The Bergdahl scandal — and ‘scandal’ is what it’s becoming — seems about to burst into full flower

At this hour, The Washington Post is touting an “exclusive” in which Afghan villagers give their eyewitness accounts of the day Bowe Bergdahl walked away from his post. They say he appeared, inexplicably, to be deliberately seeking out the Taliban:

To them, it’s clear something was wrong with the American. And he seemed to be deliberately heading for Taliban strongholds, they say.

“It was very confusing to us. Why would he leave the base?” said Jamal, an elder in the village of Yusef Khel, about a half-mile from the American military installation. (Like many Afghans, he goes by only one name). “The people thought it was a covert agenda – maybe he was sent to the village by the U.S.”

Locals remember Bergdahl walking through the village in a haze. They later told Afghan investigators that they had warned the American that he was heading into a dangerous area.

“They tried to tell him not to go there, that it is dangerous. But he kept going over the mountain. The villagers tried to give him water and bread, but he didn’t take it,” said Ibrahim Manikhel, the district’s intelligence chief.

“We think he probably was high after smoking hashish,” Manikhel said. “Why would an American want to find the Taliban?”…

This comes out as the Taliban releases video footage of the handover of Bergdahl to U.S. special forces. In the video, the sergeant looks highly stressed, even terrified. Of course, there could be many interpretations of that. Even if everything about his “capture” were kosher and he was thrilled to be handed over, he could have been afraid they’d shoot him at the last minute.

But that is secondary to the Post story. The newspaper’s political blog, The Fix, declares that “Bergdahl is the new Benghazi.” Indeed. Only this is one that people other than dog whistle-attuned Republicans can understand.

No wonder, as The Guardian reports, “US military promises ‘complete review’ into Bowe Bergdahl capture.” The whole happy-welcome-home scenario seems increasingly untenable.

38 thoughts on “The Bergdahl scandal — and ‘scandal’ is what it’s becoming — seems about to burst into full flower

  1. Doug Ross

    And the beat goes on for the Obama administration… Bengazi, Obamacare rollout, VA coverups, now this.
    As we know, it is all the fault of Fox News and the Koch brothers.

    This is why we rarely see a party hold the Presidency for three terms in a row. All the new car smell has worn off and the people realize it’s the same old Chevy Vega with a faulty clutch and bare tires.

    1. Bart


      This one is a result of the unmitigated hubris of one Barack Hussein Obama and no one else. I thought Bill Clinton and at times, GWB were guilty of the same attitude but neither one can touch Obama. He is in a class all by himself.

      But, to follow Mark’s advice, enough said about Obama.

  2. Phillip

    Nah, not really. The average person in the street is/was far more affected by the Obamacare website problems, the continued slowness of the economic recovery, etc. The only real scandal here is whether Obama violated the law in failing to consult with Congress, and on this point, many liberals and conservatives are in agreement that this was indeed not legal, part of a depressing pattern of continuing the Bush-era usurpation of powers in the direction of the Executive Branch.

    But as far as Bergdahl goes, yeah, so he may well be a deserter, but I’ll take the word of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff that that is fundamentally irrelevant (short of him taking up arms with the enemy) to the duty to try to recover him. Meanwhile, it’s pretty funny to hear quotes from the likes of McCain, Inhofe, and other prominent GOPers from previous months telling the Administration to do whatever they could to secure Bergdahl’s release—McCain specifically saying he “would be inclined to support” an exchange of prisoners. Now of course, many of them are changing their tune.

  3. Burl Burlingame

    Now is the right time for otherwise reasonable people to make definitive pronouncements about a situation they have no actual knowledge of.

    But you have to admit that the wingers are consistent. They can do policy 180s all day long as long as it criticizes the president in some way.

  4. Doug Ross

    So the next time an American soldier is taken captive, will the Taliban hold out for six detainees? Isn’t this kind of a small ding in the reputation of the military? Obama had to trade Babe Ruth for a no name second baseman because the military couldn’t rescue Bergdahl themselves.

  5. Juan Caruso

    At the end of his term to whom will this President grant pardons (the pardon power for federal crimes is granted to the President of the United States under Article II, Section 2 of the United States Constitution which states that the President “shall have power to grant reprieves and pardons for offenses against the United States).

