President Obama promised change, but this is ridiculous. In the past week, the White House has offered up so many different versions of the trade for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl that the narrative would baffle Escher. So far, the administration has deployed at least a dozen different, often discredited, arguments.
President Obama proudly announced on May 31: “This morning, I called Bob and Jani Bergdahl and told them that after nearly five years in captivity, their son, Bowe, is coming home.”
That appeared to be the only clear-cut statement of the week. He told Americans the terrorists wouldn’t harm anyone. “The Qatari government has given us assurances that it will put in place measures to protect our national security.”
Obama also noted in that same address that Afghanistan had been helpful. “I also want to express gratitude to the Afghan government, which has always supported our efforts to secure Bowe’s release.”
But even the Times shot that claim to Hades on the first day. “A Western official in Kabul said the Afghan government was not told ahead of time that the Taliban were going to hand over Sergeant Bergdahl or that the release of prisoners from Guantánamo Bay was proceeding, though the Afghans were broadly aware that the talks had been rekindled,” wrote Eric Schmitt and Charlie Savage.
In that story, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel also admitted the administration hadn’t notified Congress as it is required to do. He added that, “we needed to get him out of there essentially to save his life.”
That day began what you might call The Great Unraveling of almost every single administration statement on the trade.
On Sunday, June 1, the Times reported that “a senior Defense Department official indicated that the Army most likely would not be punishing the sergeant for any violations of rules.”
Hagel also explained on “Meet The Press” that, “We didn't negotiate with terrorists.”
In classic Susan Rice form, the national security adviser scored with the most outlandish comments during an ABC interview. She claimed Bergdahl had “served the United States with honor and distinction” and that he had been “captured on the battlefield.” Rice added on CNN, “these prisoners will be carefully watched and their ability to move will be constrained.”
The next day, outgoing Press Secretary Jay Carney had to fend off multiple inquiries about the Rice comments. Rather than defend her, he simply dodged.
The Republican Chairman of the is disputing the Obama administration’s claim that officials had to move quickly to bring U.S. Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl back home because of an acute health issue.
Conservatives complained that the health issue wasn’t legitimate. House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers, R-Mich., told CNN’s “Situation Room” Monday evening, “This health issue, again, we learned today is simply just not the case.”
By Tuesday, even the Times admitted that the story about Bergdahl’s health wasn’t the sole reason for the trade. “Concerns about his health were real, officials said. But some acknowledged that had Sergeant Bergdahl, 28, remained a prisoner of war, his plight would have been a continuing issue for an administration that is determined to end American involvement in Afghanistan,” the paper explained.
The chairman of the Joint Chiefs also explained that whole idea about not prosecuting Bergdahl had gone out the window. “The Army may consider pursuing an investigation of possible charges of desertion or other violations by Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl,” wrote the LA Times of Army Gen. Martin Dempsey’s comments.
That comment also effectively skewered Rice’s view of “honor and distinction.” Numerous reports about Bergdahl’s departure from his unit sank the concept that he had been captured on the “battlefield.”
Also on Tuesday, reports from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid showed that the White House had indeed shared the news of the release on Friday before it happened. National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden didn’t care and released a statement saying notification wasn’t required because of the “unique circumstances.”
“Ms. Hayden’s statement was a step away from earlier signs that Mr. Obama had simply overridden the statute,” wrote The New York Times. The paper added Obama was relying on signing statements, which he had criticized under Bush. “[C]ritics say, Mr. Obama has taken another step toward practices by his predecessor that he once criticized,” the story concluded.
Hayden also added that, yes, the Taliban were indeed terrorists, undermining Hagel’s bogus argument. The “Taliban was added to the list of Specially Designated Global Terrorists (SDGT) by executive order in July 2002, even if it is not listed as a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO) by the State Department,” reported ABC News.
That same day Obama backed off the idea that the Taliban members traded wouldn’t ever attack America. “Is there the possibility of some of them trying to return to activities that are detrimental to us? Absolutely,” Obama said in Warsaw.
