It's an open question whether the White House handled the recovery of Bowe Bergdahl well. Probably not, and it's a legitimate topic for speculation. But on the substantive question of the prisoner exchange itself, here are five things you should keep firmly in mind:
- We don't know if Bergdahl is a deserter. We'll only know that after the military legal process has run its course and rendered a verdict. Obviously nothing is going to shut up the hotheads and Fox News blowhards, but the rest of us on both left and right would be wise to reserve judgment until that happens.
- Either way, we still should have gotten Bergdahl back. We don't leave prisoners behind to face justice from the enemy. We dish it out ourselves.
- The evidence suggests that, in fact, probably nobody died searching for Bergdahl after he left the base.
- When wars end, you exchange prisoners. This is always distasteful and contentious: the issue of POWs was so fraught at the end of the Korean War that it actually extended the fighting for more than a year. But eventually you agree to an exchange, and the Afghanistan war is no different. Foreign policy hawks might not like it, but America's longest war is finally coming to an end, which means our Taliban prisoners would have been exchanged fairly soon no matter what. We didn't actually give up much in this deal.
- As Michael Hastings reported two years ago, Bergdahl didn't think much of his unit, and his unit didn't think much of him. Given the rancor between them, it's not surprising that his teammates have plenty of lurid things to say about him now. They never liked him much in the first place. For the time being, you should take everything they say with a big grain of salt.
Practically everything you're hearing right now about Bowe Bergdahl is being driven by extreme partisans with a huge ax to grind. You should view the entire feeding frenzy with intense skepticism until we learn more about what actually happened.