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The worst aspect of the Bergdahl deal

In response to Victims of Taliban Atrocities Horrified By Bergdahl Prisoner Swap:

Everyone has their own favorite horror from the Bergdahl deal, whose weaknesses were, I presume, supposed to cancel each other out, but instead worked in a synergy of scandal to aggravate the widest possible swath of the American public, not to mention the non-Taliban Afghans about to welcome the five released terror masters back into the midst.  

I notice, for example, that the esteemed Charles Krauthammer pretty much blows off Obama’s legal violations (pointing out that it’s fairly small potatoes compared to what this lawless President has already gotten away with) and even the national-security risks of releasing the Taliban Five.  Krauthammer thinks it’s a “joke” to say that the Five will be monitored in any meaningful way, “and if they decide to leave Qatar tomorrow, who’s going to stop them?”  But he thinks it’s merely a “lamentable reality” that we had to let these monsters go, because prisoner exchanges are inevitable at the end of a war, and the higher value placed by the Western world on human life means our prisoner exchanges are always going to be a raw deal.

What really frosts Krauthammer is the murky situation surrounding Bergdahl’s likely desertion, and possible defection:

The distinction is important. If he’s a defector — joined the enemy to fight against his country — then he deserves no freeing. Indeed, he deserves killing, the way we kill other enemies in the field, the way we killed Anwar al-Awlaki, an American who had openly joined al-Qaeda. A U.S. passport does not entitle a traitor to any special protection. (Caveat: If a POW is turned, Stockholm-syndrome-like, after falling captive, these condemnatory considerations don’t apply.)

Assume, however — and we will find out soon enough — that Bergdahl was not a defector. Simply wanted out — a deserter who walked or wandered away from his duty and his comrades for reasons as yet unknown. Do you bargain for a deserter?

Two imperatives should guide the answer. Bergdahl remains a member of the U.S. military and therefore is (a) subject to military justice and (b) subject to the soldiers’ creed that we don’t leave anyone behind.

What to do? Free him, then try him. Make the swap and then, if the evidence is as strong as it now seems, court-martial him for desertion.

The swap itself remains, nonetheless, a very close call. I would fully respect a president who rejected the deal as simply too unbalanced. What is impossible to respect is a president who makes this heart-wrenching deal and then does a victory lap in the Rose Garden and has his senior officials declare it a cause for celebration. The ever dutiful, ever clueless Susan Rice hailed it as “an extraordinary day for America.”

Good God. This is no victory. This is a defeat, a concession to a miserable reality, a dirty deal, perhaps necessary as a matter of principle but to be carried out with regret, resignation, even revulsion.

I can’t say I see much chance of any court-martial proceeding ending in serious consequences for Bergdahl; the Obama White House would never allow it.  Imagine the political hit to His Majesty if the man he gave away the store to recover, in a deal his team defended by spinning and lying to a delirious degree during the subsequent week, a deal he violated the law to conclude without informing Congress, ended up being judged a deserter or defector… a judgment that arrived right about the time those released Taliban capos are masterminding a new round of terror attacks.  

I think Krauthammer is a bit too quick to dismiss both the horrid nature of the trade itself, and Obama’s violation of the law.  He’s quite right that the latter offense pales in both clarity and severity to previous instances of Obama lawbreaking, but it sets a dangerous precedent to give him a pass on relatively minor infractions because we’ve grown accustomed to major abuses of the law.  Also, you never know which straw will break the camel’s back, and if it takes the Bergdahl affair to get many Americans riled up about this President’s casual disregard for legal procedures, then so be it.  And if this particular law had been obeyed, our representatives would have been given a chance to weigh in on all the other disturbing aspects of the deal before it was signed on the dotted line… which, of course, is a big reason the White House decided to do things the wrong way.  

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