Why Obama Did Not Pardon Bergdahl

Before he left office Barack Obama commuted more federal sentences than any other president in history, most famously that of former Army Private Bradley Manning, who divulged hundreds of thousands of classified documents and seriously damaged national security. Drug offenders were also high on Obama’s list. Notably absent was Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, whom Obama ransomed for several notorious Taliban terrorists, and Obama’s National Security Advisor proclaimed an American hero. Why did Manning get the nod and not Bergdahl?

Obama was far more personally invested in Bergdahl’s case, feting his parents in the Rose Garden upon the soldier’s release from Taliban captivity, and practically groping his mom, which even made liberal columnist Richard Cohen a bit queasy. But in deciphering Obama’s inaction on Bergdahl one first has to adopt the ex-president’s mindset, which might be summarized as “what’s in it for me?” 

Obama had little to gain personally from intervening in Bergdahl’s case in his final days in office, despite the high cost we paid to recover the alleged deserter from Taliban captivity, and his own aide’s glowing words about Bergdahl, which surely reflected Obama’s own view at the time.

During his last days in office Obama rather assiduously reinforced and reemphasized his lefty bona fides, in particular by taking one last hard swipe at Israel, but not ignoring other areas of leftist mania, such as climate change and LGBT issues. The commutation of Manning’s sentence owes nothing to its supposed disproportion to other cases, and everything to LGBT politics. Had Bradley Manning stayed Bradley Manning he’d likely be serving out his full sentence. Chelsea Manning on the other hand got Obama’s attention. Manning’s leaking actually did the left no favors, and Obama savagely attacked alleged leakers throughout his time in office. But for the left actions mean nothing, identity is everything.

Obama has signaled in every way that his second act in public life will be as an unabashed man of the left, both on the national and international stage. That requires genuflection to the cult-like issues that most drive the left. With LGBT issues at or near the top, Chelsea Manning goes free.

Poor Bergdahl. Had he come out as gay, or better yet like Manning as transgendered -- Betty Bergdahl perhaps -- Obama might have extended them both mercy, or left Manning to rot and set Bergdahl free.

Alternatively, Bergdahl might have gotten Obama’s attention had he claimed to be a Muslim. He certainly had the opportunity to make a convincing conversion having spent those years with the Taliban. Bergdahl’s dad issued an Islamic greeting during the Rose Garden ceremony to smiles from Obama, leading to speculation that Bergdahl pere had become a Muslim. But while both Bergdahl and his dad appear to be odd ducks, they don’t seem to be Muslims either, just boring if unusual white guys.

Bergdahl’s appearance on NPR’s very popular podcast Serial got his version of his desertion and capture out in the public space, but doesn’t appear to have provoked much passion for his case on the left. For example, this piece on the lefty website Vox about the case and the podcast is fairly evenhanded and informative, rather than tendentious, which is another way of saying Vox and its readers could hardly care less. Perhaps this will change as the trial date approaches, but Obama clearly figured that helping out Bergdahl would do little to enhance his approval ratings on the left.

Obama may also have calculated that allowing the case to take its course might prove something of a trap for his successor. While in office, Obama improperly expressed his opinions on the case through his actions and comments (and those of his aides.) He either did not understand or care that as commander-in-chief he was in Bergdahl’s chain of command, and barred by law from influencing the case, which is known as unlawful command influence. However, since Obama’s actions actually helped rather than harmed Bergdahl, there were no adverse legal consequences for his attorneys to complain about, while Army lawyers could hardly (at least officially) protest.

Trump also weighed in on the case, but as a candidate, which he was entitled to do. Trump’s comments regarding Bergdahl might be considered by some intemperate, but they were not illegal or improper at the time. Nonetheless, and quite predictably, Bergdahl’s attorneys are now claiming that their client will not be able to receive a fair trial with Trump as commander-in-chief. It is unlikely that a military judge will agree with them, but regardless we can expect the mainstream media to use this as yet another way to attack Trump.

For a couple of years, the Bergdahl case was something of an albatross around Obama’s neck. Had he pardoned the soldier, it would have remained there in some sense, without providing any him and obvious benefit. Politically, leaving Bergdahl to his fate serves Obama’s purposes just as well, without costing him anything, while possibly creating an issue for Trump if the garrulous president can’t keep his counsel.

Although as the trial approaches the mainstream media may try to make hay about Trump’s past comments and paint Bergdahl sympathetically, this is not an issue that needs worry Trump so long as he doesn’t weigh in further on the case. Military justice is surprisingly fair, and the officers and NCOs that sit on Bergdahl’s panel (should he choose a jury trial) will follow instructions, assume Bergdahl’s innocence and make the prosecution prove its case. One way or the other, justice will finally be done. 