    My guesses are that Sgt. Bergdahl will be a candidate right up there with Major Nidal Malik Hasan. Most women, who have never had related service, fail to understand how the administration’s actions to date have demoralized our military and impaired future recruiting prospects.

    I certainly do not pretend to know Obama’s intentions. My guess is that inadequate recruiting invites substitution of more immigrants for U.S. volunteers.

    What was the result for the Roman empire?

    “How the “Roman” army came to be composed of barbarian troops of an often renegade nature is in many ways the story of Rome’s fall.” – David G. Frye , associate professor of history, Eastern Connecticut
    State U.

  6. Brad Warthen

    Something else has occurred to me. There have been references to Bergdahl’s health. His supposedly failing health was one reason offered for the urgency of the exchange.

    Maybe he doesn’t look “stressed” or “terrified” in that video, as I suggested before. Maybe his expression was caused by illness, and/or pain.

    I just don’t know.

    1. Doug Ross

      How would we know what his health condition was at the time? Wouldn’t that mean we knew exactly where he was and had access to someone who had enough direct contact with Bergdahl to assess his condition?

      Or could his captors have played up his condition in order to force Obama to give up five for one?

      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        From what I’ve read, the administration’s impression of his health was based on a video the Taliban sent over showing Bergdahl this past December.

  7. Norm Ivey

    It seems like with the war in Afghanistan winding down, the administration is going to have to do something about all of the prisoners in Guantanamo. If we continue to hold them after the cessation of hostilities, they become political prisoners, and that can’t be good for our rep. We don’t have the appetite for trying them in our judicial system, so what are we to do? If Bergdahl was ill, and we really do live by the creed that we leave no one behind, do we give up much to get him back by releasing 5 guys that we were going to release at some point anyway and who look like they’re going to be easy to track?

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      Actually, Norm, I don’t think the accurate description is to say the war in Afghanistan is “winding down.” A more accurate way to say it is that the United States is preparing to disengage from the battle.

      In that light, you may in a sense be right. Perhaps releasing these five bad actors is just one of many unsavory things we’re going to have to live with as we abandon Afghanistan…

    2. Bryan Caskey

      We could put all the Gitmo detainees on an airliner to Malaysia. Hey, it’s not our fault if they’re never heard from again. Those things go missing all the time.

  8. Bryan Caskey

    You know, if the White House had done this deal, but come out and said Hey guys, this deal sucks. We don’t like letting these bad guys go, but we were worried that a US soldier was going to die in captivity. It doesn’t look like he’s a hero, but this is the best deal we could get. We’re doing this deal, but it’s not a great deal, it’s just the best we could do, and this soldier is going to have to answer for his alleged desertion when we get him back.

    If the White House had said something along those lines, I don’t think there would be a big controversy. The problem is, the White House did this deal, and then basically said TOUCHDOWN OBAMA!

    If the White House didn’t think this was going to blow up in their faces, they’re either stupider than I thought, or they think we are all really stupid.

    I read a piece that both Panetta and Clapper were against the deal, and it was only after Panetta left did the deal get approval from the new SECDEF.

    They can’t blame this on a rogue DoD staffer in Cincinnati, either. This one is all Obama. How about Susan Rice and her line that Bergdahl “served with honor and distinction”? Now there’s a loyal soldier. That lady will read whatever you put in front of her, no matter how patently false it may be.

    She should get some kind of distinguished service cross for courageously following orders from the President in the face of overwhelming enemy facts to the contrary.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      To elaborate: Conservatives react viscerally to President Obama and the people around him. They see him as someone who simply doesn’t get the world the way they do, and they feel alienated.

      Usually, that seems an exaggerated response to me.

      But in this case, it seems painfully obvious that the people making decisions in the White House have no clue what it means to serve “with honor and distinction” in the military. And it’s easy to see how that utter lack of perception would be a slap in the face to people who DO understand what honorable service is, and value it greatly.

      Susan Rice is the poster child on this. I have yet to see this woman interact with important policy matters in a way that reflects well on her. And I find it very disturbing that the president was determined that she hold a high position of responsibility in the national security apparatus of this country. I don’t understand that; it seems a plain case of the president’s bullheadedness flying in the face of the national interest.

