The president of the United States is the commander in chief over all branches of the military. It is a historic time, given that no military member goes public to speak negatively about the ultimate commander.
Now, with scandal in full bloom, after the administration’s smoke screen about what triggered the deadly attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi and after the president’s tepidly received speech at West Point announcing diplomacy will replace military responses henceforth, the time for silence is over.
Career military personnel are speaking out through gritted teeth, insisting they speak for active-duty personnel who cannot talk without being punished. They are speaking about injustice, ineptitude and impeachment.
The era of silence changed after President Obama’s super-secret prisoner swap — five “high-risk” Taliban prisoners from Guantanamo Bay in exchange for one U.S. solider held for nearly five years in Afghanistan. The fact that the soldier, Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, walked away from his unit, leaving a note saying he was “disillusioned with the Army,” did not support his commander in chief’s mission in Afghanistan and was “leaving to start a new life” left military types stunned that the president would stage a Rose Garden ceremony with Sgt. Bergdahl’s parents.
“I’m just surprised the president was dumb enough to stand next to them,” Maj. Mike Lyons told me. “It’s another example of [Mr. Obama] reading the tea leaves wrong.”
Maj. Lyons, a West Point graduate (class of 1983) is a highly skilled strategic operations specialist with a resume as long as your arm. He surmises the extraordinary secrecy surrounding the prisoner transfer boomeranged on the president.
“What do I think is part of the reason the president did it? He just didn’t get good advice about the swap and the aftermath. This is not a stellar soldier. He has lots of liabilities,” Maj. Lyons said. Not the least of Sgt. Bergdahl’s liabilities are unconfirmed reports that as many as six soldiers died in Afghanistan’s Paktika province during missions to rescue him from the Taliban.
None of the almost dozen military men I heard from was against bringing Sgt. Bergdahl home, except for one former Marine captain and CIA special-ops member, who told me, “If the evidence had been clear from the beginning that this soldier had deserted his unit … then ‘no soldier left behind’ does not apply, for he is no longer a soldier in the U.S. in our eyes.” It was the way in which the president negotiated Sgt. Bergdahl’s return that rankles.
Former Navy SEAL Steve Robinson, who works with the POW Network, says he is personally disgusted that the United States has now negotiated with terrorists, because it sends a signal to the enemy that if they capture an American soldier, the United States will eventually bargain with them.
He’s equally disgusted to learn that soldiers from Sgt. Bergdahl’s unit were made to sign nondisclosure agreements not to talk about the missing soldier, the incriminating note he left behind or his odd behavior. Now that those agreements have lapsed, we’ve seen a parade of his colleagues on TV calling him a “deserter,” a “traitor” and even a “collaborator.”
“Every SEAL I have heard from [believes] this is the worst possible deal that could have been struck,” Mr. Robinson said. “And five to one? It should have been the other way around,” he said in an agitated tone. “The entire lineup of the top five has now been turned back to the bad guys.”
Every military person I spoke with predicted that the five returned Taliban leaders will re-enter the fight against America and be pressed to do so sooner rather than later.
Mr. Obama says part of the negotiation, with Qatar acting as intermediary, included Qatar “keeping eyes” on the five and restricting them to that country for a year.
“It’s ridiculous to think those five will just sit there and not strategize, pick up a phone or get on a computer,” one retired special-ops operative told me. “That’s so naive … and dangerous to think that they won’t.”
I asked a former member of the Navy SEALs’ elite Jedi Unit (the same unit that killed Osama bin Laden) to tell me how he feels about the whole episode. “Betrayed and angry … both those words apply,” he said. He stays in touch with some 700 special-operations forces team members, who all took umbrage with National Security Adviser Susan Rice when she declared that Sgt. Bergdahl had served “with honor and distinction.” They insist that Sgt. Bergdahl must now account for his actions and face a military tribunal or court-martial.