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Tin Ears
White House Spin Doctors Flub Bergdahl Release

Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, who had been held captive by the Taliban for five years, has been freed in exchange for the release of five detainees from the Guantánamo Bay prison. Since the news broke, celebration has given way to controversy over the soldier’s record and the terms of his release.

President Obama gave the news the full Rose Garden treatment, appearing alongside Bergdahl’s parents in a widely publicized address. After he hugged the President, Robert Bergdahl addressed his son in Arabic and Pashtu, and used a phrase which translates to “in the name of Allah, the most merciful.” Mr. Bergdahl has come under fire in the past for tweeting “God will repay for the death of every Afghan child, ameen.”

As a further complicating issue, it seems Sgt. Bergdahl himself may not have been a model soldier. As the Telegraph reports:

In emails to his parents before he disappeared in 2009, Sgt Bergdahl indicated that he was considering desertion and denounced US operations in Afghanistan, writing in one: “The horror that is America is disgusting”.

The circumstances under which he was captured appear similarly murky: It seems that Sgt. Bergdahl sneaked out of his post one night, taking supplies and knives with him. During the ensuing search for him, at least two soldiers connected to his unit were killed. As the New York Times reports, some of his fellow soldiers see a direct link between his actions and those deaths:

The anger toward Sergeant Bergdahl increased exponentially after Sept. 4, when they learned that two members of Third Platoon, which routinely went on tandem missions with Second Platoon [Bergdahl’s own platoon] and who they believed were also searching for Sergeant Bergdahl, had been killed in an ambush.

However shady this whole affair may be, one can’t help but be glad that this young man is reunited with his family. And we at AI feel little desire to judge the actions of a troubled young man facing combat; nor do we think parents should be harshly condemned for every remark made while living with their loved ones in the shadow of war. But it was the White House that politicized this family and brought them under a spotlight better left unlit. Rather than let Sgt. Bergdahl quietly return home, the White House turned the klieg lights on the Bergdahl family, and left them blinking in a glare that did not serve them well.

Whatever else this episode may be, it is not a clear win for the United States or for the increasingly rattled and off-balance Obama Administration. Nor will it endear the President to veterans who are disgruntled about the ongoing scandal of VA fraud and incompetence.

The utterly counterproductive and inappropriate rollout of the news indicates that somebody in the President’s circle has at least temporarily lost his or her grip on reality. How a competent professional could have thought this story was the kind of big win to put on center stage escapes us. The President would be wise to ask whether some of his political operatives are losing their edge; his enemies create enough trouble for him without his friends getting involved

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  • M Snow

    Why can’t we judge Pvt. Bergdahl? He may be a young man, but he is not a child. His actions endangered his fellow soldiers and probably got several killed. He needs to be brought to trial although I suspect he’s working on an insanity defense as we speak.

    • Ben Franklin

      I’m not happy he is being reunited with his family either. Seems to me he chose his side. He deserves to reap the consequences.

      Being nonjudgmental is just another way of saying you are willing to accept whatever foolishness others get up to… and thus you bear a share of the responsibility when the next person does the same.

      • M Snow

        Couldn’t agree more with both points. I am sick of all this “non-judgmental” nonsense.

    • Jacksonian_Libertarian

      I’m most angered by the negotiating with Terrorists. There are real world reasons for this now violated policy, not the least of which is that now Terrorists will kidnap more people.

  • ShadrachSmith

    From the minds at MAD mag.

    • koblog

      Shad, are you the Shad Smith who attended BoH all those years ago?

      (Excellent post, also!)

      • ShadrachSmith

        I don’t think so, Shadrach Smith is the fictional protagonist of an unpublished (because it sucked) spy novel I wrote. What is BoH 🙂

  • Andrew Allison

    It’s much, much worse than you suggest. It appears that the Administration, quite possibly illegally, traded five high-ranking terrorists for a deserter. What were they thinking.

    • rheddles

      Afghanistan withdrawal.

