The Palinite Tendency And Bowe Bergdahl, Ctd

Gawker discovers some background for the Twitter outrage:

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That’s only two years between indicting Obama for not bringing the guy home and indicting him for rescuing him! And there’s way more where that came from. And Michael Hastings, of course, predicted the political circus two years ago:

According to White House sources, Marc Grossman, who replaced Richard Holbrooke as special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, was given a direct warning by the president’s opponents in Congress about trading Bowe for five Taliban prisoners during an election year. “They keep telling me it’s going to be Obama’s Willie Horton moment,” Grossman warned the White House. The threat was as ugly as it was clear: The president’s political enemies were prepared to use the release of violent prisoners to paint Obama as a Dukakis-­like appeaser, just as Republicans did to the former Massachusetts governor during the 1988 campaign. In response, a White House official advised Grossman that he should ignore the politics of the swap and concentrate solely on the policy.

“Frankly, we don’t give a shit why he left,” says one White House official. “He’s an American soldier. We want to bring him home.”

And they did. And this is the Willie Horton moment we’ve all been waiting for. Stay classy, GOP.

The Palinite Tendency And Bowe Bergdahl, Ctd

Senators Attend Briefing On Release Of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl

This is now becoming quite a spectacle, and it’s hard not to see Tomasky as prescient when he immediately grasped how the Bergdahl rescue would galvanize so many. There is the legitimate concern that this was a bad deal, of course. But the following factors bear remembering: the war in Afghanistan is drawing to a close; since we went to war against the Taliban regime, their POWs require repatriation and release; finding a way to do that while also getting our one POW back to safety is a perfectly legitimate option for a commander-in-chief to weigh in negotiations for ending the war; and the military ethic of doing everything possible to retrieve POWs is extremely deep (reiterated by Dempsey and McChrystal in the last week).

There’s still room for a debate, of course, but that’s not what we are witnessing. We’re witnessing something much more primal – and it reaches deep into the id of the American right. Michelle Malkin, as is her wont, put it all together yesterday:

The Bowe Bergdahl mess isn’t just a story about one deserter, but two.

Those two would be the president and the POW. In other words, this is classic Dolchstoss stuff. And what’s remarkable, in fact, given its emotional traction among the GOP base, is that it hasn’t all but defined this presidency.

Obama, after all, inherited two failed and catastrophic wars of occupation. He was elected in large part to end them. Since the wars had been failures, no “victory” was possible, despite the astonishing human and economic cost. My own fear back in 2007 and 2008 was that any attempted withdrawal from Iraq could lead to a humiliation that the right would then deploy brutally against the traitor Muslim in the White House. I feared we would become stuck in quicksand because the Palinite right could not accept failure and tar Obama as a surrender-monkey. I worried about the same dynamic in Afghanistan. A Vietnam-style departure, handing the country back to the forces of Islamist extremism, would also be catnip for the Palinites. Even though they knew the war could not be “won”, they could pivot to blame Obama for “surrender without honor.”

That the president has somehow managed to extricate the US from those two catastrophes without such a rightist revolt is, to my mind, the real story here. You can put that down to various factors:

the public’s own utter exhaustion with the war; the freshness of the disasters in people’s minds; and the canniness of Obama’s long game in Afghanistan – giving the military much of what it wanted in the “surge”, showing the impossibility of a permanent solution, and slowly, painstakingly, withdrawing over the longest time-table available to him – eight long years. This has been one of Obama’s least noticed achievements, and shrewdest political moves: ending two wars without being blamed for surrender.

What the Bergdahl deal does is give the right a mini-gasm in which to vent all their emotions about the wars they once backed and to channel them into their pre-existing template of the traitor/deserter/Muslim/impostor presidency of Barack Hussein Obama. This venting has been a long time coming, it springs from all the frustrations of losing wars, and it can have pure expression against a soldier with a hippie dad and a president they despise. It’s a bonanza of McCarthyite “stab-in-the-back” paranoia and culture war aggression. They don’t have to vent against Cheney, the true architect of the defeats, because now they have a cause celebre to pursue Obama over.

They also get to avoid the messy awful reality that Cheney bequeathed us: an illegal internment/torture camp with 149 prisoners with no possibility of justice or release. Permanent detention and brutal torture of prisoners are not issues to the right. They invariably refuse to acknowledge the extraordinary cost of Gitmo to the moral standing of the US or its increasingly tenuous claim to be a vanguard of Western values. Instead, they wallow in terror of the inmates – being so scared of them that they cannot even tolerate them on American soil – and impugn the very integrity and patriotism of a twice-elected president when he tries to untie the knot Bush left him.

