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THE MUSINGS OF A TRADITIONAL SOUTHERN DEMOCRAT

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Sid in his law office where he sits when meeting with clients. Observant eyes will notice the statuette of one of Sid's favorite Democrats.

Thursday, June 05, 2014

The Wall Street Journal (and probably America): The Bergdahl Fiasco

From The Wall Street Journal:

President Obama's decision to swap five Taliban killers for the return of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl has morphed from a debatable policy decision into the Administration's latest political fiasco. There's a lesson here about the risks of spin and narrow political calculation, especially in foreign policy when American lives are stake.
 
Start with the fact that little the Administration has said about this swap has turned out to be true. "He served the United States with honor and distinction," declared National Security Adviser Susan Rice on ABC on Sunday. But as everyone has since learned, the soldiers who served with Sgt. Bergdahl almost to a man believe that he deserted his post in Afghanistan in June 2009 before falling into the hands of the Taliban.
 
We think Sgt. Bergdahl deserves the benefit of the doubt until the facts are all known, but our guess is that Ms. Rice oversold him as a hero because the White House was hoping to turn the swap into a big foreign-policy victory. Thus Mr. Obama hosted the sergeant's parents in the Rose Garden on Saturday in front of the TV cameras, while Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel took a victory lap in Afghanistan, and Ms. Rice called it "a great day for America."
 
You can argue the prisoner swap was necessary to retrieve our man, or a difficult moral choice, but it is not a reason for back-slapping and high fives.
 
Then there's the dubious claim that the Administration had to move fast to negotiate Sgt. Bergdahl's release because he was dangerously ill. This line was used to explain why the President had ignored a statute demanding that Congress be consulted 30 days in advance of any prisoner release from Guantanamo Bay. But Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein, who was briefed on the swap after the fact, says that she "heard no evidence that Sgt. Bergdahl was in immediate medical danger that made it necessary to act without consulting Congress."
 
We think the President has the power as Commander in Chief to undertake the swap without telling Congress, but instead of saying this forthrightly, Mr. Obama said from Warsaw on Tuesday that he had consulted Congress "for quite some time" on the possibility of a prisoner exchange. He also invoked the phony health excuse.
 
Yet both Ms. Feinstein, who runs the Senate Intelligence Committee, and ranking Republican Saxby Chambliss said they hadn't been consulted on the swap for months. "There certainly was time to pick up the phone and call and say 'I know you all had concerns about this, we consulted in the past, we want you to know we have reviewed these negotiations,'" said Ms. Feinstein. George W. Bush was honest about his claims of executive war powers.
 
Also disconcerting is the President's insistence that releasing the Taliban commanders to Qatar for a year won't jeopardize U.S. security. Qatar is already making a mockery of U.S. claims that the five will be under close supervision, with one source in the Persian Gulf region telling Reuters that the men "can move around freely within the country" before they leave.
 
"This is what happens at the end of wars," Mr. Obama said in Warsaw. "At some point you try to make sure that you get your folks back." Yes, but the Afghan war isn't over, never mind the continuing and larger war on terror in which the Taliban and al Qaeda are allies. When the Taliban killers do leave Qatar, several thousand U.S. troops will still be in Afghanistan and the Afghan-Pakistan border will still be an al Qaeda sanctuary.
 
The larger problem is that Mr. Obama treats all of foreign policy as if it's merely part of his domestic political calculus. It's all too easy to imagine him figuring that if he announced the withdrawal of all troops from Afghanistan by 2016 as he did last week, he could then more easily sell the prisoner swap, which would then help empty Guantanamo so he could fulfill that campaign promise too.
 
Is it too much to ask that, in his final two and half years in office, the President act as if more is at stake in foreign policy than his domestic approval rating?

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