    • Olinser

      They were thinking that the media would cover for them like they have for the last 5 years.

      They thought they could announce the return of the ‘hero’ last POW in Afghanistan, to tag on to their ‘successful’ conclusion of the war (in air quotes because Obama has accomplished nothing other than extending a war with no clear objectives and getting more soldiers killed).

      They thought that the military would overlook the release of 5 high ranking terrorist scumbags to bring one of their own back.

      They thought stories of his desertion would be confined to Fox and right wing blogging, and they could spin it as just another crazy right-wing conspiracy theory against Obama.

      They were wrong on all counts.

  • Arkeygeezer

    This is what you voted for America! Now each of us are targets for people who want to kidnap us to be bargaining chips for captive terrorists rotting in Guantanamo. Thank you Mr. President!

    • John Wondra

      Except, from all accounts , he was not “kidnapped,” or a “captive.” He abandoned the base and took the path he had already chosen. I doubt he was “rotting;” but what would you prefer for terrorists dedicated to your death and the destruction of your country?

  • Arkeygeezer

    WRM I ask you. If our President would trade 5 high-ranking terrorists for a traitorous Sergent, what would he trade for an influential professor and political blogger like you? If I were you, I wouldn’t do much traveling to the middle east.

  • Jane the Actuary

    My current theory: this was a trial balloon for a wider, unconditional release of Gitmo detainees later on, on the rationale that the “war” is over.

    • pp91303

      Actually, I think the motivation for attempting a victory lap after Bergdahl was returned to US forces was something else. Obama was getting hammered for the VA malfeasance and it clearly impacts the public’s view of the government’s ineptitude in providing health care. I think that he and his fellow Alinskyites thought that by getting Bergdahl back, he would be seen as a hero by veterans and people who are sympathetic to veterans. He had no clue that the facts surrounding Bergdahl would be a problem because he has no one in his inner circle who has a military background, except Chuck Hagel and he has a double digit IQ. He highlighted the deal with the Rose Garden press conference because he wanted this ploy to get lots of press coverage and, he thought it would show how much he cares about veterans.

      Although, there is a worse possibility. He publicly stated when the US military will leave Afghanistan (widely criticized by foreign policy experts and the military), his communications office just exposed the CIA station chief in Afghanistan and now he has released five of the highest ranking Taliban commanders in US custody. If he was trying to re-establish Taliban control over Afghanistan, he couldn’t have done much more than he already has. Maybe he really wants to return Afghanistan to its pre-war status quo where it is a haven for Islamic terrorists.

  • S.C. Schwarz

    This incident illustrates two key things about the Obama administration:

    First, with Obama, everything is political. The reasoning at the White House was that if they could “rescue a hero” it would help with the off midterm elections. That’s all that matters to them.

    But second, it is also true that Obama is an incompetent. Apparently he is the kind of leader who surrounds himself with yes men (and women) so that while he is doing something stupid no one will speak up. We saw this very clearly with the Obamacare web site roll out: How could Obama be on TV a week before the roll out bragging about how wonderful it would be? Surely there were people who knew the truth. And surely there were people in the administration who knew the truth about Bergdahl. But Obama, egomaniac that he is, doesn’t listen.

    I just saw Diane Feinstein on TV excoriating Obama for this deal. If you’re a democratic president and you’ve lost Diane Feinstein then you are truly lost.

    • Boritz

      You can re-write ACA to your heart’s content via executive order and a wink and a nod, but you can’t step on Elvis’s blue suede shoes or Di Fei’s toes.

    • NewClassTraitor

      “first-rate managers appoint first-rate people. Second-rate managers appoint third-rate people. Third-rate managers appoint fifth-rate people.” (Paul Halmos)

  • B-Sabre

    The President would be wise to ask whether some of his political operatives are losing their edge;
    When he asks this question, he should start by looking in the mirror. The writer seems to believe (as possibly Obama does) that the President is trying, but is constantly let down by those around him. It’s sort of like the belief that many Chinese have, carried over from the old Imperial system, that “If the Emperor only knew…!” about the injustices they face, something would be done! Alas, the Emperor has no clothes, nor a clue.

