Of the three issues surrounding Bowe Bergdahl's release - the questions of his service and behavior, the deal to release him, and the timing and presentation of it - it's the middle part, the questions about the deal and about those Taliban leaders traded, that that may actually be easiest to sort out.
That's apparently what the Administration thought, since reporting on what has already become five days of spectacular miscalculation suggests that the White House figured controversy over the prisoner swap would be trumped by "thank God he's home." The "whoops" on that one, apparently, was not being up to speed on Bergdahl's story.
"What do we do about Gunatanamo" is back front of mind for Americans, a topic that's been largely avoided for years. "Close Guantanamo" was a big piece of the rallying cry for Democrats in 2008, and a big attraction for liberal voters who supported Obama, but as much as what's happened since is purely political theater, I think it's also clear that Obama's Mandate to Close Guantanamo was not as overwhelming as it looked on first blush.
Gitmo, as its called, was certainly the worst post-9/11 idea the Bushies had - in that, I'd argue, "a nearby prison port to torture terrorists" kind of covers all of their worst instincts. Torture, too, was a terrible idea, but actually doing it might have been less easiy accomplished without building a place to do it full time. Guantanamo has been, from the start, a legal mess, a visible embarassment, and one of those prime examples of why it's best not to do bad things in the first place. Undoing them becomes worse than the thing itself.
Since rounding up a fairly random collection of "bad guys" from international locations, we've discovered that terrorism and its prevention can be better handled a) as law enforcement, b) with some controversial, but generally conventional preventive intelligence gathering, and c) by conducting traditional legal processes on folks after arresting them in a fairly conventional manner. All of this, let's recall, was scoffed at by the enthusiastic defenders of torture and offsite detention, mainly Dick Cheney and a small band of his co-conspirators (that's Mom's word for that). Dick and his daughter Liz still serve, mostly alone, as the fervid defenders of all that was done in the name of Making Sure It Never Happens Again.
More than ten years after 9/11, we have the hindsight to see these things for what they were: excessive, poorly thought out plans that should have been nipped but lost out when fear overruled common sense. Undoind Guantanamo is complicated because of what our bad deeds hath wrought: damaged souls, a sense of permanent outrage, and a handful of serious criminals whose treatment has badly compromised most any reasonable effort to rationally prosecute their identifiable offenses.
"Close Guantanamo" has never been my rallying cry because it strikes me as obvious - of course it must and will be closed, at some point. Process geek that I am, the part that concerns (and always did) me is less that it will be closed, but how - what happens to the detainees, how safe we will be once some are released, and the bbarriers we put up to have it never happen again.
The Taliban Five may animate the right now and into the furture at least short term, but in the long run, I doubt that this lingers, as "scandal" or controversy or much else. It's just five more examples of acts we probably should never have done in the first place, five lives we as a nation treated in an especially cavalier manner, and five messes we cleaned up by basically sending them away and hoping they'll never trouble us again. Maybe they will, but I tend to think not.
What the prisoner swap has dredged up most, though, is basically our eternal sense of guilt. The reminder that this mess we're cleaning up is the mess we made, the mess we could have avoided, the mess we cannot just turn away and ignore. And in that, I think we get to see what President Obama's Presidency has been best at: force feeding us the unpleasant medicine of facing our nation as we actually are, not as we wish we could be seen. We don't like this version of our nation, and we never have - the nation of slavery and Jim Crow and discrimination, where fear and hysteria push us to bad choices and terrible deeds. I released five people from that terrible mistake we made at Guantanamo, Obama tells us, so you could get back a missing soldier. That's as good as this gets. And if you wanted better... well, tough.
No wonder we're going to make this about the missing soldier.