Put Krauthammer‘s and Brooks’ columns together today and you have – finally – a sane conservative response to the unsavory necessity of the Bergdahl deal. There are several core arguments. First, the importance of leaving no soldier behind as a critical rampart of national solidarity and military tradition. Second, the tough, rough and cold-hearted calculus of exchanging POWs as something that commanders in chief have to do from time to time. Third, the use of executive power here, as I have argued, as about as defensible a use of it as any. Krauthammer is very good on this:
Of all the jurisdictional disputes between president and Congress, the president stands on the firmest ground as commander in chief. And commanders have the power to negotiate prisoner exchanges.
Then on the question of Bergdahl’s conduct itself, the obvious response is to get the man home, investigate fairly and exhaustively, and subject him, if necessary, to military justice. I suppose Krauthammer feels the need to placate the spittle-flecked with this line:
If he’s a defector — joined the enemy to fight against his country — then he deserves no freeing. Indeed, he deserves killing, the way we kill other enemies in the field, the way we killed Anwar al-Awlaki, an American who had openly joined al-Qaeda.
But the sequence of events is right. There’s no way to investigate a possible deserter or defector until you have him stateside. The right cannot have it both ways: either he should be disciplined as a traitor or he should be left behind to the Taliban’s clutches. You have to choose – which, of course, the GOP never does.
So what are we left with, after all this sturm and drang? I’d say one genuine criticism – that the announcement of the POW exchange was far too celebratory, and that the tone was seriously off.
And it’s hard not to agree with that. It may have been an accident of circumstance – the family readily available. Or a function of genuine sentiment of a commander-in-chief for the parents of a soldier lost for five years. But it was dumb and smacked of some notion of political gain for a necessary act of war.
What is Obama’s long-term strategy on this? That’s the shoe that hasn’t dropped. But he’s set a precedent: the departure from Gitmo of five prisoners not cleared for release. Once that bar has been set and the ugly reality of having to end this failed war becomes more widely felt, the possibility of releasing innocent prisoners or those deemed low-level functionaries (at best) becomes, perhaps, a little more feasible. Slowly but surely, the president is fulfilling his election promises: economic recovery (with the workforce now back to its pre-recession level), the end of both wars, universal healthcare, action on climate change, and a civil rights revolution for gays. Is it too much to dream that, eight years after his executive order was stymied by a scaredy-cat Congress, in the closing of Gitmo, Obama may have been saving the best for last?