Streetwise Professor

June 1, 2014

How Bad is the Bergdahl Deal? Let Me Count the Ways

Filed under: Military,Politics — The Professor @ 12:50 pm

Obama has exchanged five hard-core Taliban held in Gitmo for Bowe Bergdahl, a US soldier who went missing in 2009, and who was captured by the Taliban and subsequently held by the Haqqani Network. (The circumstances of his going  walkabout are important, as I discuss in more detail below.)

There are many, many things wrong with this. In fact, pretty much everything is wrong with this.

  • Negotiating exchanges with terrorists, especially at such an exchange rate, is a bad idea. It just incentivizes the capture and ransoming of US military personnel, and US citizens. I understand that presidents are under a lot of pressure to renege on pledges not to negotiate with hostage takers, but the frequent reneging perpetuates the bad equilibrium. Many have pointed out that previous administrations, including for instance Reagan’s, have engaged in such exchanges or negotiations for such exchanges. The simple fact is that because it has been done before doesn’t mean we should be doing it now: N wrongs don’t make a right. The appalling outcomes of the previous negotiations (and not just in the US-Israel too) should be proof of the futility and indeed perversity of such a course.
  • The fact that the five people exchanged are truly very, very bad guys only puts an exclamation point to the previous conclusion. The fact that the Qataris will allegedly hold these people so they cannot fight against the US means nothing: they will be living large, with their families, a long way from Gitmo. It is the precedent and the incentive for future hostage taking that is the problem.
  • This is apparently part of some grand Obama scheme to negotiate a settlement in Afghanistan with the Taliban. I cannot think of anything more delusional. Even negotiating with Iran looks sane by comparison. Ever heard of Taqiya, Obama? And pray tell how would any deal with the Taliban be enforced? Or is this just another grab for a fig leaf, a la the farcical deal to eliminate Assad’s chemical weapons?
  • Obama also broke the law which requires informing Congress 30 days prior to releasing Gitmo detainees. This is part of a pattern with him, and not a good pattern: the law should not be optional, to be followed or not at the president’s discretion, unless the law grants that discretion. Ironically, Obama’s signing statement attached to the bill said that he would not be constrained by the law if it undermined his authority as commander and chief. I say ironically, because Obama blasted Bush for making similar assertions in signing statements. Obama haughtily referred to his experience as a teacher of Constitutional law to support his claim that such statements are extra-Constitutional. That was then, this is now. What’s sauce for the Bush isn’t sauce for the Bamster, apparently.
  • The involvement of the Qataris is also disturbing. They are malign and completely untrustworthy. They are the main supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood and have been the source of much mischief.
  • Obama appeared in the Rose Garden with Bergdahl’s parents. This is incredibly disturbing because Bowe’s father Bob Bergdahl is a Taliban fellow traveler who routinely criticizes the United States and embraces the Taliban cause. Check out his Twitter timeline, of which this (deleted) tweet is representative. Bergdahl also grew a Talibanesque beard and learned Pashto. The most charitable interpretation to put on his actions is that he suffers from Stockholm Syndrome by Proxy. Regardless of the genesis of Bergdahl’s allegiances, those allegiances are there for all to see: it is extraordinarily troubling for a US president to appear publicly with a man who supports quite publicly the cause of those killing US military personnel and who wish to make Afghanistan safe for Al Qaeda again.
  • Bowe Bergdahl himself is a troubling figure. This 2012 Rolling Stone profile based on extensive interviews with those who knew him, and on emails he sent to his parents, makes him out to be a combination of Holden Caulfield and Walter Mitty. He joined the Army only after being turned down by the French Foreign Legion (!). He was a wannabe mercenary and survivalist. This Caulfield-esque rant suggests that he was a self-absorbed Jonah: “The US army is the biggest joke the world has to laugh at. It is the army of liars, backstabbers, fools, and bullies. The few good SGTs are getting out as soon as they can, and they are telling us privates to do the same.”
  • The most plausible explanation for Bergdahl’s capture is that he deserted because of his hatred of the Army and his sympathy for the Taliban: the Rolling Stone article strongly supports that conclusion, and provides zero support for any benign alternative. This raises an important question: will the US Army investigate his conduct? Will it inquire whether he provided aid and comfort to an enemy killing US troops? For instance, did Bergdahl provide information about US security procedures? Did he help translate US communications for Afghanis fighting the US?
  • It is imperative for the good order and discipline of the service that Bowe be investigated thoroughly, and if he is found to have deserted, and/or provided aid-and-comfort, that he be disciplined accordingly. But is it really likely that the Army will proceed with a thorough investigation, and bring charges against Bergdahl, after Obama personally negotiated his release? I would be shocked if the Army does in fact undertake an investigation that would call into question Obama’s actions. If the Army does not, this will be yet another example of Obama’s corrosive effect on US institutions.
  • Speaking of translation, and investigations, Bowe Bergdahl’s father claims that Bowe has difficulty understanding English after his captivity. I am deeply dubious. This sounds for all the world like a ploy to impede interrogation.

I don’t like to see US service personnel in the hands of the likes of the Taliban or the Haqqani Network. But I also don’t like to see the president of the US making deals with terrorists (precisely because that increases the odds of US troops being held hostage), especially to free soldiers who most likely willingly defected to the enemy, and especially as part of a delusional scheme to negotiate with sworn enemies who will under no circumstances live up to any agreement we reach with them. I do not see the upside for the US here, but do see numerous downsides.

Obama is a national security and diplomatic disaster. What a mess he will be leaving for his successors to clean up.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email


  1. It’s just walkabout, no “on” needed.

    Many people are troubled by this but conclude that despite all the down-side, having him back is best. Much of what you are concerned about supports this view, now his “capture” can be investigated and appropriate action taken.

    That would be a good outcome.

    Comment by S Roche — June 1, 2014 @ 3:21 pm

  2. This whole thing stinks to high heaven.

    Comment by Howard Roark — June 1, 2014 @ 9:27 pm

  3. I’m going to predict that SGT Bergdahl is quietly med boarded out of the Army after some debrief and therapy.

    Comment by Blackshoe — June 2, 2014 @ 12:30 pm

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a comment

Powered by WordPress