Americans will hit the polls in the fall of 2016 with the kind of political fervor one can expect from a nation bruised by two failed wars, split by an income gap, caught in a never-ending healthcare debate, and confused about whether it’s "post-racial." Not to mention all the things voters are always worried about: jobs, gun control, jobs, taxes, jobs, and spending. And jobs.
By 2016, the latest US orgy of large-scale interventiongasm will have officially shuddered to a close. American voters still won’t be able to find Syria on a map. All the gay marriage will still scare many conservatives more than al Qaeda. All of which is to say, aside perhaps from a few candidates who still fall asleep wrapped in Charlton Heston movie posters, no politicians in 2016 will be mentioning the name on the lips of so many of them today: Bowe Bergdahl.
Last week, the United States swapped Bergdahl, a US soldier who'd been a Taliban prisoner since 2009, for five Guantanamo detainees. The ensuing outcry from conservative politicians and their favorite news outlets was only a few decibels lower than it was the time America let a black guy run the country. In addition to questions about how dangerous the released prisoners may be, the controversy over whether Bergdahl was a deserter has prompted calls for a thorough investigation of the events surrounding his initial disappearance.
Obama is clearly willing to endure the outcry, having no doubt seen it coming. That's because the prisoner swap was about much more than just bringing Bergdahl home. Granted, if the presidential election were held this year, Bowe Bergdahl and the Guantanamo Five — now playing at a suicide bombing or beheading near you! No cover! — would figure into the rhetoric. But the presidential election is two years away, and Obama and the Democratic party are laying the groundwork for something the President wants to do before he leaves office: close Guantanamo Bay. The prisoner exchange was a risky but necessary first step toward larger releases leading to the closure of Camp Forcefeedawatha.
Most voters in 2016 will remember the spring of 2014 only because that's when Kim Kardashian married her ex-husband, Kanye West.
The US course in Afghanistan was set when the President announced that most American troops will leave by 2016. So bringing Bergdahl home does nothing for the Taliban “peace process” that's now less relevant than a Hilton sister. Obama has an eye on both his legacy and keeping his party in the White House; as such, this was a move to prove he deserves that Nobel Peace Prize, and to restore American’s reputation abroad.
The Taliban release prompted an official outcry from Kabul, but Obama and the Democrats have moved on from even the pretense of caring about what happens in Afghanistan. They’re playing to a much wider, worldwide audience; releasing the five prisoners demonstrates that the Americans may finally be getting serious about closing Gitmo for good. And even those calling for Bergdahl’s head on a (metaphorical, one hopes) pike can't argue that it's better for him to be home than in Taliban hands.
So by Election Day 2016, Democrats will be able to say they were at the helm when America not only ended two wars, but also remodeled some unsightly Cuban real estate. Those messages will play far better with voters than the increase in drone strikes, the spread of terrorism worldwide, or the fiscal train wreck large swaths of the US economy continue to be. By 2016, any investigation into Bergdahl will have been forgotten like a Guy Fieri eatery, and most voters in 2016 will remember the spring of 2014 only because that's when Kim Kardashian married her ex-husband, Kanye West.
By releasing prisoners in a way that enraged Congress even more than campaign finance reform or healthcare for the poor, Obama made it clear to the nation and the world that he’s serious about emptying Guantanamo, thereby elevating the issue in a way that hadn't been done before. What’s unfortunate is that the deal happened at a time when it gives no impetus to peace negotiations in Afghanistan. It’s not going to bring anyone back to the table — but that was never the point. This is part of a long game that has nothing to do with America’s longest war.
This was about ballots, not Bergdahl. That’s why Obama brought him home.
Follow Gary Owen on Twitter: @ElSnarkistani