I’m all for the return of SGT Bergdahl to US control. Leave no man behind. Period.
First, that’s the ethos- you keep the faith. Ever watch Blackhawk Down? For me, the single most moving part of the film comes toward the very end, when helicopters fly over Mogadishu with loudspeakers blaring to CWO Michael Durant, then held by the enemy, “We won’t leave you behind.”
Second, if the accusations of his fellow soldiers are indeed true, that Bergdahl deserted his post, the Army has an obligation to bring him to justice. Bergdahl is legally presumed innocent, and certainly must be afforded the opportunity to defend himself. But if he indeed did desert, we owe it to his fellow soldiers to hold him to account.
Not every soldier is capable of withstanding the physical and mental strains of service. For the most part, those who cannot stand the rigor are shunted to the rear, or separated from the service. And while the remaining soldiers may hold them in scorn, it is often a superficial scorn, with the germ of the thought in the back of their minds, “how close have I come to that point?”
Life in the Infantry can be, and sadly all too often is, brutal and primitive. Your entire world revolves around the handful of men in your squad, your platoon. You live close to them than you will to any other person you ever will. You may love them, you may hate them. You don’t have to like them. But you do have to trust them. And the fact that quite a few soldiers from Bergdahl’s platoon have now come forward to tell of Bergdahl’s actions show the deep wounds that Bergdahl’s violation of that trust caused.
The fact is, the Obama White House is deeply, deeply disconnected from the military. This administration is so far from understanding the military that it actually expected “euphoria” at the return of Bergdahl. But the more we learn of the terms of the deal to return Bergdahl, the worse the deal looks. Clear back in 2012, virtually the same deal was proposed, and the military and the intelligence communities balked at the price. That’s not to say the goal of return was forsaken. Just that while the US should never abandon its troops, nor should it give in to every demand, allowing itself to be extorted for ransom, as it were. This time around, rather than achieving consensus with the military and intelligence communities as to whether or not to trade for Bergdahl, the insider’s cabal of the White House simply told them to “shut up and salute.” The President is the Chief Executive, and the Commander in Chief. If that’s his order, then that’s well within the scope of his powers. But by doing so, he alone must face the political consequences of such a decision. This one is all on him. In spite of his best efforts, the buck stops with him.
And of course, Obama simply cannot have Bergdahl returned. No, he has to have a Rose Garden announcement with Bergdahl’s parents beside him. Whether or not Bergdahl deserted or not, there’s simply no denying that Bob Bergdahl is something of an odd duck. He certainly seems to sympathize with our enemies in Afghanistan. That is his right. But for the President to stand by him and portray this as a moment of triumph is deeply, deeply odd. Politically, it is incredibly tone deaf. A White House that has been badly battered by a series of scandals for the last couple of weeks should have at least had a political staff that knew enough to avoid given fodder such as this to its opponents. Alas, virtually any time the Obama crowd discusses the military, they reveal that they know nothing of the ethos and culture, and find themselves wondering why it is that they get no admiration from the ranks. To crib from retired Lieutenant Colonel Ralph Peters, writing at NRO:
I have never witnessed such outrage from our troops.
Exhibit A: Ms. Rice. In one of the most tone-deaf statements in White House history (we’re making a lot of history here), the national-security advisor, on a Sunday talk show, described Bergdahl as having served “with honor and distinction.” Those serving in uniform and those of us who served previously were already stirred up, but that jaw-dropper drove us into jihad mode.
But pity Ms. Rice. Like the president she serves, she’s a victim of her class. Nobody in the inner circle of Team Obama has served in uniform. It shows. That bit about serving with “honor and distinction” is the sort of perfunctory catch-phrase politicians briefly don as electoral armor. (“At this point in your speech, ma’am, devote one sentence to how much you honor the troops.”)
The president, too, appears stunned. He has so little understanding of (or interest in) the values and traditions of our troops that he and his advisers really believed that those in uniform would erupt into public joy at the news of Bergdahl’s release — as D.C. frat kids did when Osama bin Laden’s death was trumpeted.
Both President Obama and Ms. Rice seem to think that the crime of desertion in wartime is kind of like skipping class. They have no idea of how great a sin desertion in the face of the enemy is to those in our military. The only worse sin is to side actively with the enemy and kill your brothers in arms. This is not sleeping in on Monday morning and ducking Gender Studies 101.
As some wag on twitter noted, every time Obama tries to spike the football, it bounces up and strikes him in the groin.
It has been reported that after Bergdahl was in the hands of the enemy, by whatever means, the troops of his battalion were made to sign non-disclosure agreements. As I’ve noted before, I can think of legitimate reasons for this. But I can also see Big Army (as well as the White House) not wanting to be publicly embarrassed.
But the soldiers of his platoon, now that Bergdahl has been safely recovered, are now coming forward to express their frustration, and often outrage. They seek to let their fellow citizens know what happened.
The night Bergdahl disappeared, says Buetow, the platoon was at a small outpost, consisting of two bunkers and a perimeter of military trucks. Buetow was in one of the bunkers, and Bergdahl was supposed to be in a tent by one of the trucks.
Then a call came through on the radio.
“I’ll never forget that line, ‘Has anyone seen Bergdahl?'” says Buetow.
Firsthand accounts from soldiers in his platoon say Bergdahl disappeared while he was on guard duty.
Buetow says Bergdahl was about to go on guard duty, but when a fellow soldier went to wake him, he was not in his tent. He had left behind his weapons, his bullet-proof vest, and night vision gear.
“I immediately knew, I said, ‘He walked away. He walked away,'” said Buetow.
Bergdahl walked off the observation post with nothing more than a compass, a knife, water, a digital camera and a diary, according to firsthand accounts from soldiers in his platoon.
And predictably, the White House, which knows no other path than spin, obfuscate, deny, and smear, has already started to label the very people with first hand knowledge of the events as liars, disgruntled partisans, and “swift boaters.”
I suspect that this won’t play out well with the American public.