The Bergdahl Dilemma

There is nothing easy or sane as it pertains to war. Our nation has been in conflict from its birth, with very few “times of peace.”

We are now winding down the last of two wars, which we have been engaged in for more than 10 years. We are a nation eager for peace, weary of war, and hopefully cautious of what might be our next conflict. However, the move from a nation at war to a nation in peace comes at a cost. One such cost is the case of U.S. Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl.

Bergdahl was not only the last American POW held in captivity in Afghanistan, he was the only American POW. That distinction should not escape us. The events that led to his capture and his release are controversial and have divided the country deeply. What should have been a joyous celebration has been turned into heated discussion as to whether the exchange of five high-level Taliban commanders for Bergdahl should have been made. Recently, I was asked what I would do if I were in a position to approve this exchange. Before I answer that question, I want to explain the situation we find ourselves in.

Initial evidence indicates that Bergdahl freely walked away from his unit five and a half years ago. Bergdahl may not only have deserted his post, but he abandoned his fellow soldiers, his brothers. To those of you who have never served in the military, it is hard for people to understand the bond one soldier has for another. The almost absolute trust soldiers in crisis share with each other is a union forged in conflict and bound by faith that your fellow solider will have your back in time of need. When that trust is violated it is not only hurtful, it shakes the very morale of the unit. Bergdahl did not call in sick or come to work late; he walked away from his military family. Bergdahl violated the most sacred rule that soldiers live by: putting your fellow soldier above yourself.

This situation was further complicated by the manner in which President Obama secured the exchange for Bergdahl. Bypassing Congress was a terrible mistake, and sending mixed messages about the slight caused further aggravation. Neither Bergdahl’s health nor the need for secrecy seem to be standing up to close scrutiny. The frustration that members of Congress have with Obama on this matter has been expressed by members of both major political parties. The parade of discontent has been bipartisan.

Next, you have to question the Obama administration on how unprepared it was for the public reaction and how it completely botched the announcement of Bergdahl’s release. We have learned many in the White House believed the national reaction would be euphoric (as reported by NBC White House correspondent Chuck Todd). This disconnect from reality is frightening. The circumstance of Bergdahl’s desertion was well documented and the public reaction was predictable. The disdain that many of Bergdahl’s former comrades felt for Bergdahl was well known and justified. The wounds were deep, and any person with an ounce of common sense would have known most Americans were not going to support this exchange.

We know this very same deal was offered at least one other time and Obama’s war council at the time, which included Hillary Clinton and Leon Panetta, opposed to the exchange. In fact, Panetta recently reiterated his objections and stated he had serious questions about the circumstances of the release. To return five top Taliban fighters to the battlefront in exchange for a soldier who abandoned his post was going to raise more than eyebrows. To move around Congress and throw this at the American people like a bucket of cold water was mind-boggling and lacking in leadership, sadly a common theme with this administration.

Making matters worse was the public presentation of Bergdahl’s release. Knowing the negative baggage attached to Bergdahl, the release should have been less ceremonial and more reality-based. Obama should have released a simple statement explaining the release. Obama should have been blunt and said he was well aware that many would have numerous reservations about the release, many related to the actions by Bergdahl himself. Obama should have further stated that, though we should be pleased an American soldier was freed from enemy captivity, this in no way excuses Bergdahl’s actions, and that if further investigations reveal that Bergdahl acted in a less than honorable manner, it is Bergdahl who will have to live with the necessary punishment. People would still have complained and run to the nearest TV camera, but at least it would have been far more honest and realistic to the situation.

Additionally, Obama should have never sent Susan Rice to the Sunday news programs again, nor should Rice have used the words “served the United States with honor and distinction” to describe Bergdahl. These words were untrue, and considering the taint Rice had from the Benghazi scandal, one has to wonder if it was arrogance or just plain stupidity that sent Rice out to try to explain this exchange to the American people. Obama made matters worse by allowing this to happen.

I would not have sanctioned this deal, based on the same bipartisan objections that many have. Nor could I look in the eyes of Bergdahl’s parents and tell them why I would not sanction the exchange. And therein is the dilemma. I do not admit this easily, because I do not believe there is a lot of gray area in the decisions we are faced with on a daily basis. There is right and there is wrong; gray area is for those lacking principal or for the weak of intellect. But as a nation, do we leave one of our own behind because they were not perfect in the service to their brothers and their country? Or do we bring that American soldier home and deal with the pain of a no-win scenario? The decision is always easy when it is not our child, but we have to be better than that mindset.

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