Saturday, June 23 , 2018, 9:24 pm | Overcast 64º


Joe Conason: With Bergdahl, ‘‘Conservatives’ Ignore Basic American Principles

What the Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl saga demonstrates beyond question — to anyone who still nurtured any doubt — is that the Republican right will junk just about any basic American value to satisfy its hatred of President Barack Obama. Fair play, due process, respect for families and the military: To most, if not all, so-called conservatives, none of these fundamentals matters nearly so much as the urge to undermine the nation's first black president. Which is another reason, among many, why they no longer deserve the honorific "conservative."

In the matter of Bergdahl, a military officer held by the enemy in Afghanistan and released in a trade of prisoners, the right-wing fakers who call themselves conservative are trashing ideals they routinely claim to hold sacred.

The American military code of conduct has long assured all service personnel that if captured by the enemy, "you may rest assured that your government ... will use every practical means to contact, support and gain release for you and for all other prisoners of war." Leaving aside the moral imperative that is the foundation of this policy, which predates the current military code by centuries, it is a simple military necessity.

Support the troops? The morale of our fighting men and women would be severely damaged if they were to come to believe that the U.S. government would not do everything in its power to bring them home from captivity — regardless of any questions about their conduct. (Arizona Sen. John McCain, who has written forthrightly of his shame about his own conduct as a Vietnam POW, surely should be able to explain why.)

Our national commitment to rescue American captives extends beyond those in uniform to any citizen who has been kidnapped or seized by a hostile force. That was certainly the excuse when the president most revered by the right — Ronald Reagan — handed over advanced weapons to a terrorist regime in the Iran-Contra deal. It is a commonplace observation that if a Democratic president had committed the same offenses, he and his cohort would have been denounced for treason, and perhaps rightly so. Yet while the Republicans want to impeach President Obama for releasing five Taliban geezers, they would still stamp Reagan's image on coins and bills, raise monuments to his memory, and emblazon his name on every edifice in the country.

Prominent voices on the right now insist that Bergdahl was unworthy of rescue, because his capture allegedly occurred after he deserted his post. None of the loudest wingnuts registered this complaint until after the White House secured his release; indeed, many of them were agitating for the Obama administration to save Bergdahl until this week. Today they declare with equal volume and fervor that he is a "traitor" who should have been left to rot with his Taliban captors.

So much for the American principles of due process and presumption of innocence — which happen to be among the very ideals that are supposed to differentiate us from our enemies. Libertarians and conservatives always fiercely claim to uphold due process, especially when one of their ilk is in the dock. But for some curious reason, those principles don't always apply when a Democrat is president. Thankfully, in the view of the commander-in-chief and the U.S. Army, which maintains jurisdiction and custody over Bergdahl, due process apparently remains in force, which must be why he was promoted to sergeant while a prisoner of war.

However angry Bergdahl's former comrades may feel, and however his actions may have justified their anger, they will likely have an opportunity to testify about him if the Army pursues a court martial. That would be the appropriate forum to sort out the facts about Bergdahl's conduct — not a Twitter lynching party or a kangaroo court held by William Kristol on Fox News Channel. The proposal that we should leave a soldier in the hands of the enemy, based on suspicions or rumors of disloyalty, is disgusting on many levels and should infuriate anyone who boasts of his devotion to the Constitution.

A decent respect for military families — owed to the sacrifices and hardships they confront — is another conservative virtue the right no longer deems convenient. Whatever anyone thinks of Bergdahl (or his father's Duck Dynasty-style beard), Robert and Jani Bergdahl have faced the same heartache as any captured soldier's parents — and they have done nothing to deserve the sudden torrent of partisan abuse. The swinish Glenn Beck — a self-styled super-patriot who spent his youth snorting cocaine and swilling booze while others served their country — is eagerly leading the effort to demonize the Bergdahls.

In years past, the venerable taboo against abusing the reputation of an Army veteran, especially a former prisoner of war, to pursue a political vendetta would have been too powerful to ignore. Today we see the Republican right eagerly mobilizing its entire media apparatus — complete with cheesy Washington public relations flacks and sleazy fundraising appeals — to mount a bitter campaign against Bergdahl and his family.

Of course, the true target is Obama. Everything and everyone else, from the beleaguered Bergdahls to respect for due process and the military code, even conservatism itself, are all just so much "collateral damage." The radical right will not desist until it has all burned down.

Joe Conason is editor in chief of Click here to contact him, follow him on Twitter: @JConason, or click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.

Support Noozhawk Today

You are an important ally in our mission to deliver clear, objective, high-quality professional news reporting for Santa Barbara, Goleta and the rest of Santa Barbara County. Join the Hawks Club today to help keep Noozhawk soaring.

We offer four membership levels: $5 a month, $10 a month, $25 a month or $1 a week. Payments can be made through PayPal below, or click here for information on recurring credit-card payments.

Thank you for your vital support.

Become a Noozhawk Supporter

First name
Last name
Enter your email
Select your membership level

Payment Information

You are purchasing:

Payment Method

Pay by Credit Card:

Mastercard, Visa, American Express, Discover

Pay with Apple Pay or Google Pay:

Noozhawk partners with Stripe to provide secure invoicing and payments processing.

  • Ask
  • Vote
  • Investigate
  • Answer

Noozhawk Asks: What’s Your Question?

Welcome to Noozhawk Asks, a new feature in which you ask the questions, you help decide what Noozhawk investigates, and you work with us to find the answers.

Here’s how it works: You share your questions with us in the nearby box. In some cases, we may work with you to find the answers. In others, we may ask you to vote on your top choices to help us narrow the scope. And we’ll be regularly asking you for your feedback on a specific issue or topic.

We also expect to work together with the reader who asked the winning questions to find the answer together. Noozhawk’s objective is to come at questions from a place of curiosity and openness, and we believe a transparent collaboration is the key to achieve it.

The results of our investigation will be published here in this Noozhawk Asks section. Once or twice a month, we plan to do a review of what was asked and answered.

Thanks for asking!

Click Here to Get Started >

Reader Comments

Noozhawk is no longer accepting reader comments on our articles. Click here for the announcement. Readers are instead invited to submit letters to the editor by emailing them to [email protected]. Please provide your full name and community, as well as contact information for verification purposes only.

Daily Noozhawk

Subscribe to Noozhawk's A.M. Report, our free e-Bulletin sent out every day at 4:15 a.m. with Noozhawk's top stories, hand-picked by the editors.

Sign Up Now >