Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Brief Thoughts on the Bergdahl Affair

I have returned from my activities elsewhere (a brief release from upcoming family wedding duties, the first of two) to jot down some thoughts on the Bergdahl story.

The Obama White House, as we can see more clearly now, was unprepared for the reaction from the public at large, and by 'at large' I mean Democrats as well.  This is, I believe, the most telling of the aspects of the story: how can they be so incredibly tone deaf as to believe that their portrayal of the swap would be received as a feather in their cap?  And Susan Rice – yet again – weighs in with astounding stupidity (a mixture of ignorance and lack of common sense) by stating that he served with "honor and distinction".  I've said before that the Obama administration is isolated and insulated, and this has to be a key example that they have bricked themselves up in their own ivory tower.

It is a glimpse into their mindset.  Bergdahl represents their idea of a combat vet – disillusioned, a victim more than a veteran, all suffering from PTSD, a continuation of the relentless portrayal of every veteran since Viet Nam. 

The administration's reaction to the swell of criticism, particularly from every one of his former comrades who has been able to speak on the subject, is to complain that they are "swift-boating" him.  State Department spokesperson Marie Harf sniffs that his comrades cannot speak with any authority on Bergdahl's slipping away from his encampment and seeking out the Taliban, yet she says this at a time when Bergdahl himself was still recovering and not subject to interrogation about why he disappeared.

I will not discuss the nature of the swap, involving the five Taliban prisoners from Guantánamo, for lack of time, other than to say it was a truly bad and misguided choice.  I do agree, however, that we should have sought to get Bergdahl back – but not under these circumstances – if for no other reason than to court-martial him.

His defenders want to cite his willingness to "help the Afghan people" and his disillusionment with the mission once he was in Afghanistan.  This disillusionment is instead to be compared to his remarkable lack of sense of duty; a young man's confrontation with reality is not uncommon under these circumstances, but one typically adapts, a part of training strongly emphasized by the military, and no one has willingly walked off his post and sought out the enemy.  Stories of his unit being undisciplined are crafted by those who have no understanding or experience in these things.

If Bergdahl had a primary compulsion to help the Afghan people, he would have sought out something other than being an infantryman in the US Army, much less attempting, based on an account in the New York Post, to join the French Foreign Legion of all things.  [We now have reports that he also had a short stint in the Coast Guard before being dropped, presumably for psychological reasons, from boot camp after a few weeks.]

We have some snippets of his time with the enemy, including an attempt (maybe two) at escape, and an image of his pleading for his return.  I suggest that a possible scenario is as follows: he abandons his unit (as has been testified by at least six of his fellow soldiers) and seeks out the Taliban (as testified by Afghans in the general vicinity).  Once in their hands, he realises over some period of time that he has made a grievous error.  Early cooperation turns to a desperate attitude.  His captors consider him as much a loon as his former compatriots – consider how he was taunted at the release site, clearly disoriented.  His only value to them is as a pawn for a trade for something much more valuable, like the five high-value prisoners that this administration foolishly provided.  John Kerry, in a befuddled reasoning to defend the exchange, warned that the five run the risk of "being killed" if they return to the fight – they are terrorists, John; don't you think that they already know that?

The affair reminds me of the case of Robert Garwood from the Viet Nam War.  A Marine PFC in motor transport, he disappeared from Da Nang in 1965 and, whether 'captured' or not, defected to the Viet Cong and was eventually commissioned as a lieutenant in the NVA.  Four Marine eyewitnesses testified that he was part of an VC unit which they engaged in 1968.  Garwood refused repatriation in 1973 until he voluntarily returned to the US in 1979 to face a court-martial, which resulted in a dishonorable discharge.  Some five years afterward, he claimed to have seen American POWs who had been unaccounted for, but all of his claims were eventually disproven.  ABC produced an appalling TV movie in 1992 that portrayed him in a heroic and misunderstood light, which (like the earlier 1974 TV film about World War II deserter Eddie Slovik) are examples of Hollywood being the propaganda arm of the anti-American Left.  I am reaching back into the dim recesses of memory but, like Bergdahl, Garwood was the hot subject of searches for some time after his disappearance, though in his case it was a matter of recapture, dead or alive.

A final note before I depart again – the five prisoners are members of the Taliban, yet Bergdahl was held by the Haqqani network.  That network has previously sought out an exchange based on a ransom, but what compulsion did they have for the deal with the Taliban?  The administration experts have often sought to draw distinctions between the various terrorist networks, splitting hairs in order to try to show that "core al Qaeda" is "on the run", but this is another example of the close alliance between groups that make such idiotic distinctions merely academic.

Update:  And right on cue, this item in the hostage negotiation category crops up.  It worked before; why not again?


  1. The legions of the naive never lack for recruits. If someone had done my bio at my drafted age of 23 they would have included the notion that I wanted to desert and join the IDF, which was true, and very stupid, because the IDF would have returned me immediately to the Army. Bowe reminds me of Bobby Garwood. But I don't suppose Bowe will be dishonorably discharged after Wormtongue made such a to-do about him. What a cretin we have for a president.


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