Don’t celebrate Bergdahl’s release

  • By Rich Lowry
  • Wednesday, June 4, 2014 6:36pm
  • Opinion

President Barack Obama marked the release of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl with a Rose Garden event with the captive soldier’s parents and triumphant assurances that “the United States of America does not ever leave our men and women in uniform behind.”

When wars aren’t won or lost, but are only “ended,” it is the prisoner swaps that are the victories to be celebrated. On “This Week With George Stephanopoulos,” National Security Adviser Susan Rice insisted that it was a “joyous day.” She spoke as if May 31 will forevermore be known as “Bowe Bergdahl Release Day.”

All indications are that Bergdahl, traded for five top-level Taliban prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay, recklessly endangered himself and his colleagues after walking off his base on June 30, 2009. Then the military appears to have done everything it could to suppress the story of what had happened that day, while expending great effort to get him back.

Continuing her run of saying dubious things about matters of public import on Sunday shows, Rice said over the weekend that Bowe Bergdahl “served the United States with honor and distinction.” The record suggests the opposite. Rice repeatedly said that he was captured “on the battlefield,” although there is no evidence of any battle during which he was captured. By the sound of it, she mistook Sgt. Bergdahl for Sgt. York.

Bergdahl became disillusioned with the war — and with the United States — during his deployment. He wrote of the Afghans in an email to his parents shortly before he went missing, “These people need help, yet what they get is the most conceited country in the world telling them that they are nothing and that they are stupid.” He went on to say that “I am ashamed to be an American.”

Afghan vet Nathan Bradley Bethea participated in the search for him. In a powerful piece for The Daily Beast, he writes that “Bergdahl was a deserter, and soldiers from his own unit died trying to track him down.”

Even if you think the trade of five leading Taliban figures who will almost certainly find their way back to the fight was worth it, the swap is still an ignominious end to what appears to be a sad episode that brought unnecessary torment for Bergdahl, pain for his loved ones and bloodshed for his comrades.

Let Bergdahl’s parents and friends rejoice and his hometown in Idaho welcome him with open arms. But let’s not pretend that his return is some national triumph.

President Obama and his team can’t help themselves, though. They are too desperate for anything they can call a victory, and too invested in the terms of the trade.

For the administration, the releases from Gitmo are less a downside of the deal than another virtue of it. It’s not just that the administration doesn’t want to leave any soldiers on the battlefield; it doesn’t want to leave any detainees at Guantanamo Bay.

“I will continue to push to close Gitmo,” President Obama said in his West Point speech last week, “because American values and legal traditions do not permit the indefinite detention of people beyond our borders.” Pressed on the Gitmo releases, Susan Rice said Sunday that “the existence of Guantanamo Bay is itself a detriment to our national security.” By this logic, trading terrorists for American captives, so long as those terrorists come from Gitmo, makes us safer.

The Taliban had long sought the release of its top commanders from Gitmo, and the administration perversely considers this another virtue of the swap. A senior American official told The New York Times that the deal shows “each side that the other can deliver.” As if the Taliban need to be assured of our good intentions, and as if the trustworthiness of the United States government is in any way comparable with that of a terrorist insurgency.

It was folly that got Bergdahl captured, and folly that got him back.

 

Rich Lowry can be reached via eamil: comments.lowry@nationalreview.com

More in Opinion

An array of stickers awaits voters on Election Day 2022. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire file photo)
Opinion: The case for keeping the parties from controlling our elections

Neither party is about to admit that the primary system they control serves the country poorly

Voters fill out their ballots at the Challenger Learning Center in Kenai, Alaska on Election Day, Nov. 8, 2022. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)
Voter tidbit: Important information about voting in the upcoming elections

Mark your calendar now for these upcoming election dates!

Larry Persily (Juneau Empire file photo)
Opinion: State’s ‘what if’ lawsuit doesn’t much add up

The state’s latest legal endeavor came July 2 in a dubious lawsuit — with a few errors and omissions for poor measure

The entrance to the Homer Electric Association office is seen here in Kenai, Alaska, on May 7, 2020. (Photo by Brian Mazurek/Peninsula Clarion file)
Opinion: Speak up on net metering program

The program allows members to install and use certain types of renewable generation to offset monthly electric usage and sell excess power to HEA

Gov. Mike Dunleavy signs bills for the state’s 2025 fiscal year budget during a private ceremony in Anchorage on Thursday, June 25, 2024. (Official photo from The Office of the Governor)
Alaska’s ‘say yes to everything’ governor is saying ‘no’ to a lot of things

For the governor’s purposes, “everything” can pretty much be defined as all industrial development

Alaska Permanent Fund Corp. board members, staff and advisors meet Oct. 30, 2023. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire file photo)
Opinion: The concerns of reasonable Alaskans isn’t ‘noise’

During a legislative hearing on Monday, CEO Deven Mitchell referred to controversy it’s created as “noise.”

(Juneau Empire file photo)
Opinion: Crime pays a lot better than newspapers

I used to think that publishing a quality paper, full of accurate, informative and entertaining news would produce enough revenue to pay the bills

Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire file photo
Lt. Gov. Nancy Dahlstrom addresses the crowd during an inaugural celebration for her and Gov. Mike Dunleavy at Elizabeth Peratrovich Hall on Jan. 20, 2023.
Opinion: The many truths Dahlstrom will deny

Real conservatives wouldn’t be trashing the rule of law

Gov. Mike Dunleavy discusses his veto of a wide-ranging education bill during a press conference March 16 at the Alaska State Capitol. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire file photo)
Governor, please pay more attention to Alaskans

Our governor has been a busy guy on big issues.

Priya Helweg is the acting regional director and executive officer for the Region 10 Office of Intergovernmental and External Affairs, Office of the Secretary, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (Photo courtesy U.S. Department of Health and Human Services)
Happy Pride Month

This month is dedicated to acknowledging and uplifting the voices and experiences of the LGBTQI+ community

A roll of “I voted” stickers sit at the Alaska Division of Elections office in Juneau in 2022. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire File)
Strengthening democracy: Native vote partners to boost voter registration

GOTNV and VPC are partnering to send over 4,000 voter registration applications this month to addresses and P.O. boxes all over Alaska

Hiroko Masuike/The New York Times
Former President Donald Trump arrives at Trump Tower after he was found guilty of all counts in his criminal trial in New York on May 30.
Opinion: Trump’s new fixers

Fixers from Alaska and elsewhere step in after guilty verdict