Tuesday, June 3, 2014

No soldier left behind

If there was any doubt as to the depth of the irrational, unremitting hatred the Republicans feel for President Obama--and there really shouldn't have been--the events of the last few days should have put that to bed.

It should have also put to bed any belief that the Republicans have respect for the military.

A few days ago, the White House announced that it had secured the release of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, a soldier who disappeared about five years ago from his barracks in Afghanistan, from Taliban authorities.  The price was the release of five men whom the U.S. had been holding at Guantanamo on suspicion of supporting terrorism. 

Exactly how Bergdahl came to be captured is a matter of some dispute.  He contends that he fell behind while on patrol and was taken.  The Taliban, in a propaganda video, alleged that he was taken in an ambush after becoming drunk off-base.  Others in his unit have alleged that he simply walked away from his post, unarmed, and accused him of desertion.

A few days before he disappeared, Bergdahl had written an email to his parents in which he expressed disillusionment with the Army and its internal politics and twice expressed that he was "ashamed to be an American."  Some have speculated that Bergdahl was despondent following the combat death of Lt. Brian Bradshaw, an officer in Bergdahl's battalion, who was the first casualty that battalion had suffered in Afghanistan.

The noise and outrage machine is presently cranked up to 11, spewing out GOP propaganda designed to denigrate Bergdahl for political purposes as a mechanism for their continued Obama-hate. 

The prisoners Obama ordered released had been senior Taliban officials.  None of them could be tried for the crimes they allegedly committed, because the government lacked evidence; they were being held as enemy combatants and probably would have had to be released when the U.S. withdraws from Afghanistan later this year anyway.  Instead, they were furloughed to Qatar, which agreed to hold them for another year.

The manner in which this prisoner exchange was carried out ought to be subject to scrutiny.  There are legitimate questions about whether the exchange violates a law that requires 30 days' notice to Congress before the transfer of any prisoner from Guantanamo.  That law is probably unconstitutional because it interferes with the President's ability to discharge his duties as commander-in-chief.  POW camps--which Guantanamo must be; that's the only way even arguably that it could be maintained legally--are squarely within the purview of the President as a military function.  But it was at least a technical violation of the law.

But the GOP has it wrong on this one.  Whether you believe Bergdahl was taken because he was careless or unlucky, or because he deserted his post, and no matter what Bergdahl might have said about his situation in an unguarded moment while under significant stress, the simple fact remains that he is an American soldier.  We do not leave American soldiers behind on the battlefield, no matter the circumstances.  It is inexcusable for Republicans to suggest that the right thing, the moral thing, the American thing would be to leave Bergdahl to rot there.  That is never the right choice.

If Bergdahl did something that contributed to his capture, in violation of law or orders, then by all means, the military should discipline him.  Give him a dishonorable discharge, or throw him in the stockade if necessary.  But you don't leave him to live and die in Afghanistan.

In a broader sense, though, this is just one more data point in the mounting case against the GOP's military bona fides.   GOP leaders are quick to demand military action, and they give the impression that they care little about the impact that action has on those who are deployed.  When those servicemen and servicewomen return from war, they find endless budget cuts, little help in transitioning to civilian life, a medical system that offers them long waits for care, and little hope for change.  Instead of providing sufficient funding to fulfill the promise we make to our servicemen and servicewomen regarding medical care, their solution is to privatize the VA--apparently out of ignorance of how private-sector medical care works.

(Hint:  There are long waits for care in the private sector, too.  When I needed a procedure to deal with a ruptured disk in my back, the first available appointment was 8 weeks away.)

And when they can use members of the military to score political points--to the point at which they engage in character assassination to get there--the GOP is happy to do so, with no regard for the truth.

How do these sociopaths keep getting people to vote for them?

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