Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Squirrel of the Week: 6/1/2014 to 6/7/2014

Bowe Bergdahl, our first repeat winner!

I've picked Bowe Bergdahl as the winner the last two weeks because he is he distraction within a distraction. Let me explain.

First, Bergdahl's status (as either the All-American Hero to hear the Administration tell it, as a deserter to hear his former platoon members tell it, or as a possible traitor to hear many others tell it) is largely irrelevant. It would be relevant if he is a traitor, but that has not been determined in legal fashion, and if we want to maintain the fiction that we are a nation of laws and not a nation of men, that matters. He's one of ours and at least in theory we should want him back even if it is to try him for treason and hang him.

Second, the emotional state of both Bergdahl and his family is largely irrelevant to most of us. We don't know them, and we don't know what pressures they've been subjected to. I would be happy if we left the parents alone. (That implies they leave the public arena, though. The father may be unwilling to do that.)

No, what matters isn't who we traded for, but rather (a) that we traded in the first place, (b) the terms of the trade, and (c) how the trade was executed.

Concerning (a), a reasonable case can be made for conducting a prisoner swap. Such things have been done in prior wars, they will be done in future wars. But was a prisoner swap really the reason for this trade? I don't believe that it was.

I believe getting Bergdahl back was merely cover for doing the trade in the first place. I suspect the Administration is trying to prove its good faith with the Taliban in order to negotiate a political settlement to the situation in Afghanistan. We're leaving (as have just about every other force that has invaded Afghanistan for centuries), we're leaving an approximately allied government behind, we have not defeated our enemies in that miserable land, and the Administration and the American people are in a hurry to get the Hell out of that benighted land and forget about it. A political "solution" to the conflict would provide good cover for the US, and particularly for the President and the Democratic Party. I believe this is all about proving to the Taliban that we're good guys that can be trusted as a basis for future good faith negotiations. I think this is a sign of total stupidity and incompetence on the part of the Administration, at best, but that's neither here nor there for this post.

Concerning (b), I don't think anyone but the Administration and its sycophants believe this trade was a good deal. Based on the reaction in the media and in Congress, even some of the sycophants think this deal stinks. You can read widely about that everywhere, and I won't go over it here as I've nothing to add.

Concerning (c) .... Well, here's the rub. A tremendous amount can be said about how this trade was done. 

First off, my understanding at the moment is that the Administration didn't really negotiate at all - the Taliban simply told them how things would be, end of discussion. So much for negotiating prowess.

Secondly, the Administration apparently overrode many internal disagreements within the executive branch in order to make the trade. This is a matter for some concern, but not too much. Ultimately the President is the person in charge, and what he commands (within Constitutional limits - see below) his subordinates should do, or should resign. But it is interesting that this deal was ready to go two years ago and the internal pressure within the Administration killed the deal. It wasn't until they traded for another Republican SecDef that they overcame internal resistance to the deal. This is all interesting and worthy of debate.

Thirdly, the Administration ignored both Congress and the Constitution in order to make this deal. By a law that this President signed, he was to give Congress 30 days notice before letting anyone go from Guantanamo. He didn't do this. And for those doubting that the President has to follow Congress on these matters, I can point to the Constitution itself (thanks to Dave Schuler for pointing out the particulars). Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution contains the following two clauses:
(11) To declare War, grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal, and make Rules concerning Captures on Land and Water; [emphasis added]
(14) To make Rules for the Government and Regulation of the land and naval Forces; 
That seems pretty straightforward. The Administration's claims that they needed to limit the number of people that knew about the deal to protect Bergdahl's life, and that they needed to act with alacrity in order to save Bergdahl's life, both seem to lack credibility at this point. And they seem to know it as they keep changing tactics for justifying the deal.
Fourth,  the Administration's roll out of this swap and reaction to the response has been astonishingly inept. The tone deafness of it all suggests an Administration that has never had any contact with any actual Americans ever. Not only does the Emperor have no clothes, neither does anyone on his staff. In fact, none of them seem to have ever heard of the concept of clothing. The fact that the Administration is this isolated is probably the biggest issue concerning this matter.
I'll stop at this point, and return to Bergdahl's status as a squirrel. Nothing about Bowe Bergdahl the individual or the soldier pertains to (a), (b), or (c) as listed above. Discussions of him and his status are a separate issue, and frankly a minor issue. Large and important matters of foreign policy, prisoner exchanges before a war has concluded, and Presidential authority to ignore the Congress and the Constitution are at hand, as well as the problem of a dangerously isolated President. Every minute discussing  Bergdahl is mere distraction to issues that are far more important.

But even here, with the importance of some of these issues, other issues are at hand, issues which cover most of the larger issues listed above and have much greater impact on America. And the prisoner exchange provides a distraction from those issues.

A partial list:

[1]: The country's economy continues to be a shambles, and neither the President nor anyone in Congress really wants to address the topic. I won't go into much in the way of details, but we are at a minimum a good 10,000,000 jobs below where we need to be to pretend we have full employment, the jobs that are out there are of diminishing quality (more part-time work, more temp work, more service work, lower pay, etc.), consumer debt is rising, etc, etc, ad infinitum, ad nauseum.

[2]: Questions of the Administration's basic competence at governance abound. Everything from the VA scandal, the IRS/FBI scandal, the botched roll-out of the ObamaCare exchanges, the Administration effectively changing laws without Congress, to the fact of the Administration completely refusing to enforce border control or immigration policy all point to an Administration that has no competence at anything other than getting elected. Given that we've got two and a half more years of this coming, this is important.

[3]: The apparent lawlessness of this Administration is becoming more and more apparent. This overlaps the second point. As someone quipped recently, Obama has become the President that Nixon always wished he could be.* The attitude is very much one of complete contempt for everything that has long distinguished American politics: the President and his minions are anti-federalist, anti-republican**, anti-Constitutional restraints on Presidential authority. They are completely ignoring any and every law that inconveniences them. Discussing this prisoner swap at any level besides this and [2] is a distraction.

These issues are all far more important than this prisoner swap, and the prisoner swap itself is far more important that anything about Bowe Bergdahl. Truly, Bergdahl is the distraction within a distraction.

Bowe Bergdahl may well be the Squirrel of the Year.

* "When the President does it, that means it is not illegal." Richard M. Nixon, TV interview with David Frost, May 20, 1977

** Please note the lower-case 'r'.

1 comment:

amba said...

I'm afraid, and I mean afraid, you're right.