Before he left office Barack Obama commuted more federal sentences than any other president in history, most famously that of former Army Private Bradley Manning, who divulged hundreds of thousands of classified documents and seriously damaged national security. Drug offenders were also high on Obama’s list. Notably absent was Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, whom Obama ransomed for several notorious Taliban terrorists, and Obama’s National Security Advisor proclaimed an American hero. Why did Manning get the nod and not Bergdahl?

Obama was far more personally invested in Bergdahl’s case, feting his parents in the Rose Garden upon the soldier’s release from Taliban captivity, and practically groping his mom, which even made liberal columnist Richard Cohen a bit queasy. But in deciphering Obama’s inaction on Bergdahl one first has to adopt the ex-president’s mindset, which might be summarized as “what’s in it for me?” 

Obama had little to gain personally from intervening in Bergdahl’s case in his final days in office, despite the high cost we paid to recover the alleged deserter from Taliban captivity, and his own aide’s glowing words about Bergdahl, which surely reflected Obama’s own view at the time.

During his last days in office Obama rather assiduously reinforced and reemphasized his lefty bona fides, in particular by taking one last hard swipe at Israel, but not ignoring other areas of leftist mania, such as climate change and LGBT issues. The commutation of Manning’s sentence owes nothing to its supposed disproportion to other cases, and everything to LGBT politics. Had Bradley Manning stayed Bradley Manning he’d likely be serving out his full sentence. Chelsea Manning on the other hand got Obama’s attention. Manning’s leaking actually did the left no favors, and Obama savagely attacked alleged leakers throughout his time in office. But for the left actions mean nothing, identity is everything.

Obama has signaled in every way that his second act in public life will be as an unabashed man of the left, both on the national and international stage. That requires genuflection to the cult-like issues that most drive the left. With LGBT issues at or near the top, Chelsea Manning goes free.

Poor Bergdahl. Had he come out as gay, or better yet like Manning as transgendered -- Betty Bergdahl perhaps -- Obama might have extended them both mercy, or left Manning to rot and set Bergdahl free.

Alternatively, Bergdahl might have gotten Obama’s attention had he claimed to be a Muslim. He certainly had the opportunity to make a convincing conversion having spent those years with the Taliban. Bergdahl’s dad issued an Islamic greeting during the Rose Garden ceremony to smiles from Obama, leading to speculation that Bergdahl pere had become a Muslim. But while both Bergdahl and his dad appear to be odd ducks, they don’t seem to be Muslims either, just boring if unusual white guys.

Bergdahl’s appearance on NPR’s very popular podcast Serial got his version of his desertion and capture out in the public space, but doesn’t appear to have provoked much passion for his case on the left. For example, this piece on the lefty website Vox about the case and the podcast is fairly evenhanded and informative, rather than tendentious, which is another way of saying Vox and its readers could hardly care less. Perhaps this will change as the trial date approaches, but Obama clearly figured that helping out Bergdahl would do little to enhance his approval ratings on the left.

Obama may also have calculated that allowing the case to take its course might prove something of a trap for his successor. While in office, Obama improperly expressed his opinions on the case through his actions and comments (and those of his aides.) He either did not understand or care that as commander-in-chief he was in Bergdahl’s chain of command, and barred by law from influencing the case, which is known as unlawful command influence. However, since Obama’s actions actually helped rather than harmed Bergdahl, there were no adverse legal consequences for his attorneys to complain about, while Army lawyers could hardly (at least officially) protest.

Trump also weighed in on the case, but as a candidate, which he was entitled to do. Trump’s comments regarding Bergdahl might be considered by some intemperate, but they were not illegal or improper at the time. Nonetheless, and quite predictably, Bergdahl’s attorneys are now claiming that their client will not be able to receive a fair trial with Trump as commander-in-chief. It is unlikely that a military judge will agree with them, but regardless we can expect the mainstream media to use this as yet another way to attack Trump.

For a couple of years, the Bergdahl case was something of an albatross around Obama’s neck. Had he pardoned the soldier, it would have remained there in some sense, without providing any him and obvious benefit. Politically, leaving Bergdahl to his fate serves Obama’s purposes just as well, without costing him anything, while possibly creating an issue for Trump if the garrulous president can’t keep his counsel.

Although as the trial approaches the mainstream media may try to make hay about Trump’s past comments and paint Bergdahl sympathetically, this is not an issue that needs worry Trump so long as he doesn’t weigh in further on the case. Military justice is surprisingly fair, and the officers and NCOs that sit on Bergdahl’s panel (should he choose a jury trial) will follow instructions, assume Bergdahl’s innocence and make the prosecution prove its case. One way or the other, justice will finally be done.