      In the president’s first term, he had a pretty competent, pragmatic national security team. In this term, not so much. If you’re an Obama detractor, you would say that once he didn’t need to get re-elected, he showed his true colors in terms of what he valued. And he really, really seems to value Susan Rice, making her national security adviser after she was so roundly rejected (with good reason) for SecState.

      But the problem extends beyond her. For the administration as a corporate entity to make such a decision as the Bergdahl deal, and to execute it in such a way, shows that her shortcomings are the tip of a very disturbing iceberg.

      1. Barry

        Obama has trotted out his spin doctors to disparage the soldiers that have described their feelings and opinon on what they saw from their deserter

        Brandon Friedman‏@BFriedmanDC·
        Here’s the thing about Bergdahl and the Jump-to-Conclusions mats: What if his platoon was long on psychopaths and short on leadership? (1/5)

        Brandon Friedman@BFriedmanDC · 14h
        What if he grew disillusioned with what he saw, didn’t trust his leadership, and walked off? Legal? No. Worthy of sympathy? Maybe. (2/5)

  9. Kathryn Fenner

    Here’s a thought: POTUS was a young lawyer slightly younger than I at the same time we were both associates at Chicago mega firms. The ethos then and there was “Don’t apologize. Don’t admit. Never let ’em see you sweat.” It was not until at least the mid 90s that it sort of became okay to admit you were less than perfect, that you were human and make mistakes.
    This attitude of “never admit a fault, just blast through” was especially preached to women and minorities, who might otherwise have retreated into the cultural norm for them of self-effacement.

    Maybe he needs to rethink that.

  10. Doug Ross

    Andrew Sullivan has a post on Bergdahl today.. the only reason I mention it is because of the photo of Lindsey Graham that is included..and Sullivan’s description of the photo where he uses his pet name for Graham: Butters…which is a reference to a South Park character who is described as a stuttering kid with a Southern accent. “Butters is often depicted as being innocent, gullible, easily-manipulated and stupid.”

      1. Doug Ross

        But doesn’t it give one some momentary pause to consider why someone as obviously intelligent and successful as Sullivan takes that view of Graham? He’s not some left wing nutjob… he’s probably on TV panel shows more than Graham (and that’s okay because that’s his JOB). He’s an Obama fanboy but he’s also got some conservative chops.

        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          No, Sullivan is not a “left wing nutjob.” You can’t put him in a box like that.

          He is… eclectic. Idiosyncratic. Unique, even. He used to be described as the avowedly conservative editor of the liberal New Republic, which only began to say how atypical he was.

          My own views defeat any honest attempt to place me on the left-right continuum. But if anything, Sullivan may be even harder to place, or predict, than I am….

  11. bud

    Brad you’re actually pretty easy to predict. If it involves more government intervention you’re for it. Issues traditionally on the right that involved more government intervention: Iraq, military spending, abortion, marijuana laws, Sunday blue laws, gay marriage. Brad supports? Check, check, check, check. Liberal issues with more government involvement: healthcare, foreign aid, gun control, public education. Brad? check x 4.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      Yes, I believe that as a society we can work together to address challenges that face us. I do not believe that we are islands, on our own in the void.

      You interpret that as being pro-government (because any arrangement between people to work together, whether formal or informal, can be said to be government), and say it like it’s a bad thing. Government is civilization’s prerequisite.

      But saying I’m pro-government suggests the straw men of libertarians, who go on about “statism” and “collectivism.” They misrepresent a belief that we can come together as free people and build a decent civilization together as being Stalinist. That’s at the extreme. At the least, though, being pro-government to them means you’re pro-BIG government, as though size were particularly relevant.

      I want government to be no bigger, and no smaller, than it needs to be in order to accomplish the legitimate tasks of enabling us to address common issues. And I’ve long been an advocate of subsidiarity, something that doesn’t come up here a lot because most of y’all don’t seem to want to get into the theoretical weeds quite that far. But put simply, it means governmental functions — and functions of other organizations and institutions as well — should be performed at the lowest, smallest, most local level that is competent to perform them adequately. That means, for instance, that whenever possible, I want to push functions down from the federal to the state level (think education) and from the state to the local (think all those MANY things that state legislators oversee in SC that should be local).

