Bowe Bergdahl may be the most unpopular man in the United States military this week. After abandoning his post in southeastern Afghanistan, Bergdahl was soon captured by the Taliban, and spent five years in captivity. Barack Obama negotiated a prisoner exchange, releasing five high-ranking Taliban commanders from Guantanamo Bay, and sending them to the care of the Qatari government.
Republicans allege that several of these Taliban figures have already returned to the jihadist battlefield, and many, including POW John McCain, decried the deal. They were further incensed when Susan Rice declared that Bergdahl had served “with honor and distinction.”
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Soldiers based in Afghanistan have claimed that six of their comrades died in search and rescue operations while looking for him, but the military disputes those figures. What is undeniable, however, is that he put his fellow soldiers in grave danger.
Many are outraged by the leniency of his sentence: for “misbehavior before the enemy” and “desertion” he was sentenced to a dishonorable discharge and forfeited USD $10,000 in back pay.
This would appear to be a significant detriment to military morale, and encourage further cases of desertion. What is even more infuriating is that Bergdahl put his comrades in danger to make a political statement: right before abandoning base he sent his parents a long, rambling email decrying US foreign policy, deriding the arrogance of US military leadership, and denouncing their treatment of every day Afghan people.
What is abundantly clear is that Bergdahl should never have been in the military in the first place. In fact, he had received an “uncharacterized discharge” from the Coast Guard, but for reasons still unknown, was accepted into the army shortly thereafter.
He was a loner who failed to connect with his platoon, and spent his free time studying the Pashto language and interacting with Afghan civilians. He allegedly told a fellow soldier that he was considering going AWOL and walking through Pakistan to reach India.
It’s clear that Bergdahl got an incredibly light sentence. It is difficult, however, to discern which decision was worse: Bergdahl abandoning his post, or Obama exchanging five high-ranking Taliban commanders for his release.