SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

June 18, 2014

Armerding: Don't listen to those who knew Bergdahl best, Obama says

Taylor Armerding
The Salem News

---- — For several weeks now, since President Barack Obama held a Rose Garden event to brag about his exchange of five Taliban terrorist leaders for Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, the patronizing elite of the left have scolded conservatives and a few fellow Democrats for a hateful “rush to judgment.”

Critics are not supposed to listen to, or place any credibility in, multiple members of Bergdahl’s unit, who have declared publicly that the former prisoner of war is a deserter.

We’re not supposed to draw any conclusions about anything, they tell us, until “all of the facts are known.” After all, Bergdahl hasn’t been charged, never mind convicted, of desertion.

OK, fair enough. People aren’t supposed to be convicted on hearsay or before a trial on the merits. But it isn’t fair enough when the Obama administration itself makes violating that supposed obligation its standard operating procedure.

National Security Adviser Susan Rice went on the Sunday talk shows in the days after Bergdahl’s release to declare that he had served with “honor and distinction.” That is a blatant rush to judgment, as well. How does she know, if all the facts are not yet known?

This, of course, is a pattern for Rice. She went on the talk shows shortly after the terrorist attack on the U.S. Embassy in Benghazi, Libya, on Sept. 11, 2012, that killed four Americans, including Ambassador Christopher Stevens, to declare the attack was simply a demonstration against an anti-Muslim video that somehow got out of hand. That was an obvious rush to judgment — or a deliberate diversion — given that the administration was forced to admit later that the attack was planned and had nothing to do with the video.

Rice later “clarified” her declaration on Bergdahl, claiming that anyone who joins the military deserves the “honor and distinction” label (except, apparently, those who insist that Bergdahl deserted.) Which makes serving in the U.S. armed forces sound a little bit like youth soccer: Everybody who shows up gets a trophy.

The judgment of Bergdahl’s fellow soldiers is similar. After a number of them — who unlike everybody in the administration actually have firsthand knowledge of the situation — said Bergdahl deserted, a flack for the Department of Housing and Urban Development suggesting in a tweet that the unit was “long on psychopaths and short on leadership.” Gee, could that smear be a “rush to judgment” before all the facts are known?

It’s the same about Bergdahl’s condition. Immediately after his release, when critics contended that he was anything but a hero and that exchanging him for a Taliban “dream team” was not in the interest of U.S. security, the president’s team insisted that Bergdahl’s condition was so fragile that he might not have survived had he not been rescued.

Really? Apparently the administration didn’t plan on the Taliban releasing a video of the exchange. If Bergdahl was at any physical risk, he hid it well.

At which point, the narrative suddenly shifted. The risk was not to his medical condition but that his Taliban captors might injure or kill him. They had to make the deal quickly and not tell Congress, as the law requires, or the Taliban might have cut his throat.

Secretary of State John Kerry, who didn’t hesitate to further his own political career more than 40 years ago by accusing his fellow soldiers in Vietnam of war crimes, said it would have been “offensive and incomprehensible” to leave Bergdahl in the hands of the Taliban when they might torture him or “cut off his head.”

This about a POW who had been in enemy hands for the better part of five years. All of a sudden, he was at risk of torture or having his head cut off? Did the moderate Taliban just import a crew of hard-liners a couple of months ago to guard Bergdahl?

Besides all of the administration’s rushing to judgment, which is condemned when anybody else does it, there is the standard tactic of Obama and his team of accusing anyone who questions what they do of “politicizing” it. In this case, critics are accused of making poor Bergdahl a “political football.” This, the president said with a sorrowful shake of his head in an interview, was just another one of those controversies “whipped up in Washington.”

Actually, that’s true, but not in the way the president intended. It was indeed whipped up in Washington — by Obama, who was trying to gain political mileage out of the exchange with a Rose Garden event featuring Bergdahl’s parents, who just happened to be in the area.

It was after some people started questioning Bergdahl’s credentials as a hero captured on the battlefield that it suddenly became unseemly to “politicize” it.

Finally, there has been plenty of handwringing on the left about the “hate” directed toward Bergdahl who, they say, simply opposed what they believe to be an unwinnable war.

They have a point. Bergdahl should not be labeled something that has not been proven. But, if it is proven, military desertion is worth some context. At one time in our history, there were similar efforts to find and bring back deserters — but only so they could be hanged, shot or imprisoned.

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Taylor Armerding of Ipswich is an independent columnist. Contact him at t.armerding@verizon.net.