Hillary Clinton continues her book tour this week, in which she has repeatedly stepped on her own message — and that continued this morning when asked about the Taliban 5 swap. Rather than step back and offer a nuanced approach based on her own tougher conditions in the 2011-12 time frame (which her team clearly tried to do once the deal became political Kryptonite last week), Hillary instead endorsed the deal fully — and said the five Taliban commanders were problems for Afghanistan and Pakistan, not the US (transcript via The Weekly Standard):
“These five guys are not a threat to the United States,” says Clinton. “They are a threat to the safety and security of Afghanistan and Pakistan. It’s up to those two countries to make the decision once and for all that these are threats to them. So I think we may be kind of missing the bigger picture here. We want to get an American home, whether they fell off the ship because they were drunk or they were pushed or they jumped, we try to rescue everybody.”
Five guys? Yes, these are just five dudes we found hanging around Kabul, and not high-ranking Taliban commanders wanted by the UN for crimes against humanity. Just last week, a senior intelligence official briefed the Senate on the threat of these five guys, telling them that four of the five are likely to return to the battlefield — where tens of thousands of American troops remain in combat deployment.
Besides, the Afghan government is supposed to be our partner in the war. If we’re releasing five high-ranking Taliban commanders that pose a threat to them, bypassing their sovereignty and jurisdiction over these fighters, then what does that say about American partnership? What does that say about Hillary Clinton’s approach to that partnership? The Afghans have to be aghast at this admission that their security means very little to the US after spending the last thirteen years in the field with us.
Note too the justification that Hillary gives at the end of this statement. No one would have had an issue with a rescue operation, if it had a decent chance of success with at least limited risk of US casualties. This wasn’t a rescue operation, though — it was a trade, and a bad trade in terms of risk to our troops and to our partners in the war we have insisted on fighting on their ground. The Obama administration turned down opportunities for an actual rescue operation, although there may have been good reasons to do so, and ended up giving the Taliban exactly what they demanded rather than pushing for the comprehensive agreement Hillary herself insisted was necessary before these five guys got out of Gitmo.
Finally, it’s mystifying why Hillary feels the need to give an endorsement to this deal just as its reception among the American electorate is clearly souring. Why not just defer on the question to the White House rather than try to make its argument for them — and make it rather badly? Her team’s instincts may not have been terribly loyal to Obama, but they were both politically and strategically correct. By 2016, the Obamas will have very little influence over the Democratic Party, and Hillary’s best bet will be to run away from the foreign-policy debacles of the second term even if she can’t run away from the debacles of the first term. It’s inexplicable, but it’s starting to be a pattern this week.