Barack Obama may be in Warsaw as part of a European tour, but in a real sense he’s stuck in Washington. At a joint press conference after a state meeting in Poland, Obama got questioned about the deal that exchanged Bowe Bergdahl for five high-ranking Taliban detainees, including two wanted by the UN for crimes against humanity. Obama mainly avoided discussing the detainees, although he insisted that he was “confident” that the US could prevent them from being a threat to American security in the future.
Instead, Obama defended the action by focusing on Bergdahl, perhaps learning a lesson from Susan Rice’s jaw-dropping appearance on Sunday. Regardless of the quality of Bergdahl’s service, Obama argued, the US does not leave men and women behind. “We do not condition that” pledge to their families, and said Bergdahl’s case would be evaluated at the appropriate time:
As President Barack Obama starts his third overseas trip in less than three months, he finds himself once again peppered with questions about his foreign policy, even as he attempts to cement his own legacy on the world stage.
Obama landed Tuesday in Poland, his first stop, on a mission to reassure nervous allies in Eastern Europe after Russia’s incursion into Ukraine.
His three-nation journey comes as Republicans have unleashed a new line of attack questioning his judgment in exchanging five Taliban prisoners held at the U.S. detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, for the return of a former prisoner of war, Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl.
At a news conference in Warsaw, Obama defended the decision.
“We don’t leave men and women in uniform behind,” the President said.
Obama added, “We don’t condition that.” That’s the argument to which the White House should have stuck all along. It’s true, and it’s compelling — although it doesn’t exactly address the other side of that question, which is why it took all five of the Taliban’s wish-list detainees to make the trade. Nor does it really address how badly this hurts American security, considering that two years ago these same men were considered unreleasable by the Obama administration because of their danger to the US and others.
Obama tried defending his snub of Congress with much less success:
His administration had previously consulted with Congress on the possibility of a prisoner exchange for Bergdahl, Obama said, but had to move quickly because of concerns over Bergdahl’s health and to not miss a window of opportunity.
Really? Obama was in the Rose Garden on Saturday announcing this deal, but Congress didn’t get their official notification until yesterday. As I ask in my column for The Week, if Obama and the White House didn’t have time to inform Congress, how exactly did they find the time to get Bergdahl’s parents to Washington DC from Idaho on Saturday to participate in the Rose Garden speech?
Even by Monday, the White House had not bothered to notify the chair of the House Armed Services Committee of the release of the five Taliban figures and the security arrangements to keep them from rejoining the fight in Afghanistan, despite a pledge made last year that Congress would be consulted on any release. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel argued that “exigent circumstances” prevented the White House from notifying Congress — but those same circumstances somehow didn’t keep Obama from getting the Bergdahls into the Rose Garden from Idaho.
The White House’s nonchalance about the five Taliban detainees also had people scratching their heads. Press Secretary Jay Carney tried arguing that they presented no threat to the U.S., but two of them have been charged with mass murder by the United Nations, and the Taliban celebrated their release as a “big victory” over the U.S. One detainee, Khairullah Khairkwa, was a confidante of Osama bin Laden, while Abdul Haq Wasiq served as deputy intelligence minister to the Taliban.
The deceptions didn’t stop there, either:
Susan Rice, who infamously fronted the false narrative on the Benghazi attack, appeared on ABC’s This Week and arguably did it again. When George Stephanopoulos pressed her on the lopsided trade in the context of his apparent desertion, Rice instead insisted that Berghdahl had “served the United States with honor and distinction.”
That came as news to the men who served with Bergdahl and had attempted to find him after he walked away from the base. Multiple members of his unitwent public after the announcement, despite the non-disclosure agreements, to denounce Bergdahl as a deserter. One set of parents who had been told that their son died while attempting to capture a high-ranking Taliban commander instead discovered that he had been killed trying to find Bergdahl.
Even worse, James Rosen at Fox News reported that Bergdahl’s disappearance became the subject of an investigation by U.S. intelligence, which produced a “major classified file” on the questions of desertion — or perhaps even collaboration.
It’s difficult to credit Obama for any argument when he and his team at the White House keep destroying their own credibility. They seem intent on undermining themselves even when the truth would work better for them.