Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Taliban prisoner swap raises questions about soldier, Obama

6/4/2014

The curious prisoner swap of one U.S. soldier for five high-level Taliban commanders this weekend has all the hallmarks of a public relations stunt gone awry.

In a showy ceremony Saturday in the White House’s Rose Garden, President Obama announced the release of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, a U.S. Army service member captured June 30, 2009, in Paktika, Afghanistan. The event was all smiles, tears and self-congratulatory pats on the back — until people started asking questions.

The curious prisoner swap of one U.S. soldier for five high-level Taliban commanders this weekend has all the hallmarks of a public relations stunt gone awry.

In a showy ceremony Saturday in the White House’s Rose Garden, President Obama announced the release of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, a U.S. Army service member captured June 30, 2009, in Paktika, Afghanistan. The event was all smiles, tears and self-congratulatory pats on the back — until people started asking questions.

Bergdahl, it seems, wasn’t the model soldier initially portrayed by the White House. Though President Obama’s national security adviser, Susan Rice, went on Sunday morning talk shows and said Bergdahl served the U.S. “with honor and distinction,” nearly all other accounts of the soldier describe him as a deserter — a man who wasn’t “captured on the battlefield” as Rice and Obama claim, but who walked away from his post, some say in search of joining the Taliban.

Critics of Bergdahl — who say at least six U.S. service members were killed while searching for him in the weeks and months after his disappearance — point to first-hand accounts from fellow soldiers, as well as emails Bergdahl sent to his parents in the days leading up to his “capture” as further evidence he betrayed his country, and thus didn’t deserve the precedent-setting swap for Taliban prisoners.

“ ... Life is way too short to care for the damnation of others, as well as to spend it helping fools with their ideas that are wrong,” Bergdahl wrote about the U.S. military in an email home. “I have seen their ideas and I am ashamed to even be American. The horror of the self-righteous arrogance that they thrive in. It is all revolting.”

None of this is particularly new information.

Bergdahl’s captivity, the accusations against him, and his controversial emails home have been publicly discussed in the media for years. The White House had to know. So why trade five dangerous, top-level Taliban leaders for him? And why now?

Perhaps the president misjudged public opinion — thinking everyday Americans’ views on the war in Afghanistan mirrored Bergdahl’s sentiments. Sure, an increasingly high number of people want the U.S. out of war zones in the Middle East, but reaction the past few days has shown Bergdahl’s views to be the fringe. Disdain for war is different than disdain for the military.

Americans are not celebrating Bergdahl as the hero Obama seems to have seen.

Still, the White House and Pentagon were reluctant to label Bergdahl a deserter, and held back on immediately acknowledging his actions led to the deaths of fellow soldiers. Obama and his supporters said this week that America’s “sacred obligation” to never leaving a man behind trumped the details of Bergdahl’s actions, and they bristled at the notion the U.S. had “negotiated with terrorists” to secure his return.

“Regardless of the circumstances, whatever those circumstances may turn out to be, we still get an American soldier back if he’s held in captivity,” Obama backpeddled Monday.

Hillary Clinton, the former U.S. secretary of state who was deeply involved with efforts to free Bergdahl since 2009, maintained this weekend’s prisoner exchange was “noble.”

Others, however, question the political timing of the swap. Before Bergdahl’s release, Obama was embroiled in a scandal over problems with the VA health care system, which involved dozens of veterans dying while waiting for treatment. Many see the “noble” move to bring Bergdahl home — at any cost — as a deflection of Obama ignoring substantial deficiencies at the VA.

And then, of course, there’s that cost.

How many soldiers died to capture the five Taliban leaders released in exchange for Bergdahl? How many more will die once they re-enter the battlefield in Afghanistan? Will the Taliban and other groups simply capture more U.S. soldiers to secure the freedom of other terror leaders?

Was Bergdahl worth it?

And what about the rift the ordeal has caused between the executive and legislative branches? Constitutional scholars and many legislators agreed this week that Obama broke the law by pushing through the prisoner swap without following proper protocol of engaging with Congress on the issue. (Even Democrat leaders seemed peeved.)

Obama said Bergdahl couldn’t wait any longer. He had to act. But after five years in captivity — all five during Obama’s presidency — was it really Bergdahl who couldn’t wait?

Remember, in addition to skirting the VA scandal, Obama is on a strict timeline. During his Sept. 6, 2012, acceptance speech after earning the Democratic nomination for president, the commander-in-chief boasted, “We’ve blunted the Taliban’s momentum in Afghanistan and in 2014, our longest war will be over.”

He then declared terrorists to be “on the path to defeat” and bragged about Osama bin Laden’s death. Less than a week later, a terror attack in Benghazi, Libya, killed a U.S. ambassador and the Obama administration scrambled for political cover ahead of the general election.

Is it any wonder the Bergdahl blunder is raising eyebrows and outrage across America?

Tommy Felts,

managing editor

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