Barack Obama seems determined to empty the prison at Guantanamo Bay five Islamic heroes at a time, if only he can find enough American prisoners of war to make the swaps. If there aren’t enough, he might even use deserters. Flexibility is this president’s mantra.
It’s only prudent to withhold judgment of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl until he gets home to tell his side of the story. Until then, we have the verdict of soldiers who served with him. Some of them regard him as a deserter. Withholding judgment would have been good advice for Susan Rice, the president’s national security adviser, who insists that the sergeant “served the United States with honor and distinction,” that he “wasn’t simply a hostage, he was an American prisoner of war captured on the battlefield.”
She might be right, of course. President Obama may give him a medal. (We hope it isn’t the Medal of Honor.) The wrecking crew at the White House has its own definition of “honor” and “distinction,” and it differs from how some of the soldiers who served with Sgt. Bergdahl in Afghanistan define the ultimate qualities expected of a soldier. But we’ll see.
Mrs. Rice has a gift for getting things wrong; that’s why she has such prominence in the gang that can’t shoot straight. She couldn’t even identify the killers of the ambassador and three other Americans at the consulate in Benghazi as the true villains of the piece. But she shares the president’s impulse for the warped view of who America’s friends and enemies are.
The White House of course doesn’t want anyone to get the idea that the one-sided swap was about politics, of getting the cascading scandal at the Veterans Administration off the front pages and the evening news, of diverting attention from the president’s long naps that are interrupted only by his golf game, while the rest of the world pops and crackles with crisis and conflict, and of his taking refuge now in a warm and fuzzy story of a war hero’s reunion with his family.
“He’s going to be safely reunited with his family,” Mrs. Rice says. “He served the United States with honor and distinction, and we’ll have the opportunity to learn what has transpired the past years, but what’s important now is his health and well-being, that he have the opportunity to recover in peace and security and be reunited with his family, which is why this is such a joyous day.” And by the time the full story comes out, the White House can ask, “what difference, at this point, does it make?”
Only a churl would deny the sergeant’s parents a joyous day to celebrate the return of the prodigal son — if “prodigal” is the right word — they were not sure they would ever see again. The ecstatic joy on his mother’s face was a sight to warm a banker’s heart. But for the president and the rest of us to indulge sentiment is a foolish way to make government policy, and an indulgence that no president can afford.
A pardon, in effect, for the five hardened, toughened terrorists the president gave up for the sergeant not only sets an expensive and lethal precedent, but it turns loose men who have killed Americans before, and who will look for the earliest opportunity to kill Americans again. The reassurance that Mr. Obama took from the government of Qatar, that it would watch and listen to make sure that the five terrorists would never do wicked things again, might satisfy Mr. Obama, but it satisfies only someone who takes a mellow view of aggressive Islam and expects great things from Qatar.
Whatever story the sergeant has to tell, he comes with a considerable history. As a 20-year-old, he tried to enlist in the French Foreign Legion, but the French recruiters apparently took a closer look at him than the Army recruiters at home. He enlisted in the U.S. Army, and after he got to Afghanistan, he wrote to his parents that he was “ashamed to be an American.” He bitched about his barracks mates. The battalion commander was “a conceited fool,” and “the horror that is America is disgusting.”
The right to bitch is a soldier’s birthright, though a soldier holding the country he is expected to defend in such contempt begs to be watched closely. But the fool here may turn out to be the president. He has done what presidents before him said they could not and would not do, indulge a trade in hostages. This invites the kidnapping of Americans, to be held for ransom by enemies everywhere. The incompetence and miserable judgment in this White House knows no bounds.
Wesley Pruden is editor emeritus of The Washington Times.