They have no constructive solution to this problem, of course. They have no constructive solution to anything else either – whether it be climate change, healthcare or immigration. But they know one thing: how to foment and channel free-floating rage at an impostor/deserter president for inheriting the national security disaster they created. This they know how to do. This is increasingly all they know how to do.

And the beat goes on.

(Photo: Butters talks to reporters as he arrives at a closed door briefing on Capitol Hill on June 4, 2014. By Alex Wong/Getty Images.)

The Palin Tendency And Bowe Bergdahl

Tomasky today predicts that the Bergdahl prisoner swap may well become the next Benghazi on the fetid horizons of the Palinite right. I hope he’s wrong, but I’ve learned not to under-estimate the extremism of the Dolchstoss brigade. The Benghazi and Bergdahl “scandals”, after all, are both rooted in the assumption that the president is in some way anti-American, that his loyalty is somehow not to the United US-POLITICS-OBAMA-BERGDAHLStates, but to some other abstract but foreign authority, and so he would obviously be happy to leave Americans to perish in an undefended consulate and lie about it afterwards to cover his negligence up … or be content to deal with the Taliban on behalf of another “anti-American”.

Beneath the intricacies and easy emotional manipulation, this McCarthy era paranoia is what drives both obsessions. The contradictions are, of course, bleeding obvious. Obama is to be excoriated for abandoning Americans in the line of fire in Benghazi and then excoriated for rescuing a servicemember in enemy captivity in the matter of Bowe Bergdahl. You’ll see that, not for the first time, the president cannot win. You’ll also note that one of the American right’s heroes, Bibi Netanyahu, released more than a thousand Palestinian prisoners, some of whom had actually murdered Israeli civilians, in order to retrieve Gilad Shalit. Somehow Netanyahu is not regarded as a terrorist-sympathizer by the Tea Party.

And it is an outright calumny, of course, to impugn this president’s patriotism, the kind instinctually propagated by Palin and her spittle-flecked confreres. Barack Obama is, au contraire, a uniquely and proudly American story. He has been relentless in pursuing the enemy in Afghanistan and Pakistan in his period in office. He killed bin Laden and Anwar al -Awlaki. His emergence as a biracial president would give any sane American a reason to be proud, not squeamish. And what he did, in the case of Bergdahl, requires no further explanation than that a commander-in-chief’s task is to leave no servicemember behind enemy lines, especially as a war comes to a close. (There’s also a strong argument to be made that, as the war in Afghanistan comes to a close, the Taliban commanders at Gitmo had a right under international law to be exchanged.)

I’m not saying, of course, that robust pushback against this tough call is not legitimate. That’s embedded in the very notion of a tough call. There are powerful questions that need addressing:

Was the deal a good one? How effective will the monitoring of the Taliban commanders be? Did the president comply with the letter of the law? But I’d argue vehemently that Bergdahl’s personal politics and Obama’s core motivations aren’t among them. Whether Bergdahl was a deserter or not, whether he was “anti-American” or not, whether he may have cooperated with his captors under duress or not: these questions should be dealt with by the regular process of military justice and investigation. But none of that can truly happen without Bergdahl himself to question and interrogate. And if we are going to rescue a service-member depending on our assessment of his politics or character, we have undermined a key principle of military justice and discipline. You wear the uniform, you get rescued if captured. Period. No other questions need to be asked or answered until after you’re safe and in US custody.

One final thing about the 30-day notification of Congress requirement. The one exception to the executive’s deference to the legislative in statutory matters such as this are contingent, time-constrained executive actions that require immediate implementation. A quick military response, a drone strike, a raid, or a rescue: these fall into the most solid executive area of legitimate, unilateral executive action. For the Republicans who only recently defended a far greater degree of executive power to cavil at this almost text-book case of executive expedition is a triple lutz in hypocrisy and inconsistency. But this, alas, is not news. They will use any weapon at hand, even if they have to trash some of the most important military principles to indict him.

(Photo: Jani Bergdahl, the mother of freed US soldier Bowe Bergdahl, walks through the Colonnade with US President Barack Obama to speak in the Rose Garden of the White House on May 31, 2014 in Washington, DC. Obama spoke after the release of Bergdahl by the Taliban in Afghanistan. By Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty.)