According to the AP, the Obama administration is now asserting that Congress was not consulted in advance of the Taliban prisoner release because the Taliban had threatened to kill Bergdahl if it leaked (I deliberately choose the term “Taliban prisoner release” because the term “swap” implies that the US got something worthwhile in the deal).
Sorry to cast aspersions on this subterfuge, but I have three reasons for doing so.
First, classified stuff is presented to Congress all the time with no concern that it will become public. There’s no way the Taliban could become aware of a classified briefing on this plan unless a senator or member of Congress leaked it to the press (violating at least one oath), or a Taliban spy in the halls of Congress reported it to his superiors back home at Mountain Cave HQ. Both of these assumptions are as likely as a Beatles reunion.
Second, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid was told in advance – does he hold some special security clearance not available to any other senator or member of Congress? And even if it does not directly contradict the assertion, it throws a big bucket of cold water on the idea that absolutely no one may be told of this plan because Bergdahl’s life would be put at risk. Clearly, not telling everyone in Congress is not the same as not telling anyone in Congress.
Third, SecDef Chuck Hagel stated clearly that “we did not negotiate with terrorists”, but in order for this ruse to be believed, it is necessary for the White House to concede that the Taliban established consequences for failure to meet a condition … which is unquestionably negotiation. You have to believe the administration was negotiating, despite having told us, within the past week, that it never negotiates.
It’s possible that in order to legitimize this ploy, the administration has chosen to abandon its White House negotiation denial position, but there would be heavy political consequences for that option at a time when those consequences would have a truly devastating effect. According to a new Fox poll, 84% of voters worry that US soldiers are put at risk by the “swap”. This millstone could prove to be so heavy that it hurts Democrats across the board simply because they are members of the same party as the president who released the top five most dangerous Taliban commanders in exchange for a deserter who may have collaborated with the enemy.
Indeed, now that a timeline has been established, we know that the president and his advisors pushed for the release, after knowing the following:
Bearing all this in mind, it’s pretty difficult to imagine circumstances under which the Taliban release won’t hurt the Democrats badly in November. But the White House goal is not necessarily 100% political spin. I would submit that the principal goal is to try to establish some kind of plausible deniability, tenuous though it may be, as support for a legal defense to avoid prosecution for failing to notify Congress of the White House plan. Perhaps the stomach to bring charges would not be as robust if this latest assertion were true and its premises were not false. But alas …
UPDATE: Some other smart guys make similar, additional points