Thursday, June 05, 2014

Welcome Home

According to the traffic on Drudge and Ace, a lot of former soldiers and conservative pundits, including our own Professor Hale, are upset at the recent exchange of Taliban prisoners for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, who walked away from his unit's camp and fell into enemy hands in 2009. Prepare to read a contrary view.

Bowe Bergdahl was by all accounts a loner, probably an introvert. He was not without competence in discrete infantry skills -- indeed, he was something of a geek in that respect -- but he had no ability to integrate with a team. Add to that a weirdish religious and social background. Add in also his strongly-held but half-baked opinions about the actual mission of our soldiers occupying Afghanistan. (PH speculates that Bowe is homosexual, which is certainly plausible but not necessary.) The result was that he was socially ostracized ("psychologically isolated") within his unit.

Someday I will put fingers to keyboard and explain my General Theory of Introversion, but for now I will assert that introversion confers at best a modest tolerance for ostracism. In any case, Bowe broke down under the strain. Perhaps he saw himself as a T. E. Lawrence or John Dunbar, going "native" in the Hindu Kush, but he obviously had wildly naive ideas about the fate awaiting an unarmed American soldier wandering around eastern Afghanistan by himself.

The pundits are all saying that Bowe "deserted", which by the facts of the case was his intent, although the expected legal case will hinge on whether the definition of desertion covers a soldier captured by the enemy within a couple of hours of setting out. Bowe's erstwhile compatriots are now leveling more serious charges: that he defected to the Taliban, and/or that he collaborated with them in captivity. While there is almost no evidence for the first charge, there is plenty of circumstantial evidence for the second: the Taliban markedly improved their tactics against his former unit after his disappearance. But the Taliban's propaganda that Bowe taught them how to build cell phone IED detonators is patently absurd: the Taliban, if they didn't already have their own IED experts, learned these skills from Al Qaeda years before Bowe got there.

An open question is how much duress Bowe required from his captors to secure his tactical cooperation. My hunch is: not much. As I have said to anyone who will listen, leaving people to stew in their own isolation and loneliness make them susceptible to all kinds of bad behavior. Put another way, his fellow soldiers were a$$holes, earning little of Bowe's loyalty and inspiring none of it. But those howling for Bowe's prosecution should remember that in the wake of the most recent relevant precedent, Vietnam, we declined to prosecute collaborationist POWs who had far more social support available to them than Bowe did.

Obviously, much of the above is my speculation and is subject to revision as more facts emerge. But some of the commentary on this case is transparently stupid:

  • "Bergdahl served with honor and distinction." Like everything else coming out of the administration, this is self-serving nonsense. Bergdahl was weak and foolish. He might have made the Army a decent small engine repair technician, but he had no more business in combat infantry than I did.

  • "We shouldn't trade prisoners for deserters!" Wrong. We shouldn't trade prisoners for defectors. But we've always traded their prisoners for ours, including the ones we've hanged on receipt. And at war's end, the living all go home anyway.

  • "We released terrorists!" If the only way you can get yourself through the day is by calling your enemy names, knock yourself out. But if your definition of "terrorists" include duly appointed officers of a state we invaded and occupied, then the word doesn't carry the moral weight you think it does. More charitably, you may be confusing the Taliban with Al Qaeda, non-state actors striking civilian targets worldwide.

  • "The men we released will kill Americans in the future!" Only if we continue to militarily occupy their country without their consent. In which case, those are the rules of the game we're signing up to.

  • "Exchanging their terrorists for our POWs only encourages them to take more of our guys hostage!" As opposed to what? Decapitating our guys on YouTube? Forgive me for thinking that this was the preferred option.

  • "We upheld our oath. Bergdahl broke his." No. You took an oath to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States, and precisely ZERO of what you did in Afghanistan, and probably your entire enlistment, had anything to do with that oath. What you did is what I did, and what Bergdahl failed to do: to a first approximation, what we were told to do, Constitution be damned. That may make us braver and stronger. It doesn't make us "oath-keepers".

  • "Better men died trying to rescue him!" As opposed to dying doing . . . what? Some pointless COIN operation? Trying to rescue Bowe was the most worthwhile thing you did during your entire deployment.

  • "Obama says we shouldn't leave men behind, but he left men behind in Benghazi!" True, but irrelevant. Sometimes you win, sometimes you don't.

  • "Obama broke the law!" Yes. Obama was required by law to notify Congress before releasing Guantanamo Bay prisoners. Add it to the long list of Obama's crimes that Congress also isn't doing anything about.

  • “Obama promoted Bergdahl to staff sergeant!”  Yes.  All POWs are promoted in the zone.  When he’s court-martialed, as I fully expect, he won’t keep it.  He’ll be stripped of rank, forfeit all pay and allowances, serve whatever prison time is judged appropriate, and be dishonorably discharged.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the virtual fist-bump.

And my speculation about Bergahl's sexual orientation is the crassest most idle of speculation, without a shred of evidence to support it. Just don't be surprised when he holds a press conference next year to announce that he and his "life partner" just want to get on with their lives and hope the press will respect their privacy.

And I am sincere in believing he will face no prosecution. The Army will want to forget this whole sorry episode. The Obama administration will not want the story in the press making them look more stupid than they already do for making a bad trade.

fschmidt said...

Don't you see the commonality between Bergdahl and Elliot Rodger? Alienation. Both realized, quite correctly, that America today a cesspool. Your suggestion in your other post about Rodger suggesting that people act with consideration to others is just absurd because Americans today are fundamentally incapable of acting like this. American culture is fundamentally psychopathic. All Americans can do is attack others. They are incapable of empathy for Afghans, incels, or anyone else.

I am sorry that you are in the US military. You are defending an evil nation.

Anonymous said...

Bite me. America is not a cesspool. It has cesspools. Unlike the rest of the world that still dumps their waste into the drinking water supply.

fschmidt said...

America is a moral cesspool where people respond to criticism with such profound expressions as "bite me".

Anonymous said...

Sometimes, that is all the response you deserve.

fschmidt said...

Fine, just don't be surprised when alienated men give America the violent response that they think America deserves.