Streetwise Professor

June 3, 2014

The Bergdahl Leak Campaign Reveals a Deep Divide in the Administration

Filed under: History,Military,Politics — The Professor @ 1:54 pm

The Bergdahl story has escaped into the wild, despite the administration’s desperate attempts to keep it tamed and caged.

The military is leaking like a  sieve that’s been used for shotgun practice. The upshot: it was established very early on that Bergdahl deserted. Furthermore, this information makes it plain that he lied when he said he had been captured while on patrol. Other stories include one that the US knew where he was, and consciously decided not to use special forces to retake him because they were not about to sacrifice operators for a deserter. Further detail: there is an intel file on him a mile deep, and widespread suspicion that he provided material assistance to the Taliban. Including instructing them on bomb making and ambush techniques. And the latest leak is that his farewell note including a renunciation of his American citizenship.

All leaked, yes, so therefore unverifiable. Precisely why a full inquiry is warranted. But the leaking itself is informative: it is the bureaucracy’s way of waging war against administration policy that they detest but cannot oppose openly. The military has been ordered to shut up publicly, so it wages asymmetric warfare by leak.

But  the situation regarding further inquiry is very murky. Some leaks say that Bergdahl is “too fragile” to stand a thorough investigation. How convenient. But the WSJ just reported that a new investigation is underway.  Relatedly, Hagel and Rice said that grave concerns about Bergdahl’s health required the hurried negotiation. But US military doctors said that he was “in good shape.”

These conflicting stories about investigations suggest a battle within the military on how to proceed.

One thing is not murky: there was no way that the record available to the administration supported Susan Rice’s claim that Bergdahl served honorably and was captured on the field of battle. Just as there is no way that the record supported her statements about Benghazi. Proving that she is the go-to-gal when there’s bull to be slung: hell, even Carney apparently has his limits.

She is a good little courtier, who will say anything to defend her liege lord. And if you examine this whole affair, and other recent events, you will see that the best model for understanding DC generally, and the Obama administration in particular, is that of a European royal court. This, sadly, includes the military, where courtiers in epaulets obfuscate the truth in order to serve the king.

This started from day one, when the military required those in Bergdahl’s unit to sign an NDA stating they would not discuss him, his disappearance, or the efforts to retrieve him.

But far below the rarified atmosphere that the perfumed princes inhabit, the rank-and-file are seething. And the parents of some of those who died because of Bergdahl want answers, and claim that the military has deceived them.

There are also inklings that there has been a political battle within the administration over the prisoner swap for a long time. Hillary and Panetta supposedly refused to sign off on a deal. But they are gone: ciphers (Hagel most notably) are in their place, and are willing to comply. This is all part of Obama’s efforts to end wars, not win them. And there is a political component to this, and always has been. From 2012:

“It could be a huge win if Obama could bring him home,” says a senior administration official familiar with the negotiations. “Especially in an election year, if it’s handled properly.”

This is all why a clearing of the air is needed. The whole thing smells. But don’t expect the most transparent administration ever to do that.

The Bergdahl story is just the tip of an iceberg. Or perhaps more accurately: the top of a very putrid pile. Which is precisely why the administration is going to go to DefCon 1 in its attempt to control the damage. Meaning Susan Rice will probably be collecting overtime.

The Bergdahl story is deeply interconnected with Obama’s efforts to negotiate with the Taliban. This has apparently been divisive within the administration: just wait until it becomes a full-blown partisan battle. Bergdahl is important in his own right, but to the extent that it shows just how far Obama is willing to go, and how much he is willing to obfuscate, in order to bug out of Afghanistan, he has become a matter of national and international importance.

This is not going away. It is going to get bigger.

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8 Comments »

  1. The issue is going to be how this is to play out in the lamestream press: one interesting point is that here in NY the post lead with the evil of those that were released, while the headlines in the Daily news noted all the suspicions as to the sergeant’s behavior. (I don’t buy the News because doing is giving Zuckerman money). I think the self pandering of O is looking shaky: there is a strong possibility (not a probability) that the cat is getting out of the bag here re the O and his meme-ing. If so we are in for an interesting news cycle.

    Comment by Sotos — June 3, 2014 @ 2:55 pm

  2. Streetwise, if you ever come to New York City you can name your restaurant. Del Frisco’s is good-I’m buying.

    Love your blog, keep it coming.

    Comment by Tom H — June 3, 2014 @ 5:35 pm

  3. “This is all part of Obama’s efforts to end wars, not win them.”

    For Iraq, Obama stuck to the schedule that was the best Bush/Cheney could negotiate and which they had agreed with the Iraqi gvt before Inauguration Day 2009. So if anyone lost the Iraq war, it was GWB. Obama merely stopped the bleeding.

    For Afghanistan, the guy who lost the war was GWB, because he turned a successful punitive expedition into a hopeless politico-economic transformation effort. Obama is merely stopping the bleeding.

    Interesting that you focus your bile on the guy who is wrapping up the lost wars, not the guy who lost ’em. Shows you’re ruled by hate, not by facts.

    Comment by PailiP — June 3, 2014 @ 6:04 pm

  4. @PailiP:

    The surge into the ‘stan was 100% the policy of the Obama administration, and in doing so, it became their war to win or lose. As Vali Nasr noted in Dispensable Nation, though, all the administration particularly cared about was that whatever happened wouldn’t impact the 2012 election (and it didn’t, so Mission Accomplished there).

