President Obama must have expected universal rejoicing over his decision to trade five of the most senior and dangerous Taliban officials held for years at Guantanamo for the freedom of U.S. Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, the only American military captive held by the enemy in Afghanistan. When it didn't happen that way, Obama and his allies responded as they always do to criticism of their policy choices - by marginalizing and questioning the motives of critics.
Obama, who is a master at setting up and then obliterating straw men, indignantly dismissed those who criticized his deal. “I make absolutely no apologies for making sure we get back a young man to his parents,” he said. His aides told Politico that critics were merely using the controversy as “a proxy for their hatred toward the president.”
|If the White House wasn't going to involve Congress anyway, then why wasn't this exchange conducted quietly?|
But this sidesteps the real issue. No one faults Obama for repatriating a U.S. soldier captured in war. But that doesn't mean there aren't serious questions about this particular deal – questions to which the Obama administration has responded with silence, canards or conflicting answers.
First, why didn't Obama give Congress the legally required 30 days' notice that Gitmo prisoners were to be released? At first, administration officials cited exigent circumstances based on grave concerns about Bergdahl's health. The White House also claimed it acted unilaterally believing the law in question to be unconstitutional. Yet another explanation was that senior members of Congress could not be trusted to keep the information quiet. In a closed-door briefing to members of Congress, administration officials claimed the Taliban had threatened to kill Bergdahl if the deal was made public. These explanations aren't consistent with one another, especially given that details of the potential deal had been circulating in the media for at least two years.
The second question: Did the administration get a lousy deal? There's nothing inherently wrong with a swap of prisoners by parties to a war. But it isn't unreasonable to question the trade of five senior Taliban officials, including two accused war criminals, for one enlisted man. Even worse, the proposed deal was overwhelmingly rejected in 2012 by members of Congress, Pentagon officials and the intelligence community. What changed?
The third question concerns Obama’s baffling attempt to canonize Bergdahl in the media. Bergdahl's alleged conduct in leaving his post without authorization and possibly even (according to former comrades) seeking out the enemy is no reason to leave him behind. But Obama's attempt to create a self-serving White House media spectacle – a political feel-good story about his own leadership – was repellent.
National Security Adviser Susan Rice commented on national television that Bergdahl “served the United States with honor and distinction,” implying some kind of great heroism. But if that was true, why keep Congress in the dark? If the White House wasn't going to involve Congress anyway, then why (other than for political reasons) wasn't this exchange conducted quietly? Instead, with a crude attempt to elevate himself, Obama has set Bergdahl up for national humiliation.