As the Bowe Bergdahl prisoner swap has curdled from presumed triumph to public-relations nightmare, the White House and its defenders have cast about for excuses why the administration’s negotiating brilliance has gone unappreciated.
White House staffers told NBC’s Chuck Todd that they were taken aback at the “swift-boating” of Bergdahl by his former comrades. That’s a reference to the attacks on John Kerry when he was the 2004 Democratic presidential nominee by the troops he served with in Vietnam.
Rightly understood, swift-boating shouldn’t be a pejorative — it’s what happens when men in uniform feel betrayed by a comrade and tell the public what they believe to be the truth about his service. But for Democrats and the media, swift-boating is about the most heinous thing that can happen to someone.
Bowe Bergdahl thus joins Kerry as a victim of a partisan smear campaign — except, unlike the secretary of state, Bergdahl doesn’t have any prestigious medals to throw away (or pretend to throw away) at an anti-war protest.
Sen. Chris Murphy, a Democrat from Connecticut, tweeted, “Really sad to watch Obama haters attack this kid who CHOSE to fight to protect the rest of us, just to score political points.”
On CNN, Van Jones said that “the airwaves are being filled mysteriously with former solders just trashing the guy.” Ah, but it’s not so mysterious, after all. “It turns out,” Jones intoned, “that there are Republican operatives who are working behind the scenes to get some of those guys on television. This is an orchestrated smear campaign.”
He was alluding to former Republican official Richard Grenell putting a few of the troops together with journalists. Evidently, these guys should have waited until former White House spokesman Robert Gibbs offered to hook them up, and otherwise kept to themselves their silly stories about what they went through in Afghanistan after Bergdahl’s disappearance.
More than half a dozen of Bergdahl’s former comrades have said he deliberately walked off his base in 2009 after becoming disillusioned with the war, and that soldiers were killed looking for him.
Let’s stipulate that — given the fog of war — these accounts might exaggerate the harm done by Bergdahl’s disappearance. But there is no doubt that they are sincere, and the anger is real. What are the odds that Bergdahl happened to get assigned to a platoon full of highly politicized soldiers who waited years for the opportunity to use the circumstances of his capture as a cudgel against President Barack Obama?
As the pseudonymous blogger Allahpundit points out, if there are comrades who will vouch for Bergdahl, or were witnesses to him being snatched while lagging behind on patrol (as Bergdahl maintained in a video after his capture), we would presumably have heard from them by now.
The conspiracy against Bergdahl is so vast that it encompasses Afghan villagers. Some of them told The Washington Post that they saw Bergdahl after he walked away from his base, heading for Taliban strongholds and ignoring their warnings that he was in danger.
None of this necessarily means that the trade for Bergdahl was wrong, or that we shouldn’t have wanted him back. But it makes the deal harder to defend, which is why the initial White House spin about Bergdahl was so positive — until the facts got in the way. He went from serving with “honor and distinction,” per National Security Adviser Susan Rice’s initial assurances on the Sunday shows, to “innocent until proven guilty,” per Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Martin Dempsey’s comment about a potential court-martial, in the space of about three days.
The top Taliban officials released from Guantanamo Bay to get Bergdahl back were last seen hugging and kissing supporters in Qatar, where they are supposed to be watched for a year. Even the president admits that they could return to the fight. Huffy complaints about swift-boating and partisanship aren’t going to put the questions about this deal to rest.
Rich Lowry can be reached via e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.