Despite spending day in and day out on the Internet, I always manage to be surprised by the complete and utter willingness of a certain subset of the media to give the president a pass on, literally, everything. The latest example relates to Bowe Bergdahl, the American soldier who had been captured by the Taliban and for whom we gave up five high-value Taliban targets to obtain his release. All day new revelations about Bergdahl's "capture" came to light—quotes from his fellow soldiers, revelations about his last days in uniform—and there was an ongoing argument about the wisdom of increasing the value of targeting American troops for capture by demonstrating a willingness to make deals with terrorists to secure their release.
So how did The Amazing Chris Hayes, one of the left's leading Big Thinkers, respond to these questions?
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Am I correct that the American right-wing has spent the day arguing we should have left an American soldier behind?
— Christopher Hayes (@chrislhayes) June 2, 2014
This is such a monumentally snide and stupid way of formulating the debate that I am forced to assume he's either being intentionally obtuse or resorting to dishonest political hackery. But since I am often assured* that Hayes has an open mind and is totes all about real debate, allow me to lay out, very briefly, what the right was actually arguing yesterday.
For starters, I don't think the right would've had any issue with the president ordering a rescue operation or a special forces assault on the Taliban who had taken Bergdahl prisoner. It was, quite specifically, a question of whether or not we want to get in the habit of trading captured terrorists for our soldiers. This is not an unreasonable question. There are cases to be made on both sides. I tend to think it's a bad idea to set a precedent that we will negotiate with terrorists, but I also understand the impulse to retrieve one of our guys from a Taliban hellhole as we drawdown our forces in the country.
That's more of a theoretical and general strategy/tactics question, though. There is a much more serious question about Bergdahl, specifically. And that is whether or not he is a deserter whose decision to leave his post led to the death of multiple Americans and the eventual release of "five of the most dangerous Taliban commanders."
It's extremely important to note that this isn't some crazy, wild-eyed, ReTHUGlican conspiracy theory. Here's Michael Hastings reporting in the dread neocon mouthpiece Rolling Stone in 2012:
Ordinary soldiers, especially raw recruits facing combat for the first time, respond to the horror of war in all sorts of ways. Some take their own lives: After years of seemingly endless war and repeat deployments, activeduty soldiers in the U.S. Army are currently committing suicide at a record rate, 25 percent higher than the civilian population. Other soldiers lash out with unauthorized acts of violence: the staff sergeant charged with murdering 17 Afghan civilians in their homes last March; the notorious "Kill Team" of U.S. soldiers who went on a shooting spree in 2010, murdering civilians for sport and taking parts of their corpses for trophies. Many come home permanently traumatized, unable to block out the nightmares.
Bowe Bergdahl had a different response. He decided to walk away. [Emphasis mine]
In the early-morning hours of June 30th, according to soldiers in the unit, Bowe approached his team leader not long after he got off guard duty and asked his superior a simple question: If I were to leave the base, would it cause problems if I took my sensitive equipment?
Yes, his team leader responded – if you took your rifle and night-vision goggles, that would cause problems.
Bowe returned to his barracks, a roughly built bunker of plywood and sandbags. He gathered up water, a knife, his digital camera and his diary. Then he slipped off the outpost.
Here's Nathan Bradley Bethea, a soldier who served in Afghanistan currently working on his MFA at noted conservative stronghold Brooklyn College, writing in the Daily Beast on Bergdahl:
I served in the same battalion in Afghanistan and participated in the attempts to retrieve him throughout the summer of 2009. After we redeployed, every member of my brigade combat team received an order that we were not allowed to discuss what happened to Bergdahl for fear of endangering him. He is safe, and now it is time to speak the truth.
And that the truth is: Bergdahl was a deserter, and soldiers from his own unit died trying to track him down. … Bergdahl was relieved from guard duty, and instead of going to sleep, he fled the outpost on foot. He deserted. I’ve talked to members of Bergdahl’s platoon—including the last Americans to see him before his capture. I’ve reviewed the relevant documents. That’s what happened.
Here's the lede of a report from CNN's Jake Tapper:
The sense of pride expressed by officials of the Obama administration at the release of Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl is not shared by many of those who served with him, veterans and soldiers who call him a deserter whose "selfish act" ended up costing the lives of better men.
"I was pissed off then, and I am even more so now with everything going on," said former Sgt. Matt Vierkant, a member of Bergdahl's platoon when he went missing on June 30, 2009. "Bowe Bergdahl deserted during a time of war, and his fellow Americans lost their lives searching for him."
Vierkant said Bergdahl needs to not only acknowledge his actions publicly but face a military trial for desertion under the Uniform Code of Military Justice.
Time magazine highlights the real tragedy of this whole sordid affair: America lost six U.S. soldiers in an effort to rescue a man who deserted them and deserted his country. Their names:
- Staff Sergeant Clayton Bowen;
- Private 1st Class Morris Walker;
- Staff Sergeant Kurt Curtiss;
- 2nd Lieutenant Darryn Andrews;
- Staff Sergeant Michael Murphrey;
- Private 1st Class Matthew Martinek.
You'll note that I'm choosing very specifically to highlight left-leaning and mainstream outlets here. Hayes and his coterie of gibbering sycophants can't ignore these quotes because they were published in the Weekly Standard or, much worse, the Washington Free Beacon. If Hayes is the honest interlocutor I'm so often assured that he is, he'll have to wrestle with what has actually upset the right: Six American soldiers died, and five extremely dangerous terrorists have been released, in order to secure the rescue of a man who abandoned his fellows and abandoned his country.
Unfortunately, we are unlikely to ever discover if Bergdahl is indeed a deserter and therefore deserving of the fate that befell Eddie Slovik; as Armin Rosen noted at Business Insider, it's a hard case to prove and many years have passed. Additionally, the Obama Administration—which apparently forced this through despite longstanding objections from our spooks and seems to have acted in a wholly illegal manner—has too much to lose to ever let this go anywhere.
And, in the end, the Obama Administration doesn't really have much to worry about. Because dishonest, obtuse hacks like Chris Hayes (and Michael Tomasky!) will provide Obama all the cover he needs.
*I am frequently told by people on the right whom I respect that Chris Hayes is a really decent guy and a really honest thinker and that I'm being too hard on him when I say that I've literally never seen him act in an honest or decent fashion with the right. Last night's tweet is just another example of his ongoing mendacity.