Wednesday, June 04, 2014

Cruising the Web

Andrew McCarthy addresses whether or not President Obama broke the law by not informing Congress of the plan to release Gitmo detainees ahead of time. McCarthy questions the constitutionality of the law that made that requirement. Of course, Obama has demonstrated dazzling hypocrisy as he does over and over that which he excoriated the Bush administration for doing. But hypocrisy is not against the law. McCarthy argues that critics of the deal are focusing on the wrong malfeasance.
To my mind, the dispute is nearly irrelevant. The vital point here is that the president has returned five senior commanders to the Taliban and Haqqani network while those violent jihadist organizations are still conducting offensive attacks against American troops, who are still in harm’s way and still conducting combat operations pursuant to a congressional authorization of military force.

These terrorists were not exchanged in connection with a final peace settlement in which it would be appropriate to exchange detainees—after all, if there is no more war, even unlawful enemy combatant prisoners must be released unless they can be charged with crimes.

While the president is obviously abandoning the war effort, it has not been fully abandoned yet. The Taliban and Haqqani have not surrendered or settled; they are still working hard to kill our troops. It is thus mind-bogglingly irresponsible for the commander-in-chief to replenish their upper ranks. The reason the laws of war permit enemy combatants to be detained until the conclusion of hostilities is humane: when enemy forces are depleted, they have a greater incentive to surrender, bringing a swifter, less bloody conclusion to the war. By giving the enemy back its most effective commanders, Obama, by contrast, endangers our forces, potentially extends the war, and otherwise makes it far more likely that the war will end on terms injurious to American interests.

Eli Lake reports that members of Obama's national security team back in 2011 and 2012 opposed any exchange of Taliban prisoners for Bergdahl. But now there is a new team in place and they agreed to Obama's desire for such an exchange.
James Clapper, the director of National Intelligence, according to three U.S. intelligence officials flat out rejected the release of the five detainees, saying there was too high a risk these Taliban commanders would return to the battlefield and orchestrate attacks against Americans.

Clapper was not alone. Leon Panetta, who was then the Secretary of Defense, declined to certify that the United States could mitigate the risk to national interests of releasing the Taliban commanders.

A lot has changed since 2012. To start, President Obama won reelection. Panetta is gone, and in his place is Chuck Hagel, a Republican former senator who has been much more in sync with Obama’s views on the war on terror than his predecessors.

But current U.S. intelligence and defense officials who spoke to The Daily Beast on Monday say the process for exchanging Taliban for Bergdahl this time was rushed and closely held, in some instances leaving little room for any push back against a policy clearly favored by the White House.

“This was an example of forcing the consensus,” one U.S. military official said. “The White House knew the answer they wanted and they ended up getting it.”
And it wasn't just Clapper and Panetta who opposed such a trade. Apparently, Diane Feinstein and both the House and Senate intelligence committees were against it. And it makes a difference to Feinstein today whether or not he was a deserter.
She said the chairmen and ranking Republicans of the “connected committees” spent a lot of time in 2011 reviewing the possibility of a prisoner swap and came out firmly opposed to releasing senior militants from the prison camp at Guantanamo Bay.

“There were very strong views and they were virtually unanimous against the trade,” she said.

“I certainly want to know more about whether this man was a deserter,” she said of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, who was released to American special forces in return for the freedom of five senior Taliban commanders.
Well, this might help fill in the blanks - according to the New York Times, Bergdahl left behind a note when he left his outpost.
Sometime after midnight on June 30, 2009, Pfc. Bowe Bergdahl left behind a note in his tent saying he had become disillusioned with the Army, did not support the American mission in Afghanistan and was leaving to start a new life. He slipped off the remote military outpost in Paktika Province on the border with Pakistan and took with him a soft backpack, water, knives, a notebook and writing materials, but left behind his body armor and weapons — startling, given the hostile environment around his outpost.

The administration wanted this result so badly that they rushed through the deal without any sort of security assessment, not to mention talking to the heads of the intelligence committees in Congress.
But the process for getting there was rushed, according to U.S. intelligence officials. This time around there was no formal intelligence assessment of, for example, the risks posed by releasing the Taliban commanders. While some intelligence analysts looked at the issue, no community-wide intelligence assessment was produced, according to these officials.
So there was no new security assessment made and the administration could convince themselves that the involvement of Qatar along with our withdrawal from Afghanistan changed everything from the earlier security assessment. Sure.

All this has really puzzled Ed Morrissey.
The White House's nonchalance about the five Taliban detainees also had people scratching their heads. Press secretary Jay Carney tried arguing that they presented no threat to the U.S., but two of them have been charged with mass murder by the United Nations, and the Taliban celebrated their release as a "big victory" over the U.S. One detainee, Khairullah Khairkwa, was a confidant of Osama bin Laden, while Abdul Haq Wasiq served as deputy intelligence minister to the Taliban.

