On Politics On PoliticsOn Politics
Analysis and perspective about what's happening in the political realm.

Political Myopia

The ordeal around the return of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl is an indicator of politicization. The ordeal around the return of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl is an indicator of politicization. Voice Of Jihad Website via AP video

"Where you stand depends on where you sit."

It is an age-old expression that I've heard a thousand times and often found quite relevant. Intelligent and honest people can be looking at the same question, but through different lenses, and thus see different things. Sadly, though, in today's culture, rarely can there be a reasonable difference of opinion. Anyone holding an alternative view is seen as stupid, unknowledgeable, dishonest, corrupt, hypocritical, or some combination thereof.

The controversy over the Obama administration's decision to trade five Taliban detainees from the Guantanamo Bay prison for Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl is a good example of how differing perspectives can lead to different reactions. In June 2009, during a combat deployment in the Paktika province of Afghanistan, Bergdahl was either captured by insurgents of the Haqqani network or he slipped away from his combat outpost and unit, possibly turning himself over to the particularly virulent Taliban-affiliate.

Two years ago, our son David, who is now out of the Army, served a six-month deployment during "the surge" as an enlisted man with the 82nd Airborne Division. He faced the same Haqqani network (among other Taliban-related insurgents) as Bergdahl, but in Ghazni, another eastern province adjacent to Paktika. He believes that the trade may have been a mistake, or could have been done more quietly. David explains that American soldiers are trained to do everything possible to avoid capture and, if taken, to escape. When entering a combat area, it was with the knowledge that while extraordinary efforts should and would be used to rescue captured soldiers, the U.S. would not trade captives to secure one's release (even though it has happened before and not infrequently, but done more quietly and informally). When David read about the releasing of the five Taliban detainees, he was uncomfortable with the idea that these particularly bad actors would be allowed to go free—even if they were supervised for a year by the government of Qatar—because they could continue their war against the United States.

I don't know the details of Bergdahl's situation. But David spent considerable time away from the larger and safer Forward Operating Base Warrior (bunks, three square meals a day, toilets, and a daily incoming rocket or two) at a "Joint Security Station"—a remote outpost (sleeping on the ground, burning waste, little protection other than mud walls and sandbags) with 30 other Americans and a like number of Afghan troops, where they experienced direct contact with the insurgents almost daily during two months at the height of the fighting season. Obviously, he was unsympathetic to any soldier who walked away from his unit in a combat situation.

For us as parents, however, our sympathies are with Bergdahl's family. Like millions of other families over the millennia, the terror of having a son or daughter serving in a combat unit during a very active war is an experience that we wouldn't wish on anyone. On top of that, the thought of having your own son or daughter captured or lost is simply unfathomable—we can't imagine what those parents went through. To us, the "leave no man behind" ethos of the U.S. military is paramount. However, even with those sympathies, if the details of Bergdahl's rescue as they have been reported are true (a number of U.S. soldiers were killed and wounded during the search operation), and if he had, in fact, deserted his post, then that would be deeply troubling. If we lost a family member who was part of a search for a deserter, I think my emotions might be very different. For too many people, however, the nuances and details are less important than the more dogmatic approach.

The "where you stand depends on where you sit" maxim applies equally to the just-announced standards to cut emissions. For people whose livelihood depends on coal, or who live in areas that are economically dependent on coal (and, for that matter, other fossil fuels), the Obama administration's proposed emission standards seem untenable. This perspective is nearly irreconcilable with that of those most concerned with environmental quality.

While we have always had partisan and ideological differences, these differences are now increasingly bleeding over into larger geographic, social, and cultural areas. Whether it is environmental protection, gun laws, or countless other domestic-policy issues, people from small-town and rural America see elites (e.g., city residents, liberals, and Democrats) as imposing their values and way of life on people they don't even understand and with no sympathy for their perspective. Conversely, those whose main concern is protecting the Earth and the environment see this as a battle for the planet's future, and they don't understand anyone who doesn't share those priorities or concerns.

The notion that "where you stand depends on where you sit" seems to cut little ice in our increasingly rigid society, when tolerance for different points of view is becoming increasingly rare.

Close [ x ] More from GovExec

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from GovExec.com.
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Sponsored by Brocade

    Best of 2016 Federal Forum eBook

    Earlier this summer, Federal and tech industry leaders convened to talk security, machine learning, network modernization, DevOps, and much more at the 2016 Federal Forum. This eBook includes a useful summary highlighting the best content shared at the 2016 Federal Forum to help agencies modernize their network infrastructure.

  • Sponsored by CDW-G

    GBC Flash Poll Series: Merger & Acquisitions

    Download this GBC Flash Poll to learn more about federal perspectives on the impact of industry consolidation.

  • Sponsored by One Identity

    One Nation Under Guard: Securing User Identities Across State and Local Government

    In 2016, the government can expect even more sophisticated threats on the horizon, making it all the more imperative that agencies enforce proper identity and access management (IAM) practices. In order to better measure the current state of IAM at the state and local level, Government Business Council (GBC) conducted an in-depth research study of state and local employees.

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    The Next Federal Evolution of Cloud

    This GBC report explains the evolution of cloud computing in federal government, and provides an outlook for the future of the cloud in government IT.

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    A DevOps Roadmap for the Federal Government

    This GBC Report discusses how DevOps is steadily gaining traction among some of government's leading IT developers and agencies.

  • Sponsored by LTC Partners, administrators of the Federal Long Term Care Insurance Program

    Approaching the Brink of Federal Retirement

    Approximately 10,000 baby boomers are reaching retirement age per day, and a growing number of federal employees are preparing themselves for the next chapter of their lives. Learn how to tackle the challenges that today's workforce faces in laying the groundwork for a smooth and secure retirement.

  • Sponsored by Hewlett Packard Enterprise

    Cyber Defense 101: Arming the Next Generation of Government Employees

    Read this issue brief to learn about the sector's most potent challenges in the new cyber landscape and how government organizations are building a robust, threat-aware infrastructure

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    GBC Issue Brief: Cultivating Digital Services in the Federal Landscape

    Read this GBC issue brief to learn more about the current state of digital services in the government, and how key players are pushing enhancements towards a user-centric approach.

  • Sponsored by CDW-G

    Joint Enterprise Licensing Agreements

    Read this eBook to learn how defense agencies can achieve savings and efficiencies with an Enterprise Software Agreement.

  • Sponsored by Cloudera

    Government Forum Content Library

    Get all the essential resources needed for effective technology strategies in the federal landscape.


When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.