Saturday, June 7, 2014

Should We Really Take All Measures Necessary?

Some foolish things have been said in the course of trying to defend President Obama's trade of five Taliban leaders for the American soldier Bowe Bergdahl.

Susan Rice, for example, the President's National Security Advisor, declared that Sgt. Bergdahl served his country "with honor and distinction." It may not be surprising that in this White House walking away from one's commitments to one's fellow soldiers and possibly giving aid and comfort to the enemy are considered honorable and distinguished behaviors.

Ms Rice, it must be said, is a woman from among whose virtues a deep respect for the truth is lamentably missing. She is, after all, the official who adamantly purveyed the falsehood that the Benghazi attack was in response to an offensive video, so perhaps we shouldn't assign too much weight to what she says, despite her high rank and influence in the Obama administration.

David Brooks, however, has a more serious reputation, a reputation for being thoughtful and objective, so it's a bit startling to read a column in The New York Times in which, in the course of defending the President's decision, he claims that:
[Americans] will not abandon each other; we will protect one another; heroic measures will be taken to leave no one behind. Even if it is just a lifeless body that we are retrieving, it is important to repatriate all Americans.

The president and vice president, the only government officials elected directly by the entire nation, have a special responsibility to nurture this national solidarity. So, of course, President Obama had to take all measures necessary to secure the release of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl. Of course, he had to do all he could do to not forsake an American citizen.
"All measures necessary"? What if the Taliban had insisted that we release Khalid Sheik Muhammad, the 9/11 mastermind? What if they insisted that we abandon support for Israel? What if they demanded that in exchange for Bergdahl we send nuclear technology to Iran? Brooks' claim is ludicrous on the face of it. It's simply ridiculous to say that the nation should pay any price to get back any single American soldier, much less one who deserted his post. If Bergdahl did in fact commit desertion (and then treason) he could be executed. Isn't it ironic that Mr. Obama would give up five murderous thugs to get back a soldier so that he can stand in front of a firing squad?

But Brooks isn't finished:
It doesn’t matter if Bergdahl had deserted his post or not. It doesn’t matter if he is a confused young man who said insulting and shameful things about his country and his Army. The debt we owe to fellow Americans is not based on individual merit. It is based on citizenship, and loyalty to the national community we all share.
Well, if we should do whatever we can to get back our citizens being held by foreign authorities what is this administration doing to repatriate Marine Sgt. Andrew Tahmooressi who languishes in a Mexican jail? What's the administration doing to repatriate the numerous other American citizens, some of whom have been imprisoned for years in foreign jails, although they committed no crime?

Does Brooks think we should take all measures necessary to repatriate these citizens? If so, why is he not outraged that the administration, at least by outward appearances, is content to let them all rot? But there's more silliness to come. Brooks writes:
Soldiers don’t risk their lives only for those Americans who deserve it; they do it for the nation as a whole.
This is nonsense. Talk to any combat veteran, and he'll tell you that he risked his life for the other guys in his squad, not for some nebulous national goal or purpose. Indeed, many of them are very cynical about such abstractions.
It is not dispositive either that the deal to release Bergdahl may put others at risk. The five prisoners released from Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, in a swap for Bergdahl seem like terrible men who could do harm. But their release may have been imminent anyway. And the loss of national fraternity that would result if we start abandoning Americans in the field would be a greater and more long lasting harm.
Yes, it may have been imminent, but it's absurd to use that as a defense of the President's action. The point is that release of murderers, men charged with crimes against humanity by the U.N., shouldn't have been imminent, and especially while hostilities still rage in Afghanistan. Finally there's this:
[T]his is the dirty world we live in. Sometimes national leaders are called upon to take the sins of the situation upon themselves for the good of the country, to deal with the hateful and compromise with the loathsome. That’s their form of sacrifice and service.
Perhaps, but then they shouldn't be conducting Rose Garden ceremonies as if they'd achieved some great and noble victory. To his credit, Mr. Brooks makes that same point later in his essay. Unfortunately, the rest of his column is comprised of so much flummery that it sounds like Susan Rice's talking points for a Sunday talk show.