It’s not really a local story, it’s a really tough topic, and so many media folks have waded in that, until now, I’ve avoided covering the Bergdahl story like the plague.
It may also have something to do with that whole angels and fools thing.
But after reading dozens of pieces – most doing their damndest to come to a good or bad conclusion – I remain convinced they’re mostly missing the point. So please forgive me for straying and, by entering the fray, assuming that my perspective matters.
1. We didn’t negotiate with terrorists.
Al-Qaeda is a terrorist organization consisting of independent cells tangentially governed by a loose and fluid leadership. They blend in with and target civilians, they don’t take territory, and their ultimate goal is the destruction of the United States.
The Taliban is a guerilla army consisting of various factions who generally answer to a central structure with a single strong leader. They have bases, they often wear uniforms, they take territory, they tend to attack soldiers, and they’re fighting to free their country of “foreign invaders” and impose Sharia Law.
The U.S. fought a guerilla war in Vietnam, we fought a guerilla opponent in Iraq, and we supported guerilla armies in Nicaragua and Afghanistan. In fact, we’re largely responsible for arming and training the Taliban back when they were called the Mujahideen and fighting against the Russians.
Don’t get me wrong, guerillas will use terrorist tactics as Hamas has proven with Israel, but even that fight ultimately boiled down to the battlefield.
2. We negotiate with guerilla armies all the time.
We negotiated our exit from Vietnam, we paid Iraqi guerilla factions not to attack us, and these wartime prisoner swaps are nothing new. The Israeli’s, whom we hold in very high esteem, consistently negotiated exchanges with the PLO and Hamas, in one case, trading 1,027 political prisoners for just one soldier.
Please don’t forget that President Ronald Reagan traded 2,512 TOW anti-tank missiles, 18 Hawk anti-aircraft missiles, and a slew of spare parts to Hezbollah and their Iranian sponsors for four civilian hostages.
So yes! The answer to the question is, we do negotiate with guerilla leaders and our mortal enemies.
3. Setting the bad guys free will come back to haunt us.
It might! But their presence at Guantanamo Bay was equally as bad. Every Al-Qaeda cell and Taliban faction uses the prison without due process as a means of whipping up anti-American sentiment and recruiting more bad guys.
Even President George W. Bush understood this cyclical no-win situation and released more than 500 detainees, many of whom returned home to resume the fight.
The worst that can be said about this exchange is that it was an uncomfortable wash.
4. We leave no one behind on the battlefield.
That is and has always been this country’s policy. And if you don’t like it, then change it. But blaming this, or any president, for following a policy with more than a century of precedent is pointless and self-destructive.
We’re so dedicated to this ideal that we’re still trying to account for every last soldier who fought in Vietnam.
5. Poor judgment does not absolve us from that responsibility.
The fact that Bergdahl was a deserter makes no difference whatsoever.
Given the stresses involved in deploying 20 something soldiers in a violent warzone for multiple tours, I’m surprised it doesn’t happen more often. It’s nothing new. The Vietnam war saw thousands of deserters and draft dodgers and we eventually welcomed them all back.
Not only that, but the suicide rate has doubled among U.S. troops since 2002. In 2012, more active duty soldiers (350) committed suicide than were killed on Afghanistani battlefields and it doesn’t get much better when they get back.
So until you’ve faced that kind of daily stress, I’d reserve judgment.
6. Men died trying to rescue Bergdahl.
Yes they did! And it bothers me more than you can imagine. But if there’s something that defines this human existence it’s our frequent willingness to sacrifice ourselves to save another human being regardless of the circumstances involved.
How many times have first responders put their lives on the line to rescue folks who adamantly refused to flee an immanent hurricane, flood, or wildfire? They don’t demand the details and ask “Did they screw up?”
They simply go out and do their job and sometimes it costs them their lives.
7. This was a terrible decision.
Yes it was. But sometimes, that’s exactly what we’re stuck with.
I don’t like sending children to fight for dubious causes on foreign soil. I don’t like that Bergdahl put himself in that position. I don’t like that he was held in a cage for most of that five years. I don’t like what Bergdahl’s parents have had to endure. I don’t like negotiating with people with the morals of fleas. I don’t like that young men died during the ongoing rescue effort. I don’t like how the President handled the exchange announcement. I don’t like that Gitmo is still open. I don’t like having to think about what future Bergdahl can expect.
I don’t like that there’s more than enough pain to go around.
And I really don’t like how some politicians are using this sad situation as yet another self-serving sledgehammer to further their own self-interest.