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THE MUSINGS OF A TRADITIONAL SOUTHERN DEMOCRAT

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Location: Douglas, Coffee Co., The Other Georgia, United States

Sid in his law office where he sits when meeting with clients. Observant eyes will notice the statuette of one of Sid's favorite Democrats.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

The anger at Bergdahl–and at the President–only deepened the next day, when National Security Adviser Susan Rice added another coat of whitewash. Bergdahl, Rice declared, “served the United States with honor and distinction.” The President made matters worse by rushing the final arrangements to trade five Taliban leaders for Bergdahl past a reluctant military and a skeptical Congress. - The decision boiled down to “Suck it up and salute.”

From TIME:

The return of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl from captivity is no simple feel-good story. That makes it an ideal symbol for the end of the Afghanistan war
If every soldier were brave in battle, we wouldn’t need a word for valor.
Yet generals since the time of Saul have confronted the problem of breakdown and desertion. The eminent military historian John Keegan, in his masterpiece The Face of Battle, quoted U.S. military authorities who concluded after World War II that “there is no such thing as ‘getting used to combat’ … Psychiatric casualties are as inevitable as gunshot and shrapnel wounds.” Some soldiers deal with the pressure by running away–or worse, by switching sides. Which is why Stalin kept a significant share of his guns pointed at the rear of his own army.

When President Obama stepped into the Rose Garden on May 31 to announce a deal to free the only captive U.S. soldier in the Afghanistan war, he evidently was worried that Americans couldn’t handle this truth. Flanked by the parents of Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, the President struck a victorious tone. He spoke of parental love and a nation’s duty and the loyalty of the freed soldier’s comrades. But he gave no hint that Bergdahl’s capture was the source of enormous anger and resentment among some of those comrades, who feel that he abandoned them when he walked away from his post one summer night in 2009. The anger at Bergdahl–and at the President–only deepened the next day, when National Security Adviser Susan Rice added another coat of whitewash. Bergdahl, Rice declared, “served the United States with honor and distinction.”

Maybe it was inevitable that even this familiar end-of-war set piece, the tearful return of the last prisoner, would sour, given the division and suspicion sown at home by the long wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. But the President made matters worse by rushing the final arrangements to trade five Taliban leaders for Bergdahl past a reluctant military and a skeptical Congress. Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein of California, chairman of the Intelligence Committee, complained of being left in the dark, while a U.S. military source told TIME that the decision boiled down to “suck it up and salute.”

Obama further erred by trying to spin a feel-good story from a messy set of facts. After a dismal week of bad news, including the resignation of Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki, the White House leaped at the chance to show the depth of the President’s commitment to Americans in uniform. Within days, the Rose Garden fairy tale had been shredded by indignant soldiers and Obama’s political foes. Critics demanded to know how many Americans were killed five years ago while searching for Bergdahl and how much havoc the Taliban Five might wreak in the future, should they make their way back into action. The U.S. may vow to leave no soldier behind, but what is a reasonable risk to run or price to pay for that retrieval, and should the calculation change if the soldier is judged to deserve not a parade but a trial?

“This is what happens at the end of wars,” Obama said defensively as the anger and confusion boiled over. Arrangements must be made to tie up each violent drama with a bow, all the dead buried and all the living restored to their homes. “That was true for George Washington, that was true for Abraham Lincoln, that was true for FDR. That’s been true of every combat situation,” the President said. “At some point, you make sure that you try to get your folks back.” He might better have said that the Bergdahl story shows why wars continue to gnaw and grind long after the end is officially pronounced. Too much is smashed and bloodied to be wrapped up neatly. People must live, sometimes in turmoil, sometimes for centuries, with loose ends.

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