If a soldier who volunteered to serve in the military rapes or murders someone while in uniform, has he served honorably? Has Bradley Manning, who voluntarily joined the military and then betrayed his country by turning over hundreds of thousands of documents to WikiLeaks, served honorably? Did Benedict Arnold, another volunteer, serve with “honor and distinction”?
According to the logic of our national-security adviser, Susan Rice, they all did. Merely because they volunteered in the first place. Lieutenant Calley of My Lai Massacre fame? “Honor and distinction.”
Ms. Rice is aggressively stupid, immaculately clueless, and a disgrace to our system of government, but one does have to admire her tenacity. Late last week, Rice tried to extract herself from her effort to sell Private Bowe Bergdahl as a hero who served, as she had put in on ABC’s This Week, “with honor and distinction.” (The rank of private is correct, in that his promotions were phony.) In her attempted walkback, Rice claimed that anyone who ever signed on the dotted line had served honorably: “What I was referring to was the fact that this was a young man who volunteered to serve his country in uniform at a time of war. That, in and of itself, is a very honorable thing.”
If this administration cannot embrace our military, might it not at least stop insulting those in uniform? No soldier is finally judged to have served “with honor and distinction” until his or her service is complete. There’s a glaringly obvious reason for that.
Of course, we’ve heard a series of increasingly ugly comments from White House staffers as their lionization of Bergdahl has collapsed. Administration hacks who have never served our country in any useful capacity stage-whispered that right-wing activists were “swiftboating” the reputed deserter. In fact, it was the other way around: The real character assassinations were launched from the White House, and they targeted soldiers from Bergdahl’s platoon who had, indeed, served with honor and distinction. Those courageous young men stood up for justice, refusing to allow the administration’s blithe betrayal of military values to prevail. In response, White House loyalists insinuated that Bergdahl’s comrades in arms might be psychopathic. This is Chicago politics leveled against truly honorable soldiers — yet more evidence of this president’s disdain for those in uniform.
Then, on Sunday, the New York Times front page — once again indistinguishable from its self-abusing editorial pages — snarked that Bergdahl’s unit was “known for its troubles” and that (Lord preserve us!) the soldiers in Bergdahl’s battalion, on dangerous duty at a harsh outpost, weren’t always properly attired. Well, ending the draft was great for our military, but dreadful for the country. Anyone who had served even a couple of months as a private at Fort Hood would grasp that soldiers sweating on sunbaked ground in eastern Afghanistan generally do not display the spit and polish of the Old Guard drill team performing in Washington, D.C.
And perhaps those bold reporters from the New York Times would like to criticize the imperfect field uniforms of SEAL Team Six or our Special Forces? To their faces?
Doubling down on its shamelessness, the same front page applauded Obama for personally ending a failed strategy in Afghanistan — without bothering to mention that the truly catastrophic, troop-killing “strategy” was Obama’s own. The revisionism is worthy of the heyday of Chairman Mao.
When it comes to Bergdahl, though, the administration does have a strategy. No one in the White House gives a damn about Bergdahl now. He’s a liability. But the rule is that Obama is never wrong. Apologies are out of the question; instead, the White House is determined to tough it out, as it has through myriad scandals. And the tactics to protect the president are clear.
First, the White House will pressure the military to deem Bergdahl unfit to stand trial. That stage is already being set. After doctors treating him declared Bergdahl physically fit to return home (guess he wasn’t dying, after all), they’ve kept him secluded in Germany, making it known that he is in their view mentally unprepared to return to the States. The administration is going to go with the defense that Bergdahl is unbalanced, was unbalanced, and will be unbalanced.
If military doctors refuse to play along, “impartial civilian experts” will be called in. If that doesn’t work and the “too crazy to court martial” defense flops, the next step will be to strong-arm the Pentagon to reduce any charge to the comparatively minor Absent Without Leave, or AWOL (although overwhelming evidence exists that Bergdahl deserted). Then Bergdahl’s lawyers could plead him out, retain some benefits (perhaps all of them) for him, and the administration can claim, “See! He wasn’t a deserter after all.”
If some unexpectedly ethical general refuses to play along and the case goes to a court-martial, the administration’s fallback will be to insist on a “thorough” reinvestigation that pushes any court-martial past Obama’s 2017 departure from office (one suspects that Team Obama would love to dump this in Mrs. Clinton’s lap).
But won’t the brass stand up for fairness, military discipline, and justice? The bitter truth is that they haven’t thus far. Our generals knew within days of Bergdahl’s abandonment of his post that the evidence was overwhelming that he had deserted (ask them, under oath). But they made the decision to keep it quiet. The initial reason General Petraeus gave to me just days after Bergdahl walked off was that the military wished to shield Bergdahl’s parents.
Here’s where it gets interesting and ugly. The “noble POW” story took off politically. Commander after commander played along (as did Congress). Worse, the Army itself tried to beatify Bergdahl as some sort of hero-martyr to the troops, printing up solidarity posters and even creating life-size pasteboard cutouts of Bergdahl. Naturally, the troops knew it was BS (you can’t fool Private Snuffy very long, and word soon gets around). The agitprop was amateurish but outrageous (majors put up the posters, and sergeants rolled their eyes). Every officer involved in that effort should be relieved of duty.
It’s time for the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey, to man up. He inherited this Big Lie, but he shouldn’t pass it on. It’s his duty to follow the legal orders of our commander-in-chief, but it’s not his duty to provide cover for the president’s political shenanigans. As for Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, he’s clearly a lost cause on this case, with his claim that you can’t prove that any soldiers died because of Bergdahl, even though they were killed while the massive search for Bergdahl was underway and they died where they otherwise would not have been. (Dear Secretary Hagel: From one former sergeant to another former sergeant, show a glimmer of decency. You’re acting like some damned officer.)
As for President Obama himself, there’s far more news to tell. For all his pretensions about his regard for the troops, this man has lavished vastly more attention on the family of a deserter than any other military family has ever received from him (just as Bergdahl is getting more intensive medical attention than a genuine hero would). And you’re thinking, “Rose Garden,” right? But this has gone on for years, with a full colonel or brigadier general ordered to report to the Bergdahl family every three to six months with an update about their son. Has the White House taken so great an interest in the families of those who’ve been gravely wounded in the line of duty? Or of those who died? No, it has not. The White House fell in love with a family clearly several raisins short of a full bowl of granola. Not despite their son’s desertion, but because of it.
Mr. and Mrs. Bergdahl, too, have been Obama’s pawns. Our outrage should aim at the president, not them.
Of course, Private Bergdahl himself is the perfect soldier for those whose concept of our military was formed by Oliver Stone movies. Reportedly disillusioned with the war, he just walks away, a model of nobility, to seek out the enemy and find common ground. Bergdahl is a hero — for everyone on the left who despises our military. It’s a shame Sean Penn’s too old to play the role.
Meanwhile, with a straight face, Obama and his fellow travelers in the White House and media caution us not to “pre-judge” Bergdahl. That would have been a more credible plea before the president and his advisers pre-judged Bergdahl as a hero.
In closing, let me paraphrase the words of a fine U.S. Army lawyer from the past: “Mr. President, have you no shame?”
— Ralph Peters is a retired Army officer, a former enlisted man, and Fox News Strategic Analyst.