Despite this, Carney argued that the Obama administration had determined that they posed no risk. Carney also refused to discuss any of the "mitigation" terms that would keep the men from leaving Qatar during their one-year exile, creating even more questions about the deal.

The biggest deception, however, came when the administration attempted to justify the Bergdahl deal on the basis of his service. In 2012, talking with Rolling Stone's Hastings, the White House had been both blunter and smarter about the issue. "Frankly, we don't give a shit why he left," one official told Hastings. "He's an American soldier. We want to bring him home."

That explanation would probably suffice for most Americans. Unfortunately, the White House tried to rewrite history. Susan Rice, who infamously fronted the false narrative on the Benghazi attack, appeared on ABC's This Week and arguably did it again. When George Stephanopoulos pressed her on the lopsided trade in the context of his apparent desertion, Rice instead insisted that Berghdahl had "served the United States with honor and distinction."

That came as news to the men who served with Bergdahl and had attempted to find him after he walked away from the base. Multiple members of his unit went public after the announcement, despite the nondisclosure agreements, to denounce Bergdahl as a deserter. One set of parents who had been told that their son died while attempting to capture a high-ranking Taliban commander instead discovered that he had been killed trying to find Bergdahl.

Even worse, James Rosen at Fox News reported that Bergdahl's disappearance became the subject of an investigation by U.S. intelligence, which produced a "major classified file" on the question of desertion — or perhaps even collaboration.

Had Obama and the White House followed protocol, engaged Congress on the swap, and stuck with the core principle of bringing back captured Americans no matter how they ended up in enemy hands, they would have avoided much of the controversy. Instead, they once again exhibited arrogance toward Congress and tried finessing the narrative in a way that could not possibly stand up to scrutiny. The administration ended up with egg on its face, looking both incompetent and dishonest rather than torn on a legitimately tough call.
As Byron York writes, how much better would it have been for the administration if they hadn't sent Susan Rice out once again to lie? Her words talking about how he served with honor and was captured on the battlefield will come back to haunt the administration just as her appearances after the attack on Benghazi have done. Will they ever send her out to talk the media again? And will the media pay her words any heed?

Obama Hypocrisy Alerts continue. Guy Benson reminds us of the huffiness that Obama showed on the campaign trail when he was accused of negotiating with terrorists. Of course, the administration can defend themselves by saying that they don't classify the Taliban as terrorists. Somehow, shooting girls going to school or killing Afghan officials don't count any more as terrorism.

Ralph Peters offers up his explanation of why the Obama team fell into controversy over the Bergdahl swap story. They thought they were going to have a PR bonanza when Obama held his football-spiking Rose Garden announcement on Saturday. They just didn't understand how poisonous desertion is to those in the military.
The president, too, appears stunned. He has so little understanding of (or interest in) the values and traditions of our troops that he and his advisers really believed that those in uniform would erupt into public joy at the news of Bergdahl’s release — as D.C. frat kids did when Osama bin Laden’s death was trumpeted.

Both President Obama and Ms. Rice seem to think that the crime of desertion in wartime is kind of like skipping class. They have no idea of how great a sin desertion in the face of the enemy is to those in our military. The only worse sin is to side actively with the enemy and kill your brothers in arms. This is not sleeping in on Monday morning and ducking Gender Studies 101.

But compassion, please! The president and all the president’s men and women are not alone. Our media elite — where it’s a rare bird who bothered to serve in uniform — instantly became experts on military justice. Of earnest mien and blithe assumption, one talking head after another announced that “we always try to rescue our troops, even deserters.”

Uh, no. “Save the deserter” is a recent battle cry of the politically indoctrinated brass.
This obliviousness to how those in military think led to that Rose Garden press moment. Perhaps Obama thought that this would distract public attention from the VA scandal. It did, but not to Obama's benefit. And his choice to appear with Bergdahl's parents leads to thoughts of those he didn't invite to the White House.
President Obama did this to himself (and to Bergdahl). This beautifully educated man, who never tires of letting us know how much smarter he is than the rest of us, never stopped to consider that our troops and their families might have been offended by their commander-in-chief staging a love-fest at the White House to celebrate trading five top terrorists for one deserter and featuring not the families of those soldiers (at least six of them) who died in the efforts to find and free Bergdahl, but, instead, giving a starring role on the international stage to Pa Taliban, parent of a deserter and a creature of dubious sympathies (that beard on pops ain’t a tribute to ZZ Top). How do you say “outrageous insult to our vets” in Pashto?

Nor, during the recent VA scandal, had the president troubled himself to host the families of survivors of those vets who died awaiting care. No, the warmest attention our president has ever paid to a “military family” was to Mr. and Mrs. Bergdahl.
No wonder that Democrats are running for the high hills when questioned about the exchange. Well, except for Harry Reid who is just glad that five Taliban high command have been released into freedom.

