The Bergdahl DishonorThe sergeant should request that every file about him be published.By Bret Stephens, WSJ Opinion, June 3, 2014
I spoke Monday with a highly decorated former Special Forces operator and asked what he thought about Bowe Bergdahl, the Army sergeant who was released over the weekend after five years of Taliban captivity in exchange for five hard cases out of Gitmo.
The former operator suggested a firing squad might be appropriate.
His view is widely shared in the community of warriors who risked—and, in at least six cases, lost—their lives searching for a soldier who wrote his parents that "the horror that is america is disgusting" before vanishing from his post in Afghanistan in 2009.
Whether Sgt. Bergdahl was taken by the enemy, deserted the Army or defected to the Taliban remains to be established. But just to be clear where the former operator is coming from, Article 85 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice states: "Any person found guilty of desertion or attempt to desert shall be punished, if the offense is committed in time of war, by death or such other punishment as a court-martial may direct."
But wait: We are not "in time of war." We are in Time of Obama.
In Time of Obama, dereliction of duty is heroism, releasing mass murderers with American blood on their hands is a good way to start a peace process, negotiating with terrorists is not negotiating with terrorists, and exchanging senior Taliban commanders for a lone American soldier is not an incentive to take other Americans hostage but rather proof that America brings its people home.
In Time of Obama, we may get the facts about the circumstances of Sgt. Bergdahl's disappearance and captivity. But first his parents are going to get an invitation to the White House so Mr. Obama can milk the occasion for his own political purposes. First Sgt. Bergdahl will be welcomed home by Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. First "senior defense officials" are going to prejudge a potential verdict by a military court because, as one such official averred, "five years is enough.".
In Time of Obama it has become impossible to credit claims by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and National Security Adviser Susan Rice that a prisoner exchange had to be made because Sgt. Bergdahl was in dangerously declining health.
This assertion was instantly contradicted by eyewitness accounts that the sergeant was "in good condition" when he was released by his captors. "Freed U.S. soldier Bowe Berghdal developed a love for Afghan green tea, taught his captors badminton, and even celebrated Christmas and Easter with the hardline Islamists," the AFP reported Sunday, citing a Pakistani militant commander.
In Time of Obama, the testimony of the Pakistani militants regarding Sgt. Bergdahl's health is at least as credible as anything Susan Rice has to say, on any subject, on any Sunday talk show.
At a minimum, Americans should demand precise answers from the administration about the circumstances of Sgt. Bergdahl's capture before he's given a hero's welcome. At a minimum, Americans also deserve to know the precise costs we have incurred before congratulating the administration for obtaining his release.
But in Time of Obama, that's not what Americans are going to get.
"Frankly, we don't give a sh—why he left," the late journalist Michael Hastings quoted one White House official on the subject of Sgt. Bergdahl's potential desertion in a June 2012 story in Rolling Stone. "He's an American soldier. We want to bring him home." I understand the second sentiment, and understand also that there's a powerful moral case to be made for the redeeming of captives, which the Jewish philosopher Maimonides said was one of the greatest mitzvahs.
I have trouble, however, understanding the first sentiment.
Actually, I do understand it. I understand how a presidency with such a faint sense of American honor would not much care—or "give a sh—" in its own blunt phrase—whether the captive for whom America gave so much had or had not worn his uniform with honor.
Honor is a difficult concept, particularly for modern-day progressives. It is archaic, elusive, unquantifiable, profoundly personal, stubborn, indifferent to public opinion, beyond the grasp of economic incentives, social norms and government coercion. Taken to an extreme it can be wicked—think of honor killings in Muslim communities. But people who lack a sense of honor are people who easily crumble. That's true of nations, too. Think of France in 1940.
Sgt. Bergdahl is now free, and life and liberty both being precious, perhaps that's a good thing. Whether he is free with his conscience clear and his honor intact is another question; if he cares about either, he should request the publication of every government file regarding his capture and detention.
We'll see. In the meantime, think of what it says about the administration's concept of honor that it considers Sgt. Bergdahl's release a point for political boasting. Consider what that says to enemies who, say what you will about them, care about honor, and suspect we have none.