  • Silverfiddle

    This current administration has never had a firm grip on reality.

    The Army needs to conduct a full investigation on this man’s capture

    • ShadrachSmith

      Which will never be released and get an O-6 fired.

  • pabarge

    Walter Russell Mead, the author of this article voted for Barack Obama – both times. Never forget this.

    • tomsmithdeal

      I was just about to post that very thing. How WRM can criticize the very guy he voted for for doing the very things that he always does is beyond my comprehension. No where does he acknowledge his complicity in this as he helped get this guy into office not once but twice. Not much of an intellectual by my calculation.

    • melk2

      So what? He has seen the light. Would you prefer that he cover for Obama forever?

      • ejochs

        Repentence. Wear sackcloth and ashes for a while. Acknowledge your own stupidity. Then, forgiveness.

      • grichens

        “The President would be wise to ask whether some of his political operatives are losing their edge; his enemies create enough trouble for him without his friends getting involved.”

        It looks like WRM is passing the buck down to one or more of Obama’s “political operatives” than placing the blame where it belongs. Does that seem like “see[ing] the light” to you?

      • Ben Franklin

        That reminds me of the old joke about what a person is known for that ends with the punchline, “but if you screw one goat.”

        Anyone who was foolish enough to vote for Obama has such poor judgment that their opinion is essentially meaningless. It is the sort of thing that should ruin the career of any person who purports tp analyze events for the rest of us. Doing such a thing twice is the work of not just a fool who was deceived, but of an idiot who is incapable of reason or learning from his mistakes.

        • Loader2000

          I’ve had read two of WRM’s books, and I can tell you one thing, he is not an idiot, nor is he a fool, especially when it comes to foreign policy. From my experience, political moderates who don’t have an emotional/tribal attachment to a particular political group come closer to the truth a greater percentage of the time than the wingers of either side. Ideological absolutism (weather liberal or conservative) almost always produces produces a view of reality which rejects out of hand any empirical facts which contradict a person’s worldview. WRM has demonstrated very little of that frustrating and nearly ubiquitous tendency that exists in most blogs and media sources.

    • adk

      … and now he just started spinning for Mrs Clinton

      “Was Hillary Clinton a good secretary of state?”

      “The verdict? Clinton brought a clear vision of U.S. interests and power to the job, and future presidents and secretaries of state will find many of her ideas essential.”

    • DocEpador

      I am reminded of the recent story of the woman who voted all sorts of local bonds and taxes and now is complaining she can’t afford to live in her town anymore.

  • Michael D Dirmeier

    Someone has lost their grip on reality? That someone might be AI, which is so happy that Bergdahl is at home with his family. How about the soldiers who were killed looking for Bergdahl? Does AI have any sympathy for them? The only rational response to what has occurred is outrage. I have it, you do not.

  • Misanthrope

    “…one can’t help but be glad that this young man is reunited with his family.”
    This assumes “one” is a throne-licker like Walter Russell Mead, and looks the other way at desertion, and doesn’t give a dm that good men died because of it.
    I absolutely am not at all glad that deserter (and soon to be proven traitor) is home with the scum that is his terrorist-loving family; and I do not now, nor ever, wish them happiness of any kind.

  • Doug Santo

    I’m inclined to wait for the results of the military investigation into the night Bergdahl walked off post. In the mean time, there’s no reason not to listen to Bergdahl’s platoon mates who served with him on that evening—and It looks bad. Bergdahl appears to be a deserter. Some public evidence indicates he may have collaborated with the enemy.

    The administration must of known about this negative information. That the administration played it the way they did, and continues to insist that Bergdahl is an honorable man, indicates the White House is disconnected from reality. The administration seems to count on the media adopting their line and covering for them. Sending Susan Rice to Sunday news shows to say Bergdahl served honorably further indicates a White House disconnected from reality.