    To be honest, I think the Bush admin was smarter about Afghanistan than people give it credit for; I think they realized early on that what they had in 2002-a weak government that could effectively run Kabul and fiefdoms in other places who would be loyal for money, and a base for SOF units to launch raids to kill/capture AQ/TB bad dudes as they popped up (think “trimming the hedges” vice “draining the swamp”)-was, barring a multi-generational and quadrillion dollar effort that would have rivaled the Marshall Plan (and both of those two requirements were never going to happen), as good as it got in Afghanistan. There was no real fixing the place unless you were willing to fix the culture, which would involve waiting for everyone currently over the age of 12 to die (no kidding, a British general who worked at our command once gave a brief to us where he said that they were looking for positive results out of the culture improvement efforts in about 70 years). So with that in mind, they tossed it to NATO and went to look for a more positive result that could be found in Iraq (which at least has some hopeful starting points).

    I can say that even when I was deployed over there a year later, it was pretty common knowledge that Bergdahl deserted (supposedly he walked off the post to try and find a brothel, but that seems like the kind of rumor that floats around without being true. Primarily because it’s a fun rumor).

    As far as bringing Bergdahl home: we had to do it somehow. He was a liability being left over there, and we do have something of a duty to bring him home. It’s possible after we left he would Bobby Garwood himself home, but that’s not necessarily something we should plan on. I would not have been willing to trade 5 TB dudes for him; I might have been willing to do 2 or maybe 3. The Taliban understood the economics of the deal pretty well and drove a good deal for their side.

    With that said, there were lots of ways this could have been announced that would have generated a lot less controversy; have the SECDEF do it (even though he’s a political appointee, he could do it and not appear intrinsically partisan while doing so);\, have the CJCS do it, or even have COMISAF announce it, since it was in his purview. But by making the announcement from the Rose Garden…the President inserted himself into the process.

    Comment by Blackshoe — June 3, 2014 @ 9:59 pm

  5. So Afghanistan was unwinnable before Inauguration Day 2009, but it was Obama’s to win or lose, and folks here are upset with him or not ‘winning.’ Makes. No. Sense.

    ” I think they realized early on that what they had in 2002-a weak government that could effectively run Kabul and fiefdoms in other places who would be loyal for money, and a base for SOF units to launch raids to kill/capture AQ/TB bad dudes as they popped up (think “trimming the hedges” vice “draining the swamp”)-was, barring a multi-generational and quadrillion dollar effort that would have rivaled the Marshall Plan (and both of those two requirements were never going to happen), as good as it got in Afghanistan.”

    So the post-2002 political objective was to spend billions a month to stay essentially forever killing semiliterate Pashtuns without end.

    Yeah, Clausewitz woulda gone for that. Not.

    And people here are upset that Obama is stopping the purposeless fiscal bleeding. Makes. No. Sense.

    Comment by PailiP — June 4, 2014 @ 3:34 am

  6. “So Afghanistan was unwinnable before Inauguration Day 2009, but it was Obama’s to win or lose, and folks here are upset with him or not ‘winning.’ Makes. No. Sense.”
    Unwinnable unless someone was willing to make a big investment; big along the lines of what we put into the Philippines in 1898. GWB wasn’t; he was content with the situation described above. President Obama wasn’t willing to invest that much either, but he acted like he was and started the surge anyway, largely to make the ‘stan a non-issue in the 2012 election (again, see Vali Nasr). But when he initiated the surge, it became his war-read the West Point speech; lots of “I ordered” and “I have directed”. Likewise, Candidate Obama liked to say that Afghanistan was the “right war” and we were losing it by not focusing on it. So yes, it was his war to lose.

    “So the post-2002 political objective was to spend billions a month to stay essentially forever killing semiliterate Pashtuns without end.”
    It’s cheaper than letting them gain a base of operations to let their AQ buddies launch attacks on America from. How much did it cost to shut down the city of Boston for a day to find Dzhokhar Tsarnaev (and he was an idiot)? Now imagine 50 of them running around America. Likewise, “stopping the fiscal bleeding” doesn’t count if you’re going to just go for half-measures the exacerbate the problem, like we have been in Syria and Libya.

    Comment by Blackshoe — June 5, 2014 @ 8:31 pm

  7. Well said Blackshoe, well said.

    Comment by Andrew — June 5, 2014 @ 11:19 pm

  8. “It’s cheaper than letting them gain a base of operations to let their AQ buddies launch attacks on America from.”

    Um, there was very little that a bunch of Saudi Wahabis, and one Pakistani Wahabi, needed from Afghanistan that they couldn’t find elsewhere. They got funding from Saudi Islamic ‘chairities’, coulda planned it in any ungoverned space (like growing areas of Pakistan now), and trained for it in the good ‘ol U S of A.

    So now we gotta invade Pakistan now, huh?

    “Likewise, “stopping the fiscal bleeding” doesn’t count if you’re going to just go for half-measures the exacerbate the problem, like we have been in Syria and Libya.”

    Neither Syria nor Libya have cost the US treasury billions a month.

    Comment by PailiP — June 8, 2014 @ 7:07 am

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