Jen Psaki on Bergdahl: Of course it was worth swapping a deserter for five Taliban killers

Never will you see a clearer example of government defending a bad decision simply to avoid having to admit a mistake. The best she can do here is mutter variations of “leave no man behind,” but even veterans who served alongside Bergdahl reject that principle at this price. “Leave no man behind” isn’t an ironclad rule of prisoner swaps; if it was, the Taliban would have asked for Khaled Sheikh Mohammed in return for Bergdahl and our dopey president would have complied. As Leon Wolf says, there’s always a cost-benefit calculation. The wrinkle in the Bergdahl swap is that the benefit to the White House wasn’t bringing a U.S. soldier home, it was having a pretext to transfer five jihadis out of Gitmo en route to hopefully closing the prison altogether. Bergdahl was basically a player to be named later. Makes me wonder why the White House wasn’t as enthusiastic about making a deal with ISIS for James Foley and the other American hostages. Winning their freedom is more attractive politically than winning Bergdahl’s. The only explanation I can come up with is that ISIS is simply too demonic, even relative to the Taliban, for the White House to start negotiating with them. There would have been too much political heat for Obama to bear in a deal like that, even for his pet cause of emptying Gitmo.

The most insulting part here is Psaki insisting that the White House won’t “prejudge” whether Bergdahl’s guilty of desertion when they spent years before the prisoner swap prejudging him as effectively innocent. Troops from his unit suspected from day one that Bergdahl had walked away; within two months of his disappearance, the Pentagon had put together a 35-page report concluding that he probably left the base willingly. Obama didn’t care. He agreed to the trade for the five Taliban and then held a high-five press conference with Bergdahl’s parents in the Rose Garden to announce his release. Kelly asks Psaki about that here. Why have the commander-in-chief walk out looking euphoric, side by side with Mama and Papa Bergdahl, for a guy who’d already been credibly accused of desertion? Well, says Psaki, we didn’t want to prejudge, sidestepping the fact that everything about that ceremony suggested O had already formed a judgment. I think Mollie Hemingway’s basically right about why Obama held that presser: It was a distraction from the VA scandal at the time and it personalized the swap to make it more salable to Americans. The Bergdahls were there as political human shields for Obama, so that he could answer confusion about why we traded a deserter for five jihadis by saying, essentially, “But just look at how happy his mom is!” Again, though — this is all based on a prejudgment that Bergdahl was either innocent or, at worst, guilty of something that’s no big deal. At least not big enough for the president of the United States to seem even remotely perturbed by it in announcing the big homecoming.

Silver lining: At least we got something in return for those Taliban. In the Iran nuclear deal, all we’re getting is some magic beans.

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David Strom 3:31 PM on February 02, 2023