Tie a yellow ribbon around politicians’ mouths

Something has been bothering me about the story of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, beyond his alleged desertion in Afghanistan and the five high-level Taliban militants released in exchange for him.

It’s in the straight-faced claim by National Security Adviser Susan Rice, the day after Bergdahl’s release was announced, that he “served the United States with honor and distinction” — two years after the late Michael Hastings reported Bergdahl had walked off his post, and four years after the Pentagon reportedly reached the same conclusion.

It’s in the report by NBC’s Chuck Todd, about White House surprise at criticism of Bergdahl’s release, that officials “thought there would be some euphoria about this. That the only POW that was remaining in Afghanistan (was released), that there would be a rally around the flag.”

Bergdahl’s friends and family are surely thrilled he’s safe and back in American care, and I’d guess most Americans agree it’s better that he not be imprisoned by the Taliban any longer. But “euphoria” and “rally around the flag” are out of place for the return of a man facing allegations of desertion from other soldiers.

They fit instead with a political attitude that treats the military not just as a prop, but too often as the object of insincere genuflection.

If the way soldiers returning from Vietnam were treated represents one brand of despicability, this attitude is another. It’s better to be flattered than spat upon, granted. But the flattery is hollow when it’s heaped upon Bergdahl in the same way as — or, at least publicly, to a greater degree than — on the soldiers who risked and in some cases lost their lives pursuing him.

Our soldiers and veterans deserve our genuine appreciation. But that requires us to differentiate between the vast majority of them who did serve with honor and distinction, and the few who didn’t.

It requires us to do a lot better by veterans than secret (non) waiting lists at VA hospitals.

It also requires us to push back when appreciation appears to be little more than politics. Recall Democrats’ howls in 2012, after Mitt Romney didn’t mention veterans in his speech at the GOP convention.

The complaint was Romney didn't appreciate the military, but the subtext was that he'd made just another campaign gaffe. Doesn't Romney know he's supposed to include an applause line about veterans? LOL, what a dummy.

That’s nothing but politics. And no, I’m not foolish enough to think only Democrats are guilty.

Still, this administration seems particularly bad about it. In that 2012 story about Bergdahl, published in Rolling Stone, Hastings quoted an unnamed administration official:

“It could be a huge win if Obama could bring him home …. Especially in an election year, if it’s handled properly.”

They sure nailed the election-year part.