A Clash of Cultures
According to NBC White House correspondent Chuck Todd, the White House expected “euphoria” over the release of the last American soldier held captive in Afghanistan and was completely blindsided by the wave of outrage with which the Bergdahl swap was greeted. Todd's account is shown below:
Ralph Peters also noted the White House miscalculation and puts it down to a basic misunderstanding of military culture among the president's advisers. They expected the country as a whole to be delighted by the same things that pleased them. They were shocked when it didn't happen. Peters writes:
Congratulations, Mr. President! And identical congrats to your sorcerer’s apprentice, National Security Adviser Susan Rice. By trying to sell him as an American hero, you’ve turned a deserter already despised by soldiers in the know into quite possibly the most-hated individual soldier in the history of our military.
I have never witnessed such outrage from our troops....
Exhibit A: Ms. Rice. In one of the most tone-deaf statements in White House history (we’re making a lot of history here), the national-security advisor, on a Sunday talk show, described Bergdahl as having served “with honor and distinction.” Those serving in uniform and those of us who served previously were already stirred up, but that jaw-dropper drove us into jihad mode....
The president, too, appears stunned. He has so little understanding of (or interest in) the values and traditions of our troops that he and his advisers really believed that those in uniform would erupt into public joy at the news of Bergdahl’s release — as D.C. frat kids did when Osama bin Laden’s death was trumpeted.
Both President Obama and Ms. Rice seem to think that the crime of desertion in wartime is kind of like skipping class....
President Obama did this to himself (and to Bergdahl). This beautifully educated man, who never tires of letting us know how much smarter he is than the rest of us, never stopped to consider that our troops and their families might have been offended by their commander-in-chief staging a love-fest at the White House to celebrate trading five top terrorists for one deserter and featuring not the families of those soldiers (at least six of them) who died in the efforts to find and free Bergdahl, but, instead, giving a starring role on the international stage to Pa Taliban, parent of a deserter and a creature of dubious sympathies (that beard on pops ain’t a tribute to ZZ Top). How do you say “outrageous insult to our vets” in Pashto?
Even Bowe Bergdahl is unable to rise to the president's defense. He is now being held incommunicado at Landstuhl Air Base. And perhaps it is all as well. Just now the Taliban emailed journalists video showing the actual handover with Bergdahl curiously less than euphoric himself:
The video, emailed to media on Wednesday, shows Bergdahl in traditional Afghan clothing sitting in a pickup truck parked on a hillside. More than a dozen Taliban fighters with machineguns stand around the truck and on the hillside.
Bergdahl is seen blinking frequently as he looks at and listens to his captors.
If you watch closely, Bergdahl was patted down before he shambled onto the helicopter. There is no joy on his face, no "euphoria" even with him. Maybe he thought he was going to Russia, now that we're on the subject of misunderstandings. Anyway, Germany is pretty close to Russia so he might think he'll wind up in Moscow, which, as everybody knows, is like Afghanistan, which is like Idaho.
But what is the president now to do?
The standard advice proffered to speakers to defuse the hostility of an angry audience is to back off and issue a mea culpa. So can we expect Barack Obama to come out and eat crow? Whaaat?! We are talking Barack Obama here, and The One is never substantively in error. Plus, as Gordon Lubold and John Hudson at Foreign Policy write, "The Bergdahl Bargain Was Just the Beginning." Obama's been waiting to do this for years. There's too much riding on this to back out now. As Evan Perez at CNN notes, the Bergdahl swap was part of Obama's plan to close Gitmo. So expect him to double down:
(CNN) -- President Barack Obama appeared to have his most promising window yet in the coming months to keep his promise to close the military-run prison at Guantanamo Bay.
Then he made the Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl swap....
In the weeks before, administration officials and Democratic aides working on the closure issue were optimistic that they could find a way to remove the most difficult congressional restrictions when a new law is approved later this year....
The Bergdahl exchange muddled the administration's claim of laying the blame on Congress for blocking the Guantanamo closure. Obama demonstrated that he believes he is justified in releasing prisoners without congressional approval.
Administration officials have said Obama prefers to work with Congress to carry out the closure.
Some Democrats also have expressed qualms about Obama's handling of the Bergdahl swap.
Sen. Diane Feinstein said she would like Obama to brief the Intelligence Committee. Levin said he plans to question administration officials about what impact the 30-day notification would have had on the prisoner exchange. Still, he said the administration satisfied the law.
For now, the Democratic legislators are lying low in the teeth of the storm. But when the heat dies down, they will arise from the long grass and begin stalking forward once again.
But this cuts both ways. If Bergdahl was a miscalculation, then it potentially applies not only to him, but to the whole class of transactions of which he was but the start. Suppose the brilliant war-ending plan Obama has conceived -- which his advisers assure him will be greeted with euphoria -- is instead met with revulsion by the public? What then?
After all, if Obama can err -- just between you and me now -- in one thing, he might err in others. Maybe he erred in Ukraine, Syria, the VA, etc. It sure seems like it. So erring in the process of closing Guantanamo as part of his plan to Wind Down The War could be a possibility also.
"Winding down the war" with the enemy still attacking you in the field is usually known in military circles by the word "surrender." Yet here is where the cultural disconnect identified by Ralph Peters may strike again. Just as Obama and his minions could see nothing wrong with desertion and collaboration -- in Peter's words, seeing it as nothing more serious than skipping school -- neither may they see anything particularly objectionable about that other cardinal taboo word in military culture: surrender.
So what if America surrenders? What's the big deal? Here, take this Obamaphone and move on.
The White House can't see the problem. Simply can't. Just as they couldn't see the Bergdahl storm coming. Surrender to them is merely another way to demonstrate their moral superiority. As with Bergdahl, they probably expect euphoria to follow in the wake of their cherished surrender. But boy, may they be in for a surprise.
But I think Peters is only half-right, because the indignation is spreading past the military, to people who aren't even American. The sheer magnitude of the backlash goes beyond the military culture. True it began there; where its effect was to loosen tongues and spread what had heretofore only been whispered in the closed society of soldiers to the general public. But once out there you did not have to be a soldier to understand the meaning of perfidy, hypocrisy and betrayal. That was self-evident.
Suddenly even the man in the street knew it was all fake. The quavering voice, the studied solemnity, the pauses hinting at manly sentiment barely under control -- that entire repertoire of Obama magic was revealed as contrived, a sham; just an act to take the gullible...you. It was a betrayal so basic it can only be compared to a girl finding out her boyfriend had the clap and was purposely planning to spread it to her. It was like a girl finding that the man kissing her hand was at the same time abstracting the diamond ring from her finger. Then everything which once seemed noble -- the uplifted chin, the slow rotation of the head, the suggestion of muted but burning empathy -- stood out for what it was: a huckster's con.
No one likes to realize he's been a fool. Nobody likes to be had. And too many of us have been fools of the worst sort. Until today when they caught a glimpse of the man Barack Hussein Obama really is. They should never forget what they saw, for the plastic features will reconstitute themselves into the same beckoning smile before long, a mask stretched hard over the bone.
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