The Bergdahl Dozen: Thirteen Reasons Why the Story Has Legs
It’s been a week, and the Bowe Bergdahl beat goes on. The story has been dominant in the news, even on shows that typically shy away from heavy news—as well as from news that reflects poorly on the Obama administration.
This morning, for example, on NBC’s “Today Show”—not exactly a hotbed of hard-news-focused right-wingers—White House correspondent Kristen Welker reported that the Obama administration is “facing increasing anger,” adding, “Members of Congress are furious” at the “shifting stories from the administration.” And she cited a new poll showing that just 29 percent of Americans approve of swapping Taliban fighters for Bergdahl.
And looking ahead, Welker predicted, “This week will undoubtedly be overshadowed by Bergdahl as well”; Defense Secretary Hagel testifies Wednesday on Capitol Hill.
Indeed, the Bergdahl story is going to reverberate for a long time, for lots of reasons. I can count a total of 13 reasons. In popular usage, a “baker’s dozen” refers to 13 of something. So let’s call the whole thing Bergdahl’s Dozen.
First, the White House has hoisted itself on its own photo op. Pictures are worth a lot of words—especially when they come from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. The enduring image of the President, arm in arm with Bowe Bergdahl’s parents in the Rose Garden, reminds us that Team Obama wanted this story to play big. They thought they had a feel-good patriotic pageant on their hands, and by all accounts, they were stunned when the story blew up in their faces.
And no, the Obamans have no plans for an equally nice ceremony for the men of Second Platoon, Blackfoot Company, First Battalion, 501st Regiment. Nor do they have plans that we know of to host any other unit, nor hold an event for America’s wounded from Afghanistan, nor for the families of the fallen.
Second, Susan Rice, certain to be remembered, at best, as the most verbally incompetent national security adviser in history, threw a gasoline-soaked log onto the media bonfire when she said that Bergdahl had served with “honor and distinction.” And then, when pressed on that claim, she claimed it again. So what on earth was going through her mind? On Fox News’ “Red Eye,” Greg Gutfeld put it well: To contemporary liberals, desertion is no crime, no big deal; it’s sort of like calling in sick. And so one reason that this story has resonated so loudly is that it clanged on the tin ear of contemporary liberals when it comes to patriotism.
As an aside, we are reminded: This is not the Democratic Party of FDR, which insisted on winning its wars—and presided over extreme political incorrectness in pursuit of victory. Roosevelt was also willing, we might note, to oversee the execution of deserters. The Democrats have come a long way, from the New Deal to the New Left.
Third, the Republicans are fueling the fire. And why shouldn't they? Some things deserve to be burned.
Fourth, a fair number of Democrats are upset. Sen. Dianne Feinstein has gone off the Reid Reservation on multiple occasions, and this headline in The New York Times sums up the party-wide mood: “Democrats Are Weary in Wake of Bergdahl Case.”
Fifth, there’s the media reaction that’s been surprisingly negative. Fox has been on this story, of course. And interestingly, Fox has been joined by a few other cable newsers, notably Jake Tapper, who wrote that Bergdahl’s former comrades “call him a deserter whose ‘selfish act’ ended up costing the lives of better men.” Also, let’s give credit to CNN’s Jeffrey Toobin and MSNBC’s Chris Matthews and Joe Scarborough. Perhaps in the end they will all side with the President, but in the meantime, their dissing of, and distancing from, this fiasco has fed the feeding frenzy.
Sixth, the veterans of Bergdahl’s platoon are keeping the story going. When six of them appeared with Fox’s Megyn Kelly and unanimously agreed that Bergdahl had deserted their unit, that’s compelling television. On Andrea Mitchell’s MSNBC show, Elisabeth Bumiller blithely described Bergdahl as a “free spirit” who grew up roaming the hills around his Idaho home, yadda, yadda, yadda, and yet Mitchell’s next guest was one of those soldiers who had served with Bergdahl; that soldier said he didn't recognize the person Bumiller was describing. Oops.
