people, caught up in invasions, struggles for control of their country and the brutality of the drug lords.
As a soldier, however Bergdahl's loyalty, responsibility and duty are to his brothers-in-arms. Whether or not he hates America is his business. There was plenty of that going around in the rice paddies of Vietnam.
In combat, political philosophy is irrelevant. The only thing that matters is your commitment to keep your fellow soldiers alive. That commitment seems to have been missing from Bergdahl from the beginning of his enlistment.
Bob Bergdahl (Bowe's dad) appears to be the real sympathizer in the family. After Bowe's capture, his dad immersed himself in the customs and the language of the Taliban, to the point where he actually looks like one of them. It's like he came down with a severe case of Stockholm Syndrome by proxy.
I wonder if they offered to trade the dad for the son.
Bergdahl's recovery has become a battle of cliches: "We don't negotiate with terrorists" vs "We don't leave soldiers behind". To both sides, I would have to say, "You're right. But....."
It's been a long-standing and essentially correct policy of the United States and most Western nations to refuse to negotiate with terrorists. Officially, the Taliban is on the international terrorist list-and here comes another "but":
The United States helped create the Taliban by arming the mujahedin and using them as a proxy army against the Russians. After the Russians left, that void was filled as the Taliban grew in size and influence. The Taliban ruled Afghanistan from 1996 until we invaded in 2001.
Some groups within the Taliban, like the Haqqani's who captured Bergdahl have close ties to Al Qaeda. The problem, though is that these are the folks we're fighting. There's no one else with whom to negotiate. We can call them insurgents or terrorists, but they believe, as do many Afghans that they have a legitimate claim to rule or co-rule their country.
Further complicating the issue are the Gitmo detainees. Just the fact that we still call them "detainees" should give you an inkling into the problem of defining their status. Once we've withdrawn our troops from Afghanistan by year's end, we may lose our right to detain them.
After holding them for more than a decade without charging them with any crimes, it will be difficult to justify their continued imprisonment. For better or worse, we and the world hold ourselves to a higher standard than the Taliban.
Granted, the 5 released prisoners were high-ranking, important members of the Taliban. Most of their activities, however predate the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan. The common thread amongst the 5 is that they were part of the Taliban morph from mujahedin freedom fighters.
From 1994 to 2001 they were focused on returning Afghanistan to sharia law and regaining control of their country after Russia's withdrawal. To them, the American invasion was another unwarranted intrusion into their country and they just wanted us out.
After December of this year, we may have only the Taliban with whom to negotiate on matters relating to Pakistan. They will definitely be a factor.
We seem to be having trouble putting into perspective the fact that we traded 5 high-ranking Taliban for just one sergeant, of dubious background, at that. The Taliban is claiming a major victory.
What does the trade really say, though? I would suggest that we're looking at it all wrong.
What we've said to the Taliban, to the world and to our own soldiers is that even a lowly, disliked enlisted man is important to us. A low-ranking, inexperienced foot soldier is worth 5 of their highest ranking, most sought after detainees.
Israel has a fair amount of experience dealing with jihadists, terrorists, Muslim extremists or whatever you want to call them. They've negotiated prisoner exchanges and would seem to know the relative value of their soldiers and their enemies' soldiers. They once traded 1,000 Arab prisoners for just one Israeli soldier.
In the final analysis, we must be willing to exhaust all efforts to keep faith with our fighting men and women. They, and the world need to know that each and every one of them is important to the well-being of our nation.
President Obama said back in 2011 that he thought having to inform Congress 30 days before a prisoner exchange was unconstitutional and an unlawful abridgement of the president's Article II powers. We may soon see how a 5-4 vote will come down on that subject.
It's a complicated issue, one that requires a bit of thought and not just talking points. Almost makes me long for the good old days of Benghazi.
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