On September 3, 1939, Great Britain and France declared war on Nazi Germany following the latter’s invasion of Poland. It was in some ways a peculiar action. There had been many earlier missed opportunities to halt Germany’s lawless expansion: in the Rhineland in 1936; in Austria in 1938; and most perfidiously, against democratic Czechoslovakia the same year. Each of these offered a much better chance of success at far lower cost than the world war which followed the 1939 invasion. Some strategists scratched their heads, asking “Why now? Why here?”
The answer was simple: for years Germany’s opponents were paralyzed by the hope that, if only it could be placated, the horrors of war could be averted. Few in either country realized this was impossible, because they faced a leader whose appetite could never be sated. With Poland they finally admitted the truth and grudgingly, they acted.
Unwillingness to believe the worst is common in human affairs. Many delude themselves about problems they face, seeking comfort in accommodation and rationalization until it is too late for any but the most extreme actions. We now seem to be at such a moment in domestic politics; expect the ensuing struggle to be long and difficult. As with Poland, the precipitating incident is odd and unforeseen: a bargain to trade an obscure U.S. Army sergeant for five bloody-handed Islamic thugs.
Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl is an unsympathetic character, at the very least the wrong man in the wrong place at the wrong time. His emails from Afghanistan show distaste for his duties, contempt for the Army, and rejection of the country whose will he enlisted to enforce in the far corners of the Earth. Early one morning in 2009 he abandoned his post and walked out to find we know not what. He was a captive of the Taliban for five years. But it was not Bergdahl’s capture that excited controversy; it was his release and the events surrounding it.
The facts are well-known: the sergeant was exchanged for leaders of the Afghan Taliban, who were paroled from the prison at Guantanamo Bay into the care of the government of Qatar. They were given a hero’s welcome and are now comfortably ensconced in one of the Arab world’s most prosperous and well-connected countries. One has already publicly expressed his intention to “kill more Americans;” the others have been more circumspect.
There have been several lines of complaint: about the unevenness of the swap; about the character of the person returned to us; about the message our public negotiation with terrorists sends; about the incentives it gives to capture more Americans — soldiers and others. But the most serious complaint is that, in arranging the trade for Bergdahl, the president violated the law, specifically the 2014 National Defense Authorization Act which says in part that, before transferring or releasing any detainee from Guantanamo, the president must consult with Congress.
The most serious accusation comes from Sen. Diane Feinstein, who chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee. Others include House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon and House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rodgers — who hadn’t been briefed by the White House on anything having to do with Bergdahl since 2011. Memo to the president: when the senator from San Francisco joins Republicans to criticize you, you have a problem. And it’s spreading.
The White House also did itself no favors with the initial fist-bumping rah-rah about the sergeant’s release. From the Rose Garden press event with Bergdahl’s parents to National Security Advisor Susan Rice’s zero-credibility fibfest on ABC’s “This Week” and subsequent “clarifications,” it was clear that there was little thought, less research and none of the consultations the law requires in an exchange of this type.
But a perplexing question remains: why here, why now, why with this issue? This administration has flouted the law often enough before: from the deadly gun sales of “Fast and Furious” to using the IRS to quash potential political opponents to executive-fiat exemptions to Obamacare for favored groups to spying on journalists, they have fulfilled the most expansive of Richard Nixon’s paranoid dreams. And all without a murmur from the Left — save to paint those Republicans who objected as “racists.”
Perhaps this is part of a subtle plan to increase the distance between Barack Obama and his successor-presumptive Hillary Clinton. Perhaps it’s a ploy to drive the worst of the VA scandal off the front pages. If so, it worked. Perhaps it is an opening gambit in the long-promised closure of Gitmo. Or perhaps, as with Chamberlain and Daladier so many years ago, Congress has finally had a bellyful of being lied to and insulted, and intends to do something about it.
It’s about time.
Morgan Liddick lives in Summit County.