The New York Times has been working overtime to discredit members of Bowe Bergdahl’s platoon who, with seeming unanimity, believe he deserted. First, the Times editors complained that the six platoon members who have appeared before the media to call Bergdahl a deserter were being served up by “Republican operatives.”
But the Times presented no evidence that the platoon members themselves are political partisans. Moreover, Times reporters Richard A. Oppel Jr. and Eric Schmitt, who conducted their own research into the platoon, appear to have found no basis for disputing the six platoon members’ view that Bergdahl deserted. Indeed, they acknowledge that Bergdahl’s fellow soldiers say he did desert.
Accordingly, Oppel and Schmitt are peddling a second defense of Bergdahl, and thus the Obama administration — one alluded to in the Times editorial. They argue that Bergdahl was part of “a misfit platoon” and that this “might have made it too easy for him to walk away.”
What is the Times’ evidence that Bergdahl’s was a “misfit platoon”? First, it says that members of the platoon were known to wear bandannas and cutoff T-shirts. It therefore characterizes the platoon as “raggedy.”
But wearing bandanas and cutoff T-shirts while working in the scorching Afghanistan heat is hardly “Dirty Dozen” stuff. Rather, it’s what most Americans would expect from soldiers in these conditions. The Times is praising the platoon with faint damnation if that’s the best its reporters can come up with.
The Times also points out that the platoon’s original leader, and then its original sergeant, were replaced relatively early in the deployment — the original leader for incompetence; the sergeant over the bandanas and cutoff T-shirts. But platoon member Cody Full has said that the new leader of the platoon was liked and respected by the men, and the Times does not dispute this. The competence of the original leader, who had been replaced by the time Bergdahl walked away, has no bearing on the issue of desertion.
Indeed, none of the Times’ reporting does. What does the Times even mean when it says that the platoon “might have made it too easy for Bergdahl to walk away”? Surely it isn’t suggesting that sloppy attire by platoon members contributed to, much less excused, Bergdahl’s desertion.
Maybe the Times means that it was too easy, physically, for Bergdahl to walk away. It notes that the rear section of the base was not covered with razor wire and was guarded only by Afghan police officers.
But the Army doesn’t rely on fencing in its soldiers to prevent desertion. It relies, as any proper fighting organization must, on the honor of soldiers who have taken an oath — in this case, an oath to “obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice.”
Moreover, it was no easier for Bergdahl to leave than it was for any other soldier in his group. The entire platoon operated under the same conditions, and the same leadership, as Bergdahl. Only he deserted.
The left, including prominent politicians, has treated American soldiers as victims for more than a decade. Now, its premier MSM organ is taking this view to its logical conclusion — that desertion is an understandable response to the American soldier’s life in combat conditions.
People can disagree in good faith about the merits of the Bergdahl deal. They can also disagree about the amount of compassion they want to direct Bergdahl’s way, given the suffering he likely endured after he deserted.
But to the extent that people excuse Bergdahl’s desertion, or to find it understandable given his circumstances, we are on the road to national ruin. Our Army cannot remain a viable fighting force if this view gains currency.
Is defending Barack Obama with this particular argument worth the price?
NOTE: I have changed the final paragraph of this post slightly.