Todd D. Wolfrum
Todd D. Wolfrum
“Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” – John F. Kennedy in his inaugural address. January, 1961.

Whether or not John F. Kennedy was one of our great Presidents is debatable. He got kicked around something fierce in his first year in office. The Bay of Pigs invasion was one of the most botched operations in U.S. history and the botching was largely Kennedy’s. Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev, to bolster his world image, took the opportunity of a peace conference in Berlin to kick around the young American President who was naively looking for a restart in Cold War relations. The same strategy would work for Vladimir Putin five decades later.

But Kennedy learned from his mistakes and by the Cuban Missile Crisis in his second year, he showed a determination that re-inspired a nation. As the last Democratic president before the meaning of being a Democrat changed, he cut taxes. He was, in fact, a Tea Party Democrat.

Hard to tell what he would have done with more than a thousand days. Perhaps his philandering or his chronic back pain might have limited him. But what is not in dispute is the fact that Kennedy was a war hero. His actions after the sinking of PT-109 to save the survivors of his crew are well documented – the subject of books and movies. He was of the Greatest Generation that fought and won World War II. When he implored to “ask not what your country can do for you,” people believed he meant it and they cheered. Leadership, 1961.

Kennedy was succeeded by Lyndon Johnson, a Senator who immediately set about transforming America into the “Great Society.” The Senate is where you gain prominence by securing government handouts for your home constituents. After Johnson, we had not had a Senator elected to the White House until President Obama, who, it could be said, is completing the bejesus out of the Johnson mission of pervasive government dependence.

Fast forward to this week’s negotiated release of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl in exchange for five Taliban prisoners held at Gitmo. That Bergdahl was considered a deserter by his platoon was known. It now is further coming out that several of his fellow platoon members believe that Bergdahl likely aided the enemy in planning attacks against them. The White House knew of Bergdahl’s desertion and possible treason. That isn’t to say he should be left behind, but this trade cost us much more than five enemy combatants and is indicative of what we have become – a country that can’t be trusted.

The Obama administration initially tried to hail Bergdahl as a hero – a soldier brought home to his family from enemy captivity after honorably serving his country. Poor Susan Rice – sent out to lie (again) on the Sunday morning talk shows about the urgency of completing the deal due to Bergdahl’s health. This was the reason, she said, why the administration didn’t follow the law and consult Congress first. Turns out his health was not in danger. One wonders if Rice shivers when the White House calls to say, “Here are your talking points for Sunday.”

Soldiers may or may not have lost their lives searching for Bergdahl, but some certainly lost their lives in capturing the five Taliban that were exchanged. How do you explain this to those soldiers’ families? How do you explain it to our Afghan allies, or any of our allies, who are now justified in every misgiving they had about us. The Afghans will now have to deal with these five Taliban in the inevitable and perpetual civil war that will resume once we leave.

There are columns arguing that the five Taliban would have been released soon anyway as the war is ending and enemy soldiers are always released at the end of combat. That’s crazy. We aren’t fighting Germany or even North Korea where released prisoners go back to serve their country. We’re releasing Taliban who believe it is their holy mission to kill everyone who disagrees with them, including their own countrymen. Those put into the most immediate danger as a result of this exchange are Afghan women.

From a President whose greatest accomplishment so far is being quick to announce and take credit for the intelligence community’s and the Navy Seals’ killing of Osama Bin Laden, this is no surprise. Heroes are made not in actions, but in announcements. The release of Bergdahl made for the perfect announcement, with his parents there as Rose Garden ornaments.

It would be nice to think that the five Taliban thugs who were just released have some sort of tracking device imbedded in them and that there will be a glorious series of drone strikes a few years from now. No one believes that is going to happen. What is more likely is a series of kidnappings because we now negotiate with terrorists.

This is what we gave up for Sgt. Bergdahl, deserter. It is tragically ironic that Bergdahl’s release comes in the same week as the 70th anniversary of the D-Day invasion, where there was a shore full of Americans who died not deserting their country. Bergdahl is the new American hero – President Obama’s kind of hero. No sacrifice required. He deserted his post to help people who would like nothing more than to see America, its people, and its liberties wiped from the face of the Earth. But it makes a tidier photo op than dead bloody soldiers on a beach.

We may be only fifty-three years from Kennedy’s inaugural address, but we are light years from being the crowd that cheered it.

(This and other Wolfrum columns can be read at toddwolfrum.com.)