On May 31, 2014, President Obama stepped into the White House Rose Garden with Bob and Jani Bergdahl to announce that their son was coming home. Immediately the event hit a nerve with the public. Some thought Obama’s speech and the formality of the Rose Garden were political moves: efforts to make Bowe Bergdahl into a hero and to whitewash what happened in Afghanistan. Didn’t Obama know that Bergdahl had deserted? He traded five terrorists for that guy? News reports fixated on the fact that Bob had spoken in Pashto during the event.
Sources within the Obama administration say there really wasn’t a grand political calculus. They say that of course they knew about the circumstances of Bergdahl’s capture, and of course they understood that releasing detainees from Guantanamo would be controversial. So why the Rose Garden ceremony? Well, they say, originally there were no plans for Obama to give a speech, nor for Bergdahl’s parents to talk. The administration was just going to release written statements from the president and the Pentagon. But then, on May 31, when Bergdahl was released, his parents happened to be in town. It was a nice spring day. Everyone at the White House was so happy that the years of diplomatic negotiations, and the special-operations mission, had been a success. One thing led to another, and…Rose Garden.