The administration’s position was in full meltdown by mid-week – with his law-breaking criticized on both sides of the aisle and at least eight claims already discredited.
Obama operatives were in full attack mode, arguing that critics of the trade hated American soldiers. Meanwhile actual soldiers appeared on most every news outlet saying they wanted Bergdahl prosecuted for desertion. And even MSNBC fanboy Chris Matthews criticized the president for breaking the law about notifying Congress.
Naturally, the White House got desperate like a rat backed into a corner.
Suddenly opponents were evil, a standard White House line, and trying to harm Bergdahl. Sen. Reid went on the floor and said Obama had “acted honorably,” and accused critics of playing “political games.”
White House aides were even rougher and floated the term “swiftboating.” On the June 4, “Today,” chief White House correspondent Chuck Todd told of the administration’s new attack.
“They did not expect this backlash on Bergdahl himself. I've had a few aides describe it to me as, 'We didn't know that they were going to swiftboat Bergdahl.’ ....a reference to that political fight back in 2004 over John Kerry's military service that became so controversial in that campaign. So there's some fighting words there.”
Another administration PR flack used Twitter for his attack. HUD deputy assistant secretary for public affairs Brandon Friedman “sent out a series of tweets Wednesday night questioning those soldiers trying to ‘smear’ Bergdahl for abandoning his post in 2009,” reported Fox News. He had to apologize the next day for asking, “What if his platoon was long on psychopaths and short on leadership?”
The White House even defended Rice and her latest scandal, saying she “sort of brings out this craziness in a certain crowd,” wrote Michael Crowley in Time. An unnamed official implied that what Rice said had been “taken a half-notch out of context.”
Then on Thursday, another twist occurred. News came out that the administration now blamed the Taliban for keeping Congress in the dark. “One Senate aide told Fox News that senators were told at a briefing on Wednesday that ‘the U.S. obtained credible information that, if anything about the swap became public, Bergdahl would be killed,’” reported Fox.
The Times released a story on Thusday evening that a “35-page report, completed two months after Sergeant Bergdahl left his unit, concludes that he most likely walked away of his own free will from his outpost in the dark of night.”
Interestingly, that military analysis left out a key fact and “is said to contain no mention of Sergeant Bergdahl’s having left behind a letter in his tent that explicitly said he was deserting and explained his disillusionment, as a retired senior military official briefed on the investigation at the time told The New York Times this week.”
The Times noted the evolving Bergdahl narrative “has undergone a rapid evolution based on accounts by current and former soldiers, which have grown increasingly dark.” The paper mentioned complaints about deaths of those searching for him to “alleging that there is evidence that he was trying to meet up with the Taliban.” Again, so much for “honor and distinction.”
By June 6, the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landing, the Obama defense was in full swing. A Times editorial complained about “the outrageous demonization of Sergeant Bergdahl in the absence of actual facts.” The piece went on to rationalize his disappearance as not uncommon, nor was it the first time he himself had gone on AWOL.
Fox News’ James Rosen further undermined the Rice claims with a report showing “Bergdahl at one point during his captivity converted to Islam, fraternized openly with his captors and declared himself a ‘mujahid,’ or warrior for Islam.”
At the same time, Rice was urging CNN not to pre-judge Bergdahl. “This is a young man whose circumstances we are still going to learn about,” she told CNN.”
And Califorian's liberal Sen. Dianne Feinstein sabotaged yet another admin talking point – that the swap had to happen to protect Bergdahl from the Taliban. “No, I don’t think there was a credible threat, but I don’t know. I have no information that there was,” she told Bloomberg Television’s “Political Capital with Al Hunt.” Politico said bluntly, that “put her at odds with White House officials.” Well duh!
At press time, it was too early to tell how quickly the narrative would change again, because it’s already done so since this piece was first published.
Two things are certain: 1) Team Obama’s story will keep switching every time we have new information and 2) this administration will stop prevaricating eventually, but probably no sooner than Jan. 20, 2017.