American soldier Bowe Bergdahl, captured and held by the Taliban for the past five years, has been traded for five high-level Taliban soldiers imprisoned in Guantanamo Bay without the consent of Congress and against the wishes of the intelligence community. Parties on both sides of the aisle are questioning the wisdom and timing of this controversial move by our Commander-In-Chief, and among those who disagree with him the sentiment seems to be: Mr. President, please choose a foreign policy that is unflagging and pro-military and stick to it.
When a young man or woman joins the service, it is understood that they may be killed, may be captured, or may be taken prisoner – perhaps for years. It should also be understood that America’s top commander will have his or her back and will probably not allow the bad guys that they are risking life and limb to quell to be released back into positions of power. It endangers others who are serving on foreign soil, and sets up a dangerous precedent of negotiations that puts long-term goals in the backseat.
Mothers and fathers experience both pride and fear when a beloved child enlists — that child may never be seen again. A nation’s military is (or should be) synonymous with might — and might doesn’t negotiate with terrorists, it negotiates with recognized entities who have established governments. Two soldiers reportedly lost their lives while looking for Bowe Bergdahl after he vanished, and I’m sure that those two soldiers had mother and fathers who felt both pride and fear and their fear was sadly realized. It is now reported by members of his unit that Bergdahl had walked off his post “out of boredom” at least once before his capture by the Taliban, and he wrote letters home to his father detailing how he “hates America.”
For the last few months the White House has been largely silent in the case of a Marine suffering from PTSD who mistakenly crossed the border into Mexico and is now held in a federal prison there. Fine — the White House has an “every man for itself” policy when it comes to intervention on behalf of service men and women, which is valid, if a bit standoffish.
But now, a soldier whose service is at best questionable wanders away from his unit and is traded for five high-level Taliban officers (called the “Fab Five” by Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga, the top-ranking Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee) in what seems to be a largely secretive deal in the works since 2012. That is not a standoffish policy — that is a show of empty, unthinking, “come hug the President gratefully” largesse before a televised Rose Garden crowd in the midst of scandals stacking up like the icy bricks of a child’s snow fort, obliterating a clear view of our current leadership.
What was once termed American backbone has descended into spineless shuffling as the President experiences “on the job training” at America’s expense. The President loves to try to negotiate with and “understand” those who will harm us, as the casualties, not the least of which is our international standing, pile up.
True, he has kept us out of new wars, which I do applaud. No one wants war; we want to try diplomacy until it is utterly exhausted. But do not draw an imaginary red line if, once crossed, the penalty is equally imaginary and made up of a dangerous cocktail of rhetoric, excuses, and deflection.
My oldest son wanted to join the Army at 18, and I begged him to wait until he was 21, so that his choice was made as an adult. I prayed that those extra three years would give him expanded horizons and more choices, and they did, and his interests gradually changed away from the uniform. I was so fearful of him being killed or captured; a child lost, or kept by force away from his loved ones seemed more than I could bear.
I can understand Bowe Bergdahl’s parents’ anguish, and their joy now, as their son returns home. Whether he was a deserter has yet to be determined. Still, he is young, and he is someone’s child, and they need him home.
My thoughts are with the parents of those who lost their lives searching for Bergdahl, and with the mother of our Marine in prison in Mexico. You all deserve an unwavering American policy when it comes to prisoners of war … and when it comes to American might and mercy.
Deirdre Reilly has written one humor book, and authored a syndicated family life column for Gatehouse Media for 13 years. She has won a Massachusetts Press Award for humor, her op-eds have been published in the Boston Herald and The Hartford Courant, and she has had short fiction published in literary journals. Deirdre was raised in Columbia, Md., and now lives outside Boston, Ma. She enjoys outdoor pursuits, and is obsessed with the care and happiness of a retired carriage horse named Nello that she bought for a few hundred dollars on a menopausal whim.