In addition, the active-duty military hierarchy seems quietly supportive of the veterans’ claims. On the June 8 Fox News Sunday, retired four-star Gen. Jack Keane said that his contacts in the Pentagon were “outraged.” Detailing the reaction of the brass to the White House ceremony, Keane added, “Senior military leaders looked at that and just shook their head and said, ‘Why are we doing something like that?’”
Seventh, some in the Main Stream Media, seeking to discredit those veterans, are inadvertently feeding the conflagration. Here, for example, is The New York Times going at it, in a story headlined, “Bergdahl Was in Unit Known for Its Troubles.” According to the Times, the unit was “raggedy”; it was a “misfit.” Yet such assertions beg the question: If the unit was so bad, how was it that everyone else managed to stay loyal while only Bergdahl took a hike? Indeed, such smears by the Times, as well as Salon.com and others, will only bring more veterans out of the woodwork.
We might also note that many journalists, unwilling to attack Bergdahl’s comrades directly, are nonetheless trying subtly to help the Obama administration. A common journo line is to suggest that any parent, in such a situation, would do what Bergdahl’s parents did; any parent would think that Bergdahl’s apparent desertion was a minor infraction. Yet if journos are going to play the “parent” card, we might ask them to put on the shoes of the parents who lost their sons trying to find Bergdahl, as well as the parents of those sons, and daughters, who are now at higher risk because five Talibs are now free. The mantra of these journalists is “Think of the parents.” Yes, we should think of the parents—all the parents.
Eighth, as former Bush 43 Attorney General Michael Mukasey argued in The Washington Post last week, the Bergdahl-for-the-Taliban Five is exactly the sort of legal precedent that ACLU-types are looking for, because it helps establish that they are POWs to be easily traded, thus bringing us that much closer to closing Guantanamo. National Review’s Andrew C. McCarthy calls it “the revenge of the lawyer left.” Of course, when one counts up all the left-wing lawyers in and around the Obama administration, it’s surprising that this swap didn’t happen earlier.
Ninth, there’s the Constitutional separation-of-powers issue and the even more basic issue of obeying the law—in this case, the law stipulating that Congress must be notified before the release of any Gitmo prisoner. George F. Will headlined in his column, “A President Goes Rogue.” Okay, Will is a conservative, but George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley is not, and he told Sean Hannity, “Barack Obama is really the president Richard Nixon always wanted to be. You know, he's been allowed to act unilaterally in a way that we've fought for decades.”
Tenth, what about all the other prisoners around the world? For instance, what about Sgt. Andrew Tahmooressi, USMC, imprisoned in Mexico? In the minds of the Obama administration, that case complicated, since they feel they must respect Mexico's sovereignty and, of course, cater to American Hispanics. And one might suppose that there are similar reasons for the administration’s inaction in regard to American prisoners in Afghanistan, Cuba, Iran, North Korea, and elsewhere. We can expect the families of those captives now raise their voices more loudly.
Eleventh, the clock on when Bergdahl will speak continues to tick. The administration is behaving as if the report from Fox News’ James Rosen—namely that Bergdahl converted to Islam and committed to jihad while a prisoner—is, in fact, true. If so, then we can see why, a week later, Bergdahl is still under wraps: The administration must figure out how to “de-program” him. The White House might be afraid that Bergdahl is going to say “Allah Akbar!” on TV, might be keeping him under wraps till he gets culturally detoxed—hooked, say, on the TV show “Big Bang Theory."
By contrast, the Taliban Five, all of whom were in captivity for a lot longer than Bergdahl, are perfectly willing and able to say whatever they want. Indeed, they are doing interviews already, at least indirectly.
Twelfth, we will all be watching the Hillary Clinton story: Every word she says, in print or in person, is going to be put under a microscope for as long as she remains in the public eye.
Thirteenth, the larger US policy toward Afghanistan is sure to come under more scrutiny. As globetrotting reporter Armin Rosen wrote in The Business Insider, “America’s War Effectively Ended This Week.”
So that’s thirteen reasons why the beat goes on—and will go on. As the 1967 song says, the drums have been pounding a rhythm into our brain. And it’s adding up. Indeed, it seems a safe bet that many years from now, they will still be talking about this case. It’s that big.