It stands out as one of the most deplorable incidents in the scarred history of the previous White House administration: Barack Obama agreeing to release five radical Taliban prisoners from Guantanamo Bay in exchange for Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl.
Those five, now lolling around under house arrest in Qatar, are among the Taliban’s most ruthless, battle-hardened commanders. Their release from U.S. custody still is considered a huge morale boost to the terrorists America is fighting.
Bergdahl decided to wander away from his combat outpost in Afghanistan in 2009 and was almost immediately captured by the Taliban.
Now Americans get to revisit the whole disgusting episode all over again, as Bergdahl is back in the headlines. He pleaded guilty Monday on charges of desertion and misbehavior before the enemy.
Just to refresh your memory, here’s how Susan Rice, Obama’s national security adviser, described Bergdahl in 2014: “He served the United States with honor and distinction.”
That certainly has yet to be proved. Bergdahl himself has admitted abandoning his post. Members of his unit came forward with their impressions of Bergdahl as a man increasingly dissatisfied with being a soldier. That’s honor and distinction?
And how is it a sane tactical advantage – or even a fair prisoner exchange – to swap five of the biggest, baddest Taliban chiefs for an enlisted man, deployed not even for two months, who washed out of Coast Guard basic training in 2006 because of psychological issues?
One very plausible theory is that the tactics at play here involve not combat, but political optics.
Remember, at the time of the Bergdahl exchange, the Obama administration was sporting a huge black eye over a profoundly dysfunctional Department of Veterans Affairs and a backlogged claims systems blamed for several vets’ preventable deaths. It’s not far-fetched to conclude that the White House concocted the Bergdahl release to shove the VA story out of the public eye and paint Bergdahl a hero.
Instead, the lopsided deal made the administration look even worse. Democrats and Republicans alike roundly derided the deal not only for its inequity but its illegality. Obama cut the deal without lawfully notifying Congress 30 days in advance.
The desertion charge carries a sentence of up to five years in prison. The misbehavior charge could earn him life.
Bergdahl’s sentence should be swift and stiff, and hopefully a much-anticipated end to this sorry affair.