I will confess to a dark suspicion that when Robert Bergdahl, standing next to President Obama, said in Pashto to Bowe Bergdahl, “I am your father,” it was some sort of coded message. I mean, what in the world was that all about? Does any father have to say such a thing to a son? Did he think Bowe didn’t know who his father was?
But then I started to ask questions of people who had followed the Bergdahl saga, and they calmed me down a bit. The elder Bergdahl seems a bit odd. Look at the pictures. “A hippy,” one of my best sources said. A guy who’d gone to Idaho to pursue a lifestyle reminiscent of the romantic sixties: love, peace, and the expansion of the mind. Or so they say. And it connects well with the story of Bowe, leaving his base in an “intoxicated state,” which, if true, can’t mean alcohol, which is forbidden in such places. It might mean pot, or hashish, however. Berkeley, California, on the plains of Afghanistan.
I think, as I always do when confronted with “breaking news,” that we are some distance from the truth. We don’t have the real facts just yet, and, contrary to all our frenzied desire to know everything right away, it’s a good idea to take a deep breath and analyze the odors.
One good place to start is where Brad Thor does: forget about the Taliban, they weren’t holding Bowe. He was a captive of the Haqqanis, which Thor nicely describes as a mixture of terrorism and mafia, “80% Sopranos and 20% Al Qaeda.” He then asks an important question: what did the Haqqanis get for Bergdahl? That’s exactly right, because four of the Guantanamo terrorists were indeed Taliban, and hence low priority for the Haqqanis. So?
So we need to ask how much money the Haqqanis got, or how many weapons, or maybe diamonds, I don’t know. We probably arranged for the payment–it’s illegal to do it directly, I believe (although CIA has done it, as has the military, usually under the guise of “providing information”)–and the Qataris may have thought it was a good investment. But something of value had to be given to the Haqqanis. I don’t believe they turned over Bowe as a favor to the Taliban.
It is also possible that the Iranians were involved…. They have trained both the Haqqanis and the Taliban, and they are eager to extend their control over Afghanistan as we retreat. For extras, one of the released Taliban was in cahoots with them, planning anti-American operations as we prepared to invade in 2001. It would make sense, although it is not high on my list of likely explanations, for them to be midwives to the deal.
As we sort out the real facts from the abundant background noise, we will discover several disconcerting things: first, that control over the efforts to recover Bowe often shifted between US government agencies. Second, that it is misleading to say that the negotiations were underway for five years; the final push came in the last six weeks, when the Qataris told the U.S. that a deal was now possible. Third, that the list of Guantanamo terrorists to be “paid” shifted continuously. And fourth, who were the key intermediaries? I suspect we will find some relatively unknown academics involved in the talks. It wasn’t entirely the work of Qatari diplomats and U.S. officials by any means.
Finally, a mystery: why the sudden urgency at the end, when talks had often collapsed in the past? It’s hard to believe that the administration thought Bowe’s health was so bad he might drop dead, although it’s a possibility. But it’s more likely that we’re missing a key element, something separate from the Bergdahl saga.
For once, I think we have a good chance to find out. There are lots of angry people out there, from military guys who despise Bowe and think he’s worthless, to members of the various agencies who fought one another to get control and glory and will now tell very different versions of what actually took place.
The people I wouldn’t trust on this one–aside from top decision makers who likely have a lot to hide–are the Bergdahls. They’re very odd people, to put it mildly.