The Bowe Bergdahl Story Is Right-Wing Crack

Never mind that Bush would have done the same as Obama. Republicans are hitting the pipe big time on the ‘deserter’—and their creepy bottom line is that he should have been left to die.

Pool photo by J.H. Owen

I was amazed but not surprised by my Twitter feed Monday. More than 200 tweets from conservatives, I would estimate, calling me a host of names and Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl a menu of worse ones. That’s the most ever in one day, I think, even more than for my most scorching anti-NRA columns, which have heretofore set the gold standard for inspiring drooling right-wing vitriol.

I was not, as I say, surprised. This story has every element right-wingers dream of. Every dark suspicion they harbor about President Obama can be wedged into the narrative conservatives are constructing about how Saturday’s prisoner exchange supposedly went down and what the president’s presumed motivations were. So I knew instantly, when I read Michael Hastings’s 2012 Rolling Stone profile of Bergdahl on Sunday afternoon, that this was going to be the next Benghazi. The story is right-wing crack. And sure enough, Republicans are hitting the pipe big time.

Some of the wilder criticisms of me notwithstanding, my column Monday made two basic points. First, if a Republican president had swapped five Taliban leaders for Bergdahl, all the people howling today would be spinning it positively. And second, while there are legitimate questions here—yes, I wrote that it was “fair to ask whether the price” of Bergdahl’s freedom was “too high”—what we’re about to get is another relentlessly politicized series of investigations that will be aimed not at determining the truth but at trying to turn possible errors of judgment by the White House into high crimes and misdemeanors. That’s the game here. Anyone who denies it is being naively or intentionally delusional.

Time, even the short amount that has passed between then and now, has proved me all too prescient—not that I’m patting myself on the back; it was a painfully easy call. The most notable development Tuesday was that former Romney adviser Richard Grenell was found to be setting up interviews for soldiers in Bergdahl’s battalion who wanted to go public trashing him. It may be, as Grenell’s partner said, that the soldiers found him on Twitter and it just kind of worked out that way. But the bottom line is what it is. These soldiers joining forces with a PR guy who used to work for John Bolton and then for candidate Mitt Romney, a man who is so deeply enmeshed in partisan politics, puts a political coloration on their words whether they mean it to or not.

I’m not defending Bergdahl here, and I didn’t Monday. Somebody on Twitter made a big deal out of the fact that I put the word “deserter” in quotes. You’re fucking-a right I did. He’s not officially a deserter. He is officially a sergeant in good standing. People can believe he is a deserter all they want, and maybe he is. But is the military’s official position worth nothing? That’s an interesting right-wing posture.

The military should investigate whether Bergdahl was a deserter, and it should court-martial him if the evidence supports doing that. In the meantime, what end is served by the character assassinations of him and especially of his father, who’s a citizen with all the usual rights? The creepy bottom line of the right-wing position, mostly unstated but often implied in tweets and comments, is that the U.S. government should have just left Bergdahl to die. That’s an appalling position. Bring him back alive, then let him face whatever justice he must face. But bring him back. That’s what civil societies do. What kind of society and leader lets their captive soldiers die in enemy hands? Recall that the guy who wouldn’t even trade a Nazi general for his own son (who died in German custody) was named Stalin.

That is why John Bellinger, a national-security lawyer in George W. Bush’s administration, said on Fox that he believes the Bush administration would have done exactly the same thing the Obama administration did. From Think Progress:

Asked about reports that Bergdahl deserted his unit in 2009, Bellinger added that the former hostage “will have to face justice, military justice.” “We don’t leave soldiers on the battlefield under any circumstance unless they have actually joined the enemy army,” he said. “He was a young 20-year-old. Young 20-year-olds make stupid decisions. I don’t think we’ll say if you make a stupid decision we’ll leave you in the hands of the Taliban.”

Bellinger missed Bergdahl’s age at captivity by three years, but that aside, his is the humane and decent position. Bellinger also noted that the Bush administration—you know, the one that never negotiated with terrorists—released more than 500 prisoners from Guantanamo, returning them to the region. Was Dick Cheney howling about that the way he’s been howling about Bergdahl? I doubt it, since it was his administration.

Allen West, the one-term mistake whom the voters of Florida’s 22nd Congressional District quickly corrected, wants impeachment. Steve King, the multi-term mistake whom Iowans refuse to correct, tweeted that Susan Rice is “working for Al Qaeda.” The pipe, as Richard Pryor once testified, is irresistible and powerful. It comes to own you. The unfortunate thing is that as long as they’re sucking on it, the rest of us can’t escape.