Tabs

6.02.2014

A new foreign policy has been born: We negotiate now.


"War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things. The decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling which thinks that nothing is worth war is much worse. The person who has nothing for which he is willing to fight, nothing which is more important than his own personal safety, is a miserable creature and has no chance of being free unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself." 
--John Stuart Mill (1806 - 1873) 


My great-uncle spent 18 months in a prisoner of war camp in Europe during World War II. Each evening he was told that he would be executed the following morning. He was starved, he was beaten, and he listened as his fellow soldiers, his friends, scream as they were tortured and beaten as well. The bond that was forged between the captive American service men was something that my great-uncle grew to appreciate. He seldomly spoke of his ordeal and suffered in silence throughout the remainder of his life from the PTSD (although that was not the label he used) that plagued his daily (and nightly) existence. Every year for almost forty years, he and my aunt would make the long trip from West Texas to Georgia to attend a POW/MIA gathering. There, in the midst of heroes and survivors, they found people who truly understood them and their ordeal. It was much needed fellowship for a man who had been forever changed by 18 months of war-time incarceration. My Uncle Russell was an American hero: his plane was shot down, he was captured, held against his will for a year and a half and was freed when, and only when, the war ended and America defeated the enemy.

As a general rule, I don't watch war movies. I can't take them. However, this last weekend my husband was watching "We Were Soldiers" and I made the emotional mistake of sitting down and watching it with him. It was exactly as I imagined: a multi-tissue nightmare. In fact, some of the scenes in the movie had actually been filmed at Fort Benning, Georgia, on our old street, near our old home. Way too close for comfort. The fighting was real, the emotional range of the characters was believable, and the bravery indescribable. I was literally shaking with sobs. At the end of the movie, when Mel Gibson's character slowly lifts his soiled combat boot off of Vietnamese soil and took his seat among the survivors of his unit, in the safety of an American helicopter, I looked at my sweet husband and asked, "do you think we left a lot of guys behind?". His handsome face grimaced, his dark brown eyes lowered, and slowly he said, "yes." Neither one of us slept very well that night.

The very next morning, we learned of the release of Bowe Bergdahl, an American soldier who has been held captive by the Taliban for five years. An immediate wave of relief and joy washed over me! How wonderful: an American hero miraculously freed and returning home. There is no better headline than that! However, as the story in its entirety began to unfold and as the news reporters continued their reporting, things became less and less joyful. 

Yes, Bowe Bergdahl had been released by the Taliban. But, in exchange, this administration, without Congressional knowledge or approval, had agreed to release five, high level, enemy combatant terrorists from Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Yes, Bowe Bergdahl was headed home to a loving and devoted family who had campaigned tirelessly for his release for five years. But, as a result, the five terrorists, with hands stained in American blood, were being shipped to Qatar, where they will be held for one year and then released without restriction. Yes, an American soldier was beginning the long journey from foreign captivity to American freedom. But so many questions remain unanswered. Why and how had then PVT Bengdahl been captured in the first place? Was he abducted at the latrine? Was he taken because he was lagging behind during a routine patrol? Was he drunk and taken by the enemy as he stumbled around the edge of base camp? Or did he leave his post, after being told not to when he requested permission, and willingly enter the lion's den? Did Bowe Bergdahl's well documented dissent with American policy and his disgruntled attitude finally get the best of him and he knowingly walked out of his base camp and into enemy hands?

These are the facts as established by PVT Bowe Bergdahl's email correspondence with his family during the three days prior to his capture:
He hated his chain of command. He didn't agree with the American mission. He was disturbed by the supposed treatment of the Afghan people by some in his military unit. He allegedly witnessed an accident where a young Afghan child was run over and killed by an American military vehicle. He was upset and angry and confessed to feeling misled by his ARMY recruiter and lied to by the military. He was an angry American soldier.

And like Bowe Bergdahl, President Obama has been uncomfortable with our War on Terror. In fact, he refuses to even use the term. He is, by nature, a pacifist and has never fully supported our military efforts in Afghanistan or Iraq. Our dear leader has done a lot of things over the last six years that I have completely disagreed with. However, most of his mistakes could, with great effort, good leadership and loads of prayer, be corrected and rectified. For instance, Congress could repeal Obamacare. It would be difficult but technically, it is possible. In two years, America, with new leadership, could strengthen her economy and renew growth in the private sector and shrink the public one. Again, it would be hard, but recovery is achievable. These are just a couple of examples of recoveries that are possible after Obama leaves office. However, some mistakes that have been made by this president cannot be reversed. Some policy cannot be undone. And this release yesterday, even with the momentary joy, is one of those times. Negotiating the release of enemy combatants for the life of an American soldier with foreign governments, whether hostile to the United States or not, has never been policy. This is not the way to retrieve America's missing service men and women. Special Forces could have attempted a rescue mission. Special Ops could have worked some of their magic. If the Obama administration will remember, some pretty capable American Navy Seals found Osama Bin Laden and successfully killed him. There are ways of getting Americans out of situations that don't include bargaining and release. Every American soldier, everywhere in the world, is now a target. A new foreign policy has been born. 

Yesterday, flanked by his joy-filled wife and President Obama, Bowe Bergdahl's father addressed reporters. His extremely bearded face and long hair seemed somewhat strange for the Ohio Calvinist. His first words in the Rose Garden were spoken in Pastun, the native language of Afghanistan. He claims his son may not be capable of speaking in English. In the past, Bob Bergdahl has Tweeted, and very recently deleted, some extremely anti-American sentiments. For a father who has been publicly grieving the supposed kidnapping of his only son, he shows enormous sympathies for his son's captors. Whether the entire family has fallen victim to the phenomenon known as Stockholm's Syndrome or are simply choosing to cast blame at the wrong people, their reactions and behaviors have been their own. As a mother, I cannot imagine the stress, fear and unimaginable sadness of not knowing the health and welfare of my child. As a wife who sent her husband to war twice, I cannot fathom the anguish of loving and waiting on a captured soldier. Their pain is something that I hope no other mother or father will ever have to experience. 

SGT Bowe Bergdahl, like my Uncle Russell, will undoubtedly be a different man when he steps back onto American soil. (He has been promoted twice since his capture.) After my Uncle Russell returned home from the POW camp, he went to college and devoted his life to educating youth. He taught math and science and eventually became a high school principal and superintendent. But in reality, my uncle's body healed much more quickly than his mind did. And given the length of Bowe Bergdahl's POW incarceration, the same will probably be true of him. This young man's life has been forever altered by his capture and his five year long captivity. I can't imagine the anticipation, excitement and gratitude of his parents. I just hope and pray that his recovery is speedy and complete and that he will make the most of his life and the second chance he has been given. That second chance came at a great cost.   

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