    The Obama administration is the worst administration in my adult life. I was a teenager transitioning to manhood during the Carter presidency, so I don’t really remember the Carter administration. I do not understand how the American people voted to return President Obama to office for a second term.

    Doug Santo
    Pasadena, CA

    • dubiyarden

      “voted to return President Carter to office for a third term.”

      There, fixed it for you.

      • Fred

        No, it’s much worse than that. Obama isn’t Carter’s third term, he’s George McGovern’s first term.

  • TheDarkHelmet

    “One can’t help but be glad that this young man is reunited with his family.” Really? Regardless of the very real possibility that he is a deserter or worse? Regardless of the price paid to get his ‘release’? If the allegations of desertion are true I’m not the slightest bit glad that he has been ‘reunited with his family.’ There is a very real possibility he should be in a stockade awaiting court-martial.

    “We don’t think parents should be harshly condemned for every remark made . . .” Again, really? If the parents side with the enemies of this nation — still to be conclusively shown, granted — then they deserve every condemnation they receive.

    Maybe this story is not what it appears, but if popular press accounts are even half accurate there is substantial reason to condemn every aspect of this deal.

    Let’s review:
    1) Bergdahl may have deserted.
    2) U.S. soldiers died trying to find him.
    3) Obama released five dangerous terrorist leaders to get Bergdahl back.
    4) Obama’s action violated the terms of legislation he himself had signed into law.
    5) Obama attempted to score political points by making a high-profile announcement of the deal.
    6) Obama, Rice and other members of the administration lied about the circumstances of the deal.
    And you think the best way to describe this dangerous fiasco is that someone on Obama’s team is “losing his edge?” Whiskeytangofoxtrot.

    • Bandit Keena

      Bergdahl may have deserted.

      I think at this point you can get rid of ‘may have’

      • TheDarkHelmet

        Even though Obama seems not to think desertion is serious matter, I do. Hence my caution.

  • koblog

    …a troubled young man facing combat;…

    Er, Wally, Bergdahl volunteered to join the United States Army. He could have stayed home in his mother’s basement and converted to Islam with his father.

    Instead, true American soldiers died for him so he could work through his “troubles.”


  • Gregale

    It’s always about the Klieg lights with this administration.

  • rocinante

    Future administrations have a ready made excuse. Hey at least we didn’t screw up like Carter and Obama.

    But there is the worry of what comes after this President leaves office. There is no clear front runner in the GOP and the Tea Party is not set up to win a national election. So much needs to be undone and it is a formidable task. The difficult task of restoring capitalism, American strength and ideals, indeed the promise of America for the rest of the world will require a very powerful leader. There ain’t no George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, Harry Truman, Dwight Eisenhower or Ronald Wilson Reagan waiting in the wings this time.

    If the alternative is Hillary then it is time to pray for America most fervently.

    • f1b0nacc1

      I remember 1980 quite clearly…nobody thought that Reagan would turn out to be the game-changer that he proved to be. Perhaps we can hope for a similar burst of good fortune…

  • kgbudge

    Dr. Mead,

    Who did you vote for in 2012?

  • ea_man

    Additional observations continue to undermine the administrations cover story. Via Mediate, video of Bergdahl looking rather fit doesn’t fit Obama’s reason for the urgency for this exchange.

  • c_taylor

    “And we at AI feel little desire to judge the actions of a troubled young man facing combat”

    Is it possible to find a better example of decadence than this? In what cocooned safety must one be living their lives, divorced from all the pressures and threats that have plagued human-kind from the dawn of history that a man can write in all seriousness that they can’t be bothered to judge the relative merits of cowardice vs. bravery by their nations soldiers in the face of combat?
    Fortunately I think that topic has been addressed by greater minds throughout all history and all cultures at least a few times. And perhaps a few compelling lines have even been written about the subject by passable authors… if one has an academic interest in genre literature. You know, as an avocation or something.

