Sunday, June 8, 2014

The Bergdahl Brouhaha

I've come to believe that the mere mention of our President's name causes some of us (figuratively, at least) to twitch and drool with a kind of lunatic wrath.  I no longer expect such folk to be sensible in assessing anything he does, and in some cases doubt their capacity to be sensible at all.  It's difficult therefore to find any reasonable assessment of the barter of Sergeant Bergdhal for five Taliban among our politicians, the pundits and the media; frenzied claims are generally met by more frenzied claims, from all participants in our political circus.  It may be too early to comment rationally in any case, as we learn more all the time and doubtless will continue to learn more of the circumstances.  But I will make an effort.

It is important to note, first, that this exchange is not something which can be said to have taken the President's political opponents by surprise.  At least according to the Washington Post, efforts to obtain his release have been urged for quite some time, even by Republicans.  It also seems to be the case that it has been known for some time that his release would likely be conditioned on release of the Taliban in question (even by Republicans).  Why then the sound and the fury?

Prisoners have been exchanged in times of war for centuries, by the U.S. and other nations.  The exchange of this one prisoner should not in itself be objectionable.  If it's maintained that this case is different because we deal here with terrorists instead of formally declared enemies, we've fought many wars without declaring them wars, and it seems almost silly to require that war be declared for this common practice to apply.  This is not even to mention the fact that our long military involvement in Afghanistan can only be considered a war, and not a kind of police action against terrorists.  Would those who object so loudly be doing so if a hero was released in these circumstances?

Much of what we hear regarding his conduct when captured and prior to that time is indeed quite strange.  It's possible, I suppose, that a good deal of the outrage results from the fact that there are those who served with Bergdahl who claim he was a deserter and that there were those who lost their lives in searching for him.  It's unclear to me whether this was known or not known by the high and mighty in our government.  If it was known, the condemnation of the arrangement by those who knew this beforehand yet felt his release should be obtained is contemptible, but I've come to expect that most of our politicians are contemptible, so this is no surprise.  The pertinent question would be whether this fact if it is a fact, or possible fact which may or may not be established, should have precluded efforts at his release.

Even if he deserted, if he did not then join the Taliban or participate in activities against the U. S., I think the view that soldiers should not be left behind is sound and admirable and should have been honored in this case.  He will be subjected to military law on his return.  If he deserted he should pay the penalty; it doesn't follow that he should be left in the hands of the enemy, however.  If it is not enough for those that object to his release that he be subject to investigation, trial and punishment on his return pursuant to American military law, then one has to ask why it isn't.  It's likely that any answer given will itself be of very questionable worth.

Whether the terms of his release are objectionable is another issue, however.  I think it would be unsurprising if the five Taliban continued to fight against the U.S. if given the chance.  The best that could be hoped for is to neutralize them for a time.  So it would seem what would have to be considered is whether the release of the Taliban is "worth" the release of the Sergeant given the likelihood they will cause harm to the U.S. and its citizens and soldiers some time in the future.

This isn't an easy judgment to make, and it's to be hoped that the factors were considered and steps taken appropriate under the circumstances (and there could be many factors to be considered).  Whether they were is hard to say, at this time at least.  It appears that Congress should have been notified and was not at least in the manner specified by the law.  I don't know that anyone is in a position to say whether the judgment was a good one or not at this time, but I think that on any reasonable view that, if anything, should be the focus of attention, not this soldier's character and actions before taken captive. 

Eventually, I think the high and mighty will get around to considering the propriety of the judgment from the standpoint of the terms of the release, not the release itself.  But now I think there is too much political hay to be made, and we must resign ourselves to the posturing on this issue which typifies our politics.  Soon enough, something else will trigger the outrage of our outrageous representatives in government.

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