New Republic Writer: Knee-Jerk Bergdahl-Bashing Has Left 'Bloodthirsty Right-Wingers...Far Out On a Limb'

Watch your backsides, conservatives, because your vituperative, ill-considered criticism of both Bowe Bergdahl and the deal that freed him from the Taliban may come back to bite you.

That was the main message from Brian Beutler in his Thursday post on the New Republic's website. Beutler argued that the compulsively anti-Obama right's inclination to believe that "a massive scandal must be lying just below the surface" of the prisoner swap "precipitated a deluge of ugly actions and pronouncements" from many conservative leaders, including "a bunch of unseemly innuendo" about Bergdahl himself.

Beutler's piece was headlined  "The GOP Will Regret Overreaching on Bergdahl It's unseemly. It's hypocritical. And it's going to backfire." (emphasis added):

Imagine for a moment that the circumstances of Bowe Bergdahl's capture were uncontested. That he'd been captured in the midst of battlefield heroics five years ago, and that the Obama administration had undertaken the exact same response to his capture, culminating in a deal to secure his release in exchange for five Taliban detainees, and a Rose Garden announcement with Bergdahl's parents...

Now add the controversy surrounding Bergdahl's disappearance into the mix, and ask yourself how it changes [the situation]. To my mind, it doesn't change [it] at all, but instead raises a separate, legitimate question about the propriety of the White House's communications strategy. Why'd they do the Rose Garden thing? Did Susan Rice say he served with honor and distinction because that's the kind of pabulum public officials are used to peddling about U.S. soldiers, or because she'd been instructed to?...


...[T]he problem for the diffuse conservative outrage industry is that nuanced debates over public relations strategies and the relative "value" of Guantanamo detainees probably wouldn't have satisfied bloodthirsty right-wingers. So rather than compartmentalize all of these worthy lines of inquiry, conservatives jumbled them all together and laced the amorphous controversy with a bunch of unseemly innuendo. I imagine many Republicans will come to regret this.

The original sin was to crosswire the question of the propriety of the administration's communication strategy with the issues surrounding the quality of the deal that secured his release. The answer to the former hinges on the conduct of the soldier himself. If Bergdahl was a deserter, he didn't deserve a hero's welcome. But conservatives decided to lace the debate over the terms of his rescue with doubts about his worthiness...On the basis of third party testimonials, they rendered a verdict on his conduct; and on the basis of that verdict they concluded his rescue was misbegotten, turning the "leave no man behind" ethos on its head.

That was a moral and political error. It precipitated a deluge of ugly actions and pronouncements by conservatives and some elected Republicans, who couldn't resist the temptation to seize political advantage by feeding the right's reflexive impression that a massive scandal must be lying just below the surface. The problem, as is so often the case, is that the words and deeds that energize the political right strike other people as vicious and unsupportable...

Some Republicans in Congress recognize that it would be wise to untangle questions about Bergdahl's loyalty from the other, legitimate lines of inquiry. But it's probably too late at this point, particularly if they're unwilling to confront fellow travelers who hold that Bergdahl was worthless and, by implication, unworthy of rescue.

Before the damning accounts of Bowe Bergdahl's disappearance resurfaced, many of those same conservatives were using the fact of his captivity to attack the Obama administration with as much vehemence as they now use the fact of his release to do the same.

Tom Johnson
Tom Johnson
Tom Johnson is a contributing writer for NewsBusters