  • Porkov

    If any documents were ever to be shredded, those related to this decision will certainly be among them. We will likely never know if this was supposed to be a diplomatic triumph to distract us from the VA mess. Rather than providing a distraction, the suspicion links the two SNAFUs and compounds them – truly a case of the whole being more than the sum of its parts.

  • tessitura

    “And we at AI feel little desire to judge the actions of a troubled young man facing combat”

    Well, heck. Why shouldn’t every troubled young man, after voluntarily enlisting as an adult, desert the military and his brothers in arms when facing combat (and, further, seek out the enemy to help their cause)?

    Most young people have had troubles in their lives, to include dysfunctional homelifes, poverty, instances of having been bullied or beaten, being dumped, teenaged angst over the meaning of life, and on and on. There are SO many excuses for the majority of our soldiers, marines, sailors and airmen to desert when the going gets hot.

    • pp91303

      Hmmnnn…. Did he judge the blue state, red neck National Guardsmen miscreants at Abu Ghraib? How about the soldier who was video taped several years ago urinating on the dead body of a Taliban fighter? There are many other examples. Leftists have no problem judging “troubled young men facing combat” when it suits their political purposes. Whenever Bush could be criticized because of an alleged abuse by the American military, leftists seized on the opportunity.

      It is just like the way they had no problem with pre-emptive war when Clinton bombed Serbia, a country that posed absolutely no threat to US security, for 72 days without Congressional approval. Leftists either didn’t care or they thought it was cool that Clinton could “build his presidential legacy” by bombing a sovereign country to stop a non-existent ethnic cleansing (Amnesty International says there was no ethnic cleansing). If leftists are really serious about prosecuting war criminals (per their Tourette’s like ranting about Bush and Cheney), let’s turn Clinton over to the Hague and have him tried for war crimes.

  • Dracovert

    “The President would be wise to ask whether some of his political operatives are losing their edge … ”

    Ummm, exactly what edge would that be? Obama is a nobody from nowhere who was enough of a BS artist to fool some of the people some of the time, including all Democrats. In fact, Obama has the characteristics of a psychopath as described by Dr. Hervey Cleckley, Dr. Robert Hare, and Dr. Clive Boddy.

  • TheDarkHelmet

    Did Susan Rice ghost this piece?

  • adk

    Here’s something else, from WaPo.

    Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, confirmed Tuesday that she and other senior lawmakers first discussed the possibility of a prisoner swap with administration officials in fall 2011.

    During the consultations, “There were very strong views and they were virtually unanimous against the trade,” she said.

    Feinstein said she received a phone call from White House Deputy National Security Adviser Tony Blinken on Monday evening, during which he apologized for not informing her of the plans sooner. “He apologized and said it was an oversight, so I just accept that,” Feinstein said.

    “Is there the possibility of some of them trying to return to activities that are detrimental to us? Absolutely,” Obama said in a news conference with Poland’s president. “There’s a certain recidivism rate that takes place.”
    But Obama added that he would not have authorized the trade if he “thought it was contrary to U.S. national security.”

  • JDanaH

    “And we at AI feel little desire to judge the actions of a troubled young man facing combat;”

    Are you kidding me? If he did indeed desert, and if as reported by some, the subsequent search for him led to the deaths of American servicemen, then he should be judged in the harshest possible terms. His parents eventually got their son back. What about the parents of those who were killed due to his actions?

    • mc

      Of course AI is in no position to judge. It appears to be one of those veteran-free zones that dominate commentary on contemporary America.

  • adk

    Here’s poor Susan Rice, again:

    President Obama’s national security adviser, Susan Rice, said on ABC that Bowe Bergdahl “served the United States with honor and distinction” and that “Sergeant Bergdahl wasn’t simply a hostage; he was an American prisoner of war captured on the battlefield.”

    • Bandit Keena

      Well being an AWOL collaborator is certainly a distinction

  • Peter Castle

    Obama blundered – and American lives are in jeopardy.