And how does our release of these Taliban leaders fit into the whole war on women theme that is the foundation of Democrats' argument as to why they are so much better than Republicans. Remember who the Taliban are.
All they have is the influence and connections to get a gang of brutes together, and the absence of any of the normal vestiges of human conscience that would cause them to shrink from atrocities like: bombing schools because they let girls play sports; shooting a girl in the head because she stands up for her right to be educated; horribly mutilating women to punish them for disobedience in their roles as marital slaves; dragging a 7-year-old out of the yard where he is playing and hanging him from a tree because his grandfather spoke out against the Taliban.

The best commentary on the moral status of the Taliban is from a Pakistani girl who escaped from her psychopathic father and brother, who were in the business of training suicide bombers. She told an interviewer: “The Taliban slaughter other people’s children. They turn women into widows. They should be made to suffer, too. I want these Taliban to be burned alive.”

So no, these guys are not just ordinary, rank-and-file POWs. They’re the worst of the worst, and the only argument against keeping them at Guantanamo is that it’s too good for them.

These are the monsters the Obama administration is putting back in the field.

That’s why Obama had to override normal procedures to order the release. It’s why he had to avoid informing Congress because he knew congressional leaders were opposed.

This cynical deal marks Obama’s final abandonment of any scintilla of concern for human rights. It’s a declaration that he and his administration don’t really give a damn what happens to the people of Afghanistan a year from now when we bug out.

Why you should hold off on donations to the Humane Society of the United States and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals: the money will go to pay off lawsuits that they've lost rather than to help animals.

So why doesn't Hillary Clinton talk about her time in the Senate? The reason is because her time there was completely unremarkable. Much like her time in the State Department, but she'll have to puff up that part of her career.

Why didn't we listen to the Eastern Europeans about Russia?

Obama's environmental policies target the poor and middle class.
The EPA claims to be targeting "polluters," but the government is essentially creating an artificial scarcity in carbon energy. Scarcities mean higher prices, which will hit the poor far harder than they will the anticarbon crusaders who live in Pacific Heights. The lowest 10% of earners pay three times as much as a share of their income for electricity compared to the middle class. If you want more inequality, this is an ideal way to ensure it.

The EPA plan will also redistribute income from economically successful states to those that have already needlessly raised their energy costs. The New England and California cap-and-trade programs will get a boost, while the new rule punishes the regions that rely most on fossil fuels and manufacturing: the South, Ohio River Valley and mid-Atlantic. Think of it as a transfer from Austin to Sacramento.

In eight short years this Administration will have accomplished the largest transformation of the U.S. power system since the 1930s. As recently as 2007, cheap coal accounted for more than half of U.S. net generation but has now plunged to 37% and is trending down. Some of this is due to the natural gas boom, but the EPA rule will finish the job.

Notably, these plant retirements may endanger the reliability of the electrical grid. This winter's cold snap showed that traditional power is essential to keeping the lights and heat on, and the risk of rolling blackouts is real as the EPA re-engineers the system.
Well, all this disruption and expense would be worth it if the end result was a stalling of climate change, right? Well, forget about that.
The irony is that all the damage will do nothing for climate change. Based on the EPA's own carbon accounting, shutting down every coal-fired power plant tomorrow and replacing them with zero-carbon sources would reduce the Earth's temperature by about one-twentieth of a degree Fahrenheit in a hundred years.

Of the 32.6 billion metric tons of carbon the global economy threw off in 2011, the U.S. accounted for 5.5 billion. Mr. Obama's logic seems to be that the U.S. should first set a moral example by imposing costs that reduce our prosperity. This will then inspire China (8.7 billion tons), which produces and consumes nearly as much coal as the rest of the world combined, to do the same to its 300 million people who still live on pennies a day. Good luck persuading Xi Jinping.
And the very first victims of the administration's policy changes will be Democratic senators running in some of the states hardest hit. They'll have to persuade voters to listen to their rhetoric condemning the move by the EPA and not their prospective votes to keep Harry Reid in charge of the Senate.
So it's no surprise that the Democrats running in those states are already denouncing the new EPA rule as if it had been written by some alien force. Incumbent Mary Landrieu (La.) is vowing to offer a bill in the Senate to overrule it, as is Democratic challenger Alison Lundergan Grimes in Kentucky. Ms. Grimes is running ads in local newspapers showing an image of a miner in a hard hat with the text: "President Obama and Washington Don't Get It . . . Alison Grimes Does."

Her problem, however, is that such a bill will never pass the Senate as long as Democrats control it. The same is true for approving the Keystone XL pipeline. All of the energy-state Democrats know this but can't afford to admit it to their state's voters. The political truth is that as much as she campaigns against the new EPA rule, a vote for Ms. Grimes in Kentucky is essentially a vote to ensure that it will stay in place.
That's going to be a very difficult argument for such Democrats to refute.

Harry Enten writes at 538 to chart the disappearance of conservative commencement speakers and concludes that this is a very real phenomenon.

Does Matt Yglesias ever tire of being embarrassingly wrong about everything? Apparently not.