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Tom Jackson Columns

On Bergdahl/Taliban swap, too many bad explanations

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Published:   |   Updated: June 8, 2014 at 08:47 AM

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At this point, heaping criticism on the swap of Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl for five hardened Taliban military leaders almost feels like piling on. And it would be if the whole fiasco weren’t this evolving, target-rich environment where each dawn presents fresh revelations — indictments, really — that look all the worse because President Obama surely should have known about all of them before he hugged Momma Bergdahl in the Rose Garden.

For instance, most everything worth knowing about Bergdahl’s troubles in, and with, the Army (in which he freely enlisted) could have been discovered by typing the lad’s name into a search engine. And the minutes from any meeting where liberating the Taliban Five — safely warehoused a dozen years at Guantanamo Bay — came up contained serious reservations by U.S. intelligence experts.

Nonetheless, for a shifting series of reasons, Obama not only closed arguably the worst deal since Time Warner merged with AOL, he thought it called for a Rose Garden celebration, totally misreading his domestic audience.

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According to a Rasmussen Reports survey released Wednesday, Americans are about evenly split (40 percent approve; 43 percent do not) over whether Obama made the right decision. And that’s his best-case scenario. A Fox News poll released the same day indicates 84 percent of voters are at least “somewhat” concerned that deal-making with terrorists will encourage networks to take more American soldiers hostage.

Cue the anonymous Taliban commander, quoted in Time: “It has encouraged our people. Now everybody will work hard to capture such an important bird.”

Notably, the poll results were posted before it became widely known Bergdahl disparaged America in emails to his dad, that he’d shipped home his personal belongings, including his computer, and had walked off his post.

They also came before widespread reports that between six and 14 American soldiers were killed in patrols whose purpose was, at least in part, to find and retrieve their comrade; that an American, presumably Bergdahl, was inquiring in nearby villages about the location of English-speaking Taliban; and, according to classified reports revealed late last week by Fox News reporter James Rosen (and disputed by U.S. Central Command at MacDill Air Force Base), converted to and declared himself a warrior for Islam, happily joined his captors in games of soccer, and finally was entrusted with a loaded firearm.

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Whatever happened in the five years between when Bergdahl wandered off and when he was returned is small potatoes, however, compared with the White House’s management of the exchange and, especially, the reasons surrounding it.

Under his commander-in-chief authority, Obama didn’t need permission, but his failure to alert Congress at least bent the law. First, they tried the “we forgot” excuse. When that didn’t fly, they said they feared for Bergdahl’s health. But the video that triggered their concern was 5 months old before a deal was struck, coming, conveniently, on the heels of Secretary Eric Shinseki’s resignation as head of Veterans Affairs. Finally — possibly the worst in a series of lousy excuses — they explained the Taliban made them do it in secret or they’d kill Bergdahl.

If we can believe the White House, that’s a straight-up hostage-and- terrorist scenario, and it blows a hole in Obama’s claim that this was just another honorable swap of prisoners at the end of hostilities.

The entire scenario puts the lie to the president’s foreign policy doctrine, only recently explained by underlings who apparently call each other “Dude”: “Don’t do stupid [stuff].”

Not unexpectedly, the president has pushed back, and in typical fashion. It’s just another controversy, he told reporters in Brussels on Thursday, “whipped up in Washington.” How dare anyone put conditions on getting back the child of American parents.

Hoo, boy. If only there weren’t so many prominent Democrats fuming, so many prominent Democrats saying they’ve been stonewalled by the White House, and so many Americans howling over the preposterous comments by Susan Rice reaffirming television’s reputation as “the boob tube.” Bowe Bergdahl “served with honor and distinction”?

Something else with which to credit the Obama administration: so many new definitions for time-honored phrases.

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