    See “Obama Swaps Jihadist Dream Team for Deserter” at

  • stan

    This has to rank right up there with the dumbest stuff WRM has ever written. The problem isn’t poor “spin”. The problem is brain-dead stupid decision-making by the president. It was stupid to make the trade. Then, having made a really, really stupid decision to trade, the president followed that up with a stupid stunt in the Rose Garden, a stupid decision to have proven liar Susan Rice ‘explain’ the decision, and a stupid decision to have her tell the stupid lie that she told trying to explain.

    No one should be surprised that Obama demonstrated incompetence. His is an entire life marked by incompetence (when not overwhelmed by his dishonesty and corruption). What is surprising is that anyone could be so stupid as to vote for him expecting him to be anything else.

    • tricknologist

      Obama’s actions in this were neither stupid nor incompetent. This is a deliberate provocation and has nothing to do with being “tone deaf”.

      He’s following the plans of Saul Alinsky, Richard Cloward and Francis Fox Piven to take this country down and he’s doing a good job of it.

  • circleglider

    However shady this whole affair may be, one can’t help but be glad that this young man is reunited with his family. And we at AI feel little desire to judge the actions of a troubled young man facing combat…

    As many of the commenters here recognize, Professor Mead et al share a blind spot with the President’s “political operatives who are losing their edge.” And that blind spot is your cultural isolation from the part of America that fights our wars.Lt. Col. Ralph Peters, writing at National Review, summed it up best:

    Congratulations, Mr. President! And identical congrats to your sorcerer’s apprentice, National Security Adviser Susan Rice. By trying to sell him as an American hero, you’ve turned a deserter already despised by soldiers in the know into quite possibly the most-hated individual soldier in the history of our military.I have never witnessed such outrage from our troops.Exhibit A: Ms. Rice. In one of the most tone-deaf statements in White House history (we’re making a lot of history here), the national-security advisor, on a Sunday talk show, described Bergdahl as having served “with honor and distinction.” Those serving in uniform and those of us who served previously were already stirred up, but that jaw-dropper drove us into jihad mode.But pity Ms. Rice. Like the president she serves, she’s a victim of her class. Nobody in the inner circle of Team Obama has served in uniform. It shows. That bit about serving with “honor and distinction” is the sort of perfunctory catch-phrase politicians briefly don as electoral armor. (“At this point in your speech, ma’am, devote one sentence to how much you honor the troops.”)I actually believe that Ms. Rice was kind of sincere, in her spectacularly oblivious way. In the best Manchurian Candidate manner, she said what she had been programmed to say by her political culture, then she was blindsided by the firestorm she ignited by scratching two flinty words together. At least she didn’t blame Bergdahl’s desertion on a video.The president, too, appears stunned. He has so little understanding of (or interest in) the values and traditions of our troops that he and his advisers really believed that those in uniform would erupt into public joy at the news of Bergdahl’s release — as D.C. frat kids did when Osama bin Laden’s death was trumpeted.Both President Obama and Ms. Rice seem to think that the crime of desertion in wartime is kind of like skipping class. They have no idea of how great a sin desertion in the face of the enemy is to those in our military. The only worse sin is to side actively with the enemy and kill your brothers in arms. This is not sleeping in on Monday morning and ducking Gender Studies 101…This is a fundamental culture clash. Team Obama and its base cannot comprehend the values still cherished by those young Americans “so dumb” they joined the Army instead of going to prep school and then to Harvard. Values such as duty, honor, country, physical courage, and loyalty to your brothers and sisters in arms have no place in Obama World. (Military people don’t necessarily all like each other, but they know they can depend on each other in battle — the sacred trust Bergdahl violated)…
  • jburack

    I think the key to this story is in the last paragraph here. But it does not delve very deeply. How indeed could the White House people have thought they had a political winner to exploit? It suggests a very deep divide in consciousness between those people and the vast majority. I expect it will not heal now at all.

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