President Obama with the parents of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl at the White House earlier this week. (Screenshot)If you want to understand why it’s the case that on the one hand, the U.S. public and the majority of Congress turned against the war in Afghanistan a long time ago, and yet on the other hand, it’s been so hard to end the war, this week’s warmonger media storm against the diplomatic rescue of U.S. prisoner of war Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl has been very instructive.
It’s been known for years that a key step towards ending the war would be exchanging five Taliban prisoners of war at Guantanamo for the release of Sgt. Bergdahl.
There has never been any serious dispute of the case that this would be a key step towards ending the war. I challenge anyone to find a counter-example to my claim.
The political forces that are trashing the deal to rescue Sgt. Bergdahl are the same political forces that got us into the Iraq war. They are the same political forces who want to keep the Afghanistan war going indefinitely. They are the same political forces who want to keep the Guantanamo prison open indefinitely.
Again, I challenge anyone to provide a single counterexample of someone in Congress who voted against the Iraq war, or who has been a leader in trying to end the war in Afghanistan, or who has been a leader in trying to close the Guantanamo prison, who is now trashing the diplomatic deal to rescue Sgt. Bergdahl.
So, you might think, that if it’s obvious that the prisoner exchange was a key step towards ending the war, then the majority of the population who have long been telling pollsters that they think the Afghanistan war should end would see this as a slam-dunk: exchange the prisoners and end the war. And therefore, the prisoner exchange should have been relatively uncontroversial.
Recall that when the last U.S. soldiers left Iraq in 2011, there was an attempt by Republican warmongers to stoke public outrage. It went over like a lead balloon. The public was done with the war, and wanted the soldiers to come home.
But that’s not how it has played out in this case – at least, that is not how it has played out so far.
Instead, there’s been a warmonger media storm, that has confused a lot of Americans about the essential fact that this is a key, necessary step towards ending the war – the result that the majority of Americans have long said that they want.
I know this from my own personal correspondence. Just Foreign Policy put up a petition at MoveOn backing the diplomatic deal to rescue Bergdahl. So far, there are about 14,000 signatures on the petition. For comparison, a recent petition we did backing Rep. Peter Welch’s letter urging President Obama to resist pressure to transfer manpads to Syrian insurgents also got about 14,000 signatures. So, among our core base of people who support diplomacy and want to prevent more war, our level of support has been about the same.
What’s different is my correspondence. I’m getting a fair bit of hate mail from people claiming that Bergdahl is a “traitor” (not true, as far as we know) or that he caused the deaths of U.S. soldiers (also not true, as far as we know.) Some of these people write things like, “I want to end the war and close Guantanamo too, but…”
Here’s the good news: we can turn this around. I got similar hate mail a year ago, when we pushed back on the media storm that NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden was a “traitor.” (Isn’t it sad how glibly some people throw that word around?) Today, the climate has decisively changed. There are certainly still people who bash Edward Snowden, but you don’t find people today saying, “I want to end NSA blanket surveillance, but Edward Snowden is a traitor.”
Similarly, I predict, we can now get people who want to end the war in Afghanistan and to close the Guantanamo prison to understand and accept that this is a necessary step towards doing so, and to stop repeating Fox News talking points. Sooner rather than later, people who want to end the war will understand that trashing the diplomatic deal to free Sgt. Bergdahl is a Republican warmonger thing. And when we can confine trashing diplomacy to end the war to the Republican warmongers – as trashing diplomacy with Iran was confined to the Republican warmongers – such trashing will become harmless, and ending the war can proceed.
On Wednesday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid went to the Senate floor and gave a speech strongly defending the Administration’s diplomacy to rescue Sgt. Bergdahl and denouncing Republican critics as hypocrites. If we can get enough Democrats to#StandWithReid, we can close the prison and end the war.