      The purpose of the larger levels are to perform the things that the smaller ones can’t, effectively. The federal level needs to handle relations with foreign countries, from diplomacy to trade to war, regulate interstate commerce (mostly to keep it free and flowing, unlike under the Articles of Confederation) and do a very few other things. One of those things, I’ve come to believe, should be setting up one gigantic, universal health insurance pool, because the economies to be gained far exceed what any state or locality could manage.

      Oh, dang. You went and got me started. How did we get from Bergdahl onto this subject anyway?

  12. bud

    As for the issue at hand, this really isn’t a scandal other than the possible violation of the 30 day notification rule which seems like an unconstitutional encroachment on the president’s ability to act as commander in chief. He made a decision to exchange prisoners in a necessary part of winding down US involvement in Afghanistan. That was something John McCain supported just a few months ago.

    Sure Bergdahl is, at least, an AWOL kook, at worst a traitor, but he’s still an American citizen that we simply cannot leave behind. This whole episode is pretty distasteful on several levels but let’s not forget that many Republicans were tweeting welcome home messages just a few days ago. (They have since been taken down). So before we declare this a “scandal” let’s not forget how we got involved in Afghanistan in the first place. There just isn’t a good way to bring this to an end. Perspective, folks, perspective.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      You’re right. Let’s NOT “forget how we got involved in Afghanistan in the first place:”

      After we helped the mujahideen push out the Soviets, we walked away and neglected the country. Out of the fragmentation that existed there, the Taliban emerged to fill the power vacuum. The Taliban welcomed al Qaeda in, which provided bin Laden with a safe base from which to operate. From that secure base, al Qaeda got really ambitious, and was able to plan and execute the biggest terror strike in modern history.

      After 9/11, we went in and toppled (but did not eliminate) the Taliban. Ever since, we’ve been trying to keep them from resuming power.

      Now, within a couple of years, we will walk away again, creating another inviting power vacuum…

    2. Bryan Caskey

      “Sure Bergdahl is, at least, an AWOL kook, at worst a traitor, but he’s still an American citizen that we simply cannot leave behind.”

      I think at least he’s a deserter, but maybe that’s splitting hairs. The question is: What cost do we pay to not leave him behind? It seems you’re suggesting that doing a cost/benefit analysis of the trade is an irrelevant inquiry, and that can’t be correct. If you were, then you would have to agree that we should have let every single person in Gitmo out in exchange for Bergdahl, and paid a cash bonus – if the Taliban had demanded it. You see where I’m going?

      What’s the limiting factor with the idea that he cannot be left behind? There has to be one.

      What’s the limiting factor?

      1. Phillip

        That’s a fair question, Bryan. One recent comparison example that has been offered recently is Netanyahu trading 1000 Palestinian prisoners for the return of one Israeli soldier. And those prisoners were returning basically to close proximity to Israel, while these five are going to Qatar. Our security apparatus is far more sophisticated and advanced than it was when these 5 were taken into custody. Al Qaeda is largely dispersed; terrorist threats remain but they are from disparate sources. We closely monitor thousands of radical Muslims worldwide; will 5 more aging ones make much difference? Do they have some special genius that 9 years in captivity has left intact, enabling them to somehow provide the know-how and means to various terrorists of evading detection and successfully executing a spectacular terrorist attack on the US?

        1. Bart

          “Do they have some special genius that 9 years in captivity has left intact, enabling them to somehow provide the know-how and means to various terrorists of evading detection and successfully executing a spectacular terrorist attack on the US?”….Phillip

          A thought provoking comment as usual. No Phillip, they don’t have some special genius but what they do have is the adoration of their followers and 9 years of pent up anger and frustration that will manifest itself in some form of retaliation, sooner or later. 9 years to foster a hatred and allow it to grow and when you have human assets at your disposal who are willing to sacrifice their lives for their cause, genius is not required, just time, patience, and the desire for revenge. I seriously doubt these 5 will go to their local mosque and pray for forgiveness for their American captors.

          Never underestimate the power of a desire for retribution in the hands of ones who have shown their willingness to sacrifice anything for their cause. It only took one man, Osama Bid Laden, to lead his followers to fly planes into the Twin Towers and the Pentagon.


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