The Gitmo prisoner swap that sent Bowe Bergdahl into the loving arms of the psych ward at Landstuhl Military Hospital near Ramstein AB, Germany is in the news.
The swap is viewed by the Republican Party establishment, in an election year, as an Obama media diversion from delicious and well-deserved dereliction of duty charges against the Veterans Administration.
Republicans are also unhappy, and neoconservatives particularly so, because it signals the public end of the end in Afghanistan — an endless play-war for the United States government that all but evaporated from the mind of the American public several years ago. In an age of economic contraction, average Americans see no reason to pay for Afghanistan any longer, absent some sign of benefit, some visible victory. Neocons may insist that absence of victory is not evidence of the absence of victory, but I think by now, even Don Rumsfeld gets the picture. Just as for the Soviets, Afghanistan has been a USG-directed waste of trillions of dollars, millions of Afghan lives, and hundreds of thousands of American lives and families damaged or ruined by a soldier’s service in uniform.
Some neoconservative hawks like fellow POW Lt John McCain, who ended his active duty career by being shot down while bombing rice paddies in another foreign country, in another unpopular war, after wrecking two fighter planes and playing a role in the deadly fire on the USS Forrestal in 1967, are extremely angry about bringing home Sgt Bowe Bergdahl. Here is a POW who is a nobody with the nerve to question an overseas war, in the face of evidence that the US government was lying to soldiers, and to the American public. McCain was always a somebody, and he has never had the nerve to question government policy unless he saw a political gain in doing so.
Curiously, many in the right would gladly support Obama’s policies if a midwestern Republican were implementing them. These same folks took pride in the Bush II era, yet are totally offended by Obama’s identical foreign policy, his identical pernicious domestic meddling and state growth. It isn’t racism, but it may be harder to fix. Most of what passes for the political right as a movement doesn’t even understand what they stand for. They don’t understand fundamentals of federalism and limited government, they don’t understand the language and motivations of the founders, and they lack the kind of self-awareness that might allow them to question why they feel there is such a difference between a George W and Barack H.
Had President Bush conducted this prisoner exchange, brokered by Qatar or even his friends in Saudi Arabia, I imagine the spin would be a bit different from the raging superpatriots on the neocon left and right. I’m sure we would find (after the fact) that Bush had in fact consulted with members of Congress privately, and that the return of the dangerous Talibani to Afghanistan (a year from now (?), after being held by a US-friendly khanate) was actually a great strategy to ensure that the USG would have another stick with which to beat the post-Karzai government into signing a status of forces agreement that allows US troops to stay in country and do what they and (the military establishment and global banking elite) want.
What? Is Obama a political genius — with impeccable timing, and a boldness that even his enemies would admire? I mean, no less than Dick Cheney just called Obama the weakest president ever — and then the sly politico openly bucks a Congressional rule about a legal netherworld of Guantanamo and its inmates, who in fact are not POWs, but detainees, because no war was ever declared, and as Washington well knows, these prisoners have been found not to be subject to Geneva Convention rights, precisely because they are not prisoners of war. And war, whether on terrorism or poppy growers, or a political sector of a foreign country, is not the correct legal term — but I guess words mean whatever we want them to mean, in this fantasy world of political rules and niceties, of tortured limbs and tortured logic.
But back to Bowe Bergdahl. I worry more about him today in the hands of the USG, in this post-Wikileaks and post-Edward Snowden world than I ever did when he was in the mountains of Afghanistan and Pakistan. Bowe, home-schooled, raised with an ethical spine, and informed by classical and worldly readings, had already become disillusioned by the lies and the falsity of what our soldiers were being asked to do in Afghanistan. His disillusionment would find flight in his words, and if it is true that he walked away, in his actions that would inspire many if widely known.
When one can observe and measure the world around him or her, and articulate what he sees, and can use language and logic to explore what it all means, this is a gift, rarely seen. The soldier poet, the veteran who becomes a worker of words to deal with what he has seen and perceived about power, and love, and hate and war, politics and human beings – this soldier and this veteran are extremely valuable.
But because they can tell the truth and speak it nobly, if the truth they speak goes against the desires of the state, or falsifies a state fairy tale, these men and women become dangerous.
I don’t know Bowe. But when I read the letters Bowe wrote home five years ago, I see the simple words of a brave thinker. He is in a class of men who use language and live their lives in service to honesty and personal integrity. This is rare, and when it is found, the hacks and sycophants of governments everywhere become enraged. In fact, the loud collective hysteria of the hacks and sycophants is quite helpful in identifying those we should be listening to, and learning from.
The existence of one Bowe Bergdahl speaking the truth will undercut ten statist thinktanks, a hundred neoconservative op ed writers, a thousand GOP and Democratic warmongering strategists, and can soothe the minds of millions of Americans who sense the truth but cannot articulate it. Bowe is not safe in the hands of the military, where men with guns and men with medical degrees all serve the state, with too much obedience and too little honor. I hope his time with the debriefers and the government psychiatrists is short.
If Bowe gets home and is allowed to live his life, it will be the right thing, and I’m keeping my fingers crossed. If this episode leads to more discussion of the legal and Catch-22 status of Gitmo and the utter inability of anyone there to get a legitimate trial, or to be released without controversy, that would be good. If it leads to a deeper discussion of the real nature of the evil the USG has been doing in Afghanistan for the past decade, and more awareness of Afghan politics today, that’s fine. And, if due to Washington politics and reactive anger by war lovers some aspect of this case leads to an impeachment of the President, after we’ve seen so many impeachable offenses that never motivated the Republican House to act, well, that would be icing on the cake.