Guest editorial: As Bergdahl controversy swirls, Idaho’s leaders hide

The silence is deafening and exemplifies the foggy political whirlwind that now swirls around Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl’s release from Taliban captivity. Idaho’s leaders are staying far from the actual issue, which brings nearly 15 years of U.S. behavior since 9/11 into focus. It’s a weak, inadequate response.

U.S. Sen. Jim Risch is still “gathering information.” Sen. Mike Crapo isn’t commenting. Rep. Mike Simpson says there will be time in the future to take a position. They’re saying less than nothing, which is unacceptable considering the true gravity of what Bergdahl’s freedom represents. The brewing Bergdahl scandal, it seems, is a little too close to home, even for the usually boisterous Risch who rarely shies away from a fight.

Their Republican peers, always hip to blast the White House, aren’t showing such discretion. Frankly, most congressional Republicans are on the warpath, as is the right-wing blogosphere, because of the White House’s illegal swap of five Guantanamo Bay detainees, the human currency that bought Bergdahl’s liberation.

Bergdahl’s tale is muddy, at best. He may have deserted his unit, which led to his capture. The search that followed may have contributed to the deaths of a half-dozen American troops. Bowe Bergdahl may have been an idealistic 23-year-old from Hailey in 2009, who went off to war and didn’t see the American presence in Afghanistan that he expected and walked away. He was never even officially listed as a prisoner of war by the Pentagon because we weren’t actually at war with any recognized nation. We were battling entrenched factionalized cells. What were the last 13 years, anyway?

Bergdahl’s tale is about something much larger than a kid from Hailey, Idaho.

The silence from Idaho’s leaders speaks volumes. The silence speaks to the complicated, possibly ugly story of the past 13 years following 9/11 and the unwillingness of those in power to address the real issues. The Guantanamo Bay problem, where a slew of men are held indefinitely without ever facing a charge: That’s part of it. The purpose of our two wars in the Middle East: That’s there, too. The entire post-9/11 era has come crashing together thanks to Bowe Bergdahl’s release. Hero or not, Bergdahl has forced Americans to examine what we’ve become. Yet, our lawmakers, who we expect to lead, remain mute out of sheer political cowardice.

Some are calling Bergdahl a traitor. Others are planning a hero’s welcome. Everyone is picking a side except the people charged with leading. We should know where Risch, Crapo and Simpson stand on President Obama’s swap. Is the whole hubbub even scandal-worthy or just another excuse to blast the president for pulling the trigger? We should know where they stand on Bergdahl’s future. We would hope for a wider conversation about the future of American foreign policy and what it means for the people who act as its political hammer. An Idaho soldier is driving the debate, after all.

The silence among Idaho’s lawmakers, and Bergdahl’s parents, says it all. It was no surprise Bob and Jani Bergdahl didn’t take questions on Sunday from the media when they flew into Boise. There’s a very real chance their son will face desertion charges before a military tribunal. Risch and Simpson are both favorites in their in re-election bids, but the Bergdahl issue is a minefield, one where the longtime political powerhouses either anger local Bergdahl supporters or their Republican peers critical of Obama and the mounting anti-Bergdahl crowd that’s becoming more vocal nationwide.

The controversy surrounding Bowe Bergdahl is a lot bigger than one man’s war story. It’s time the people we elect to govern stop hiding and contribute to the conversation of our time. They owe us nothing less.