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Thursday, June 05, 2014

Cruising the Web

The scandal surrounding Sgt. Bergdahl continues to grow. Senator Saxby Chambliss said, after his briefing by intelligence officials that the classified file on Bergdahl didn't contain the note that Bergdahl purportedly wrote when he left his base. The file also didn't include all the statements by those who served with him talking about his departure. Remember that some of those squad mates said that they were forced to sign nondisclosure agreements not to say what they knew about his leaving. Why would his file not contain that information? Has it been cleansed or did the Army always keep out such documents?

I don't think that attacking the soldiers who served with Bergdahl and participated in the original search for him and who are now coming forth to cast doubt on the administration effort to portray him as serving with honor and distinction is going to go over well with the public. The present spin is that these soldiers are "Swift-boating" Bergdahl. It's all part of a scrambling strategy by the administration as Allahpundit writes,
Swift-boating,” as you may recall, is when critics tell the truth about someone’s military service when the truth is unhelpful to Democrats. Consider this the beginning of phase three of the Bergdahl fallout. Phase one was when soldiers from Bergdahl’s unit caught the White House off-guard by publicly accusing him of desertion. Team O probably thought the combination of nondisclosure agreements that they were forced to sign and the prospect of retaliation if they made life hard for the Pentagon would keep them quiet. That was the key misjudgment from which everything else over the past three days has flowed.

Phase two was the White House desperately searching for someone, anyone, from Bergdahl’s unit who’d stand up in front of the media and vouch for his character. That’s happening entirely out of public view, but rest assured, it’s happening. The fact that they’ve come up with nothing so far speaks volumes about how uniform opinion is within Bergdahl’s old squad about him and his motives. If Team O could produce just one witness willing to face the cameras and argue that Bergdahl was a good soldier who was probably taken against his will, it’d plant enough doubt in casual observers’ minds that this whole thing might be reduced to a he said/she said matter for many — even though there are at least six veterans already who’ve come forward to support the desertion theory. But they can’t find anyone to do it. It’s been a complete barrage of anti-Bergdahl witnesses on cable news since Monday morning. The State Department is so bereft of third-party support that they were forced last night to tell reporters to trust Bergdahl himself over his squad mates, as if a repatriated deserter wouldn’t have an incentive to lie about why he went missing upon his return.

So now, phase three: Start discrediting the soldiers who’ve accused him. It’ll have to be done subtly and tactfully. If they go dumpster-diving on these guys for things like substance-abuse problems or financial trouble, the nastiness of it might backfire on the White House and make their Bergdahl problem even worse. Babbling about “swift-boating” is a good way to get the ball rolling, at least among liberals who are grasping for ways to defend Obama and have come up empty thus far.
The State Department spokespeople seem as lame as Jay Carney and his group at the White House. Now the spokeswoman for the State Department is trying to cast doubt on those soldiers who have come forward and suggest that they just don't remember what went on and we should just wait for Bergdahl's own statements.

So now the White House resorts to what they do best - trying to blame everything on the Republicans.
The White House has been surprised by how much attention has remained on the questions about Bergdahl, from the circumstances of his disappearance to the wild beard his father grew while he was being held that’s even led to Bergdahl’s hometown canceling a celebration. All this, Obama aides say, is in their minds a proxy for the hatred toward the president.

The new approach: Frame the criticism as another example of Republicans complaining about something just because Obama was the one to do it.

White House aides and other liberal outlets are highlighting what they see as Republican hypocrisy, citing past quotes from GOP lawmakers calling for Bergdahl’s freedom.
Don't they see the difference between wanting Bergdahl released and not wanting to exchange him for five Taliban leaders? And remember that both Democrats and Republicans twice rejected such a trade to obtain Bergdahl's release.

Senator Charles Schumer always acts as if he's smarter than the rest of us, but he doesn't seem to know a basic fact of American history as he credits Thomas Jefferson with writing the Bill of Rights. I guess that, for Schumer, all the Founding Fathers are interchangeable. Maybe Schumer's ignorance of the Founding Fathers explains his support for a proposed amendment to give the government the power to control spending on political campaigns, a limitation on political speech that James Madison would never have supported.

If Obama was so concerned about getting Americans held by the Taliban, how about this American woman and her baby along with her Canadian husband? Stupidly naive Americans who thought Afghanistan would be a neat place through which to travel should have as much care as a suspected deserter.

David French lists other Americans that Obama has been willing to leave behind.

Washington Post reporters talked to villagers who saw Sgt. Bergdahl before he was captured by the Taliban. They report that he seemed disoriented and headed straight to the