Bergdahl deal Hagel’s fault?
The ever-shifting maze of lies and evasions billowing out of the Obama Administration over the Bowe Bergdahl prisoner exchange hits an astonishing new low, as Obama has apparently decided it’s time to hide under his desk and blame Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel for the whole thing. Thus does a “triumph” become a disaster in the span of less than ten days. By the end of the week, Obama will be claiming he didn’t learn about the Bergdahl swap until he saw people talking about it on a TV news show.
ABC News spots the white flag poking up from behind the Resolute Desk:
Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel – not President Obama – executed the administration’s final call to proceed with the prisoner exchange of five ranking Taliban detainees for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, administration officials told Congress today in a classified briefing today.
“They indicated [it was] Secretary Hagel [who made the final call],” House Armed Services Chairman Buck McKeon, R-California, told reporters following the briefing Monday evening. “It was the president of the United States that came out [in the Rose Garden] with the Bergdahls and took all the credit and now that there’s been a little pushback he’s moving away from it and it’s Secretary Hagel?”
According to the UK Daily Mail, Secretary Hagel will appear before the House Armed Services Committee on Wednesday to defend the newly re-christened Hagel Bergdahl Prisoner Swap, which Barack Obama had very little to do with. He just held a Rose Garden ceremony to announce the deal when Hagel told him the time was right.
Last week’s desperate spin about how he needed to break the law and keep Congress in the dark, because the Taliban said they’d kill their hostage if news of the deal leaked out, was laid to rest in the same briefing:
Officials also told Congress that 80 to 90 people within the administration knew of its plans to go forward with the controversial swap, exacerbating tensions between the White House and members of Congress.
“They made it clear that there were 80 to 90 people who knew ahead of time about the Bergdahl release,” Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minnesota, a member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, told reporters. “There was a sense of anger that members of Congress didn’t know about this. Obviously, if there is secure information — members of Congress knew about the capture of Osama bin Laden — and yet 80 to 90 staff in the White House knew about this.”
While Bachmann says administration officials insist no members of Congress were informed before the exchange, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has repeatedly said he found out about impending plans from the White House the day before the exchange happened.
That’s 80 or 90 people in a fumbling, inept Administration noted for its propensity to leak sensitive information, to the point that a rather oppressive initiative to crack down on leakers was announced last year. Although the whole “couldn’t tell Congress because they’d kill Bergdahl” fairy tale was already in tatters for a number of other reasons, not least of which was the Taliban talking to media about it.
It would be nice if these clowns could at least admit when they informed Harry Reid… or if Reid is hallucinating his day-before briefing, the White House should publicly recommend that he seek treatment from mental health professionals. The argument between Team Obama – sorry, make that Team Hagel – and Harry Reid is one of the most bizarre sideshows of the whole Bergdahl circus. It doesn’t matter much in the grand scheme of things, but it’s amazing that they can’t get their stories straight, well into the second week of the scandal.
Also in the loop, according to the Weekly Standard: the prison population at Gitmo.
Sources with knowledge of the transfer tell THE WEEKLY STANDARD that prisoners at Guantanamo understood in the days before the transfer that something significant was imminent and may well have known who was being transferred. The security profile at Guantanamo had been raised, these sources say, and the daily routines of several prisoners had been broken up.
Ramzi Kassem, a law professor at the City University of New York who has represented detainees, told the Associated Press that the coming transfer was hardly a secret among the prison population. Kassem told the AP that the guards explained the heightened security as cautionary measures taken in advance of a coming hurricane. “The prisoners saw right through that and knew something big was up,” Kassem said. “Within a day or two of the event, everyone knew.”
Well, everyone but Congress.
One of the reasons President Hagel is taking so much heat for this deal is that even Democrats in Congress are anywhere from miffed to furious that they were kept in the dark. That does give them room to distance themselves from the Hagel Administration, which most of them are doing. News reports claim Hagel still has staunch defenders in his caucus, but the only ones who ever seem to get quoted are Sen. Reid, Rep. Jan Schakowsky of Illinois (who’s still running White House talking points from last week, in which all criticism is partisan, and Republicans who criticize the deal are insufficiently concerned about Sgt. Bergdahl’s fate) and Rep. Louise Slaughter, who thinks keeping Congress out of the loop was okay because “I wouldn’t tell 435 people a secret either.” Presumably she draws the line at 90.
But I get the sense that Democrats up for re-election in 2014 aren’t terribly happy about the distance they can get from the White House on this, because they know the President’s sinking popularity will drag them down no matter how far they run. Backing away from the White House on this deal also puts them on the wrong side of the scorched-earth defense strategy Obama loyalists are still employing – if you don’t support this deal 100 percent with no reservations, you wanted Sgt. Bergdahl to die – and that’s going to hurt enthusiasm and turnout in key districts. And it strengthens the public impression of a hapless, dishonest President leading a Democrat Party in turmoil, with endangered representatives jumping for the lifeboats as the S. S. Hope and Change goes down.
CBS News just released a poll that shows Americans disapprove of the Bergdahl deal, 45 to 37 percent – a remarkable level of opposition, given the splashy rollout, the public’s general comfort level with White House lawbreaking, its low opinion of Congress, and the immediate gain (Bergdahl released) versus the potential future drawbacks (more kidnappings, the Taliban Five get up to mischief.) This thing blew up badly if it’s eight points in the public-opinion hole already. Disapproval is notably higher among military veterans, who the White House evidently assumed would be most supportive of a deal that brought a prisoner home… but instead, 55 percent disapprove, and 65 percent through releasing those five Taliban big shots was too high of a price.
No wonder President Obama decided to make this Chuck Hagel’s deal. Everything critics are complaining about, all of the seemingly incomprehensible moves the White House made before and after the deal was announced, were a result of Obama’s determination to take sole credit for bringing that prisoner home. He didn’t want Congress to freak out over the lousy terms of the arrangement and interfere with the deal, but he also didn’t want them to unite too strongly behind it, and make it less of a Barack Obama Production. And now the story ends with the Secretary of Defense stepping in front of his boss to take the heat. What a disaster… and we still haven’t really begun paying the price for it, in everything from reduced international prestige, to increased risk to Americans abroad.
Update: Ed Morrissey at Hot Air reminds us that Secretary Hagel has previously said he recommended the deal, but Obama made the final decision. It’ll be fun to watch the White House stammer through its answer if they’re called on that discrepancy… but it’ll be even more fun to hear Hagel answer that question, if he gets asked first. He says amazing things when he’s in the hot seat.