Bowe Bergdahl wasn't responsible for sending U.S. troops to Afghanistan in 2001. He didn't send the 2.5 million Americans into harm's way to fight in both wars. It was the American people; represented by two presidents, Congress, and the belief that terrorism was worth fighting two counterinsurgency conflicts, that sent Americans to fight al-Qaeda and the Taliban.
Today, Sgt. Bergdahl represents a catharsis for conservatives in that he can be blamed for the deaths of Americans. For a nation looking to circumvent its role in sending its sons and daughters to face roadside bombs and ambushes, the Idaho native is a perfect scapegoat. Through his allegedly ignoble activities, the former POW is now the reason American soldiers are dead. The truth, however, is far more damning.
We, the American people, are to blame for sending our soldiers into a killing zone called Afghanistan. Are we guilty of murdering Americans because of this decision? We're as guilty as Sgt. Bergdahl in that his alleged desertion was perhaps a grave lapse of judgment. Our nation's lapse of judgment was the belief that we could bring democracy and a Western value system (that took hundreds of years for us to perfect) into Afghanistan without tremendous sacrifice. When 317 million citizens are protected by about 3 million men and women, it's easy to send another person's child to battle. If Bergdahl is guilty of the death of American soldiers, we're all guilty of ignoring the lessons of Vietnam. Furthermore, our nation and its leaders are guilty of sending men and women to wage asymmetrical and counterinsurgency warfare; lessons we learned from our involvement in Southeast Asia and the Soviet catastrophe in Afghanistan.
For people relishing in the fact that Bergdahl possibly deserted and therefore deserves a firing squad, please remember that we sent hundreds of thousands of Americans into a war zone. This war zone, and our enemies, posed a grave danger from the first day American forces landed in Afghanistan. We knew in 2001, long before Bergdhal enlisted, that the Taliban was a dangerous enemy intent on killing and kidnapping Americans. As stated by Stanford University, the Taliban is an organization that has utilized a wide array of deadly tactics aimed at fighting Americans:
The Taliban employs suicide bombing, IEDs, gun assaults, grenade attacks, kidnapping and hostage taking to further their ultimate goal of expelling anti-Taliban forces from Afghanistan and establishing a strictly Shariah-governed Afghan state...
Using suicide bombings, IED and rocket attacks, as well as raids and shootings, assassinations, sniping, guerrilla warfare and massacres, the Taliban continue to engage their opponents in more asymmetric ways than other militia have traditionally employed.
We sent Americans to battle this type of enemy; an adversary that engages in everything from kidnapping to deadly ambushes. To say that Bergdahl created this life threatening atmosphere is not only ludicrous, but ignores the fact that we knew how ruthless the Taliban was long before 2001. Also, for the "message board commandos" who claim Bergdhal endangered American lives, it's important to remember that Congress sent Americans into Afghanistan to fight the Taliban. The American people sent our soldiers to fight a group that engages in "suicide bombings, IED and rocket attacks, as well as raids and shootings, assassinations, sniping, guerrilla warfare and massacres."
If you blame Bergdhal for the death of Americans, then also blame Bush and Obama for ignoring history. While we've been a great deal more successful than the USSR in Afghanistan, our nation sent American soldiers to battle an enemy that defeated our Cold War adversary. Furthermore, Sgt. Bergdahl can't be blamed for the Taliban's ability to ambush our soldiers; this capability was well documented long before 2014. In a 2008 CBS News article entitled Green Berets Recount Deadly Taliban Ambush, even our most elite soldiers have had trouble combating a more powerful than anticipated enemy:
At one point, the Taliban even broke through the Green Berets' perimeter, but were pushed back. Maj. Ford called in air support. But the bombs couldn't stop the Taliban - they were everywhere...
"The Taliban want to take Afghanistan back. They want to install their government, their system of life," Ford says.
"But, bottom line, a force that was defeated in the invasion is no longer defeated," Logan asks.
As one of the Green Berets stated, a terrorist group that was once defeated "is no longer defeated." Whereas we had a quick victory over the Taliban in 2001, the've regrouped and continue to pose a dangerous threat to even our most elite soldiers.
Is this Bergdahl's fault?
The answer is obvious.
As for the future of Afghanistan, Lt. Col. John Paganini says it could take a while. In a 2011 ABC News article, the director of the U.S. Army Counterinsurgency Center stated that victory was not assured:
Paganini said changing the minds of Afghans could take generations.
"Is victory inevitable?" he asked. "No, because there are so many conditions that are out there. But we are clearly on the path for it. ... It could take generations. It could take, you know, the people of Afghanistan one or two iterations with some semblance of an election and feedback mechanisms that let them see that this is good."
With all the sacrifice that military men and women have made, true success in Afghanistan could take generations and is not assured.
So now back to Sgt. Bergdahl, the new target of Fox News and real patriots everywhere. 2,324 American soldiers have died in Operation Enduring Freedom since 2001, including thousands of American wounded. If you blame Bowe Bergdhal (because of desertion, a change in religion, or any other Fox News accusation), then please remember one thing.
Our nation sent its soldiers into a dangerous part of the world, knowing full well that Americans would not be coming back home. If you want to blame Bergdahl, please also remember to blame the country that sent its citizens to battle a determined and deadly enemy. This foreign policy decision, something that can't be pinned on the former POW, cost more American lives than anything Bergdahl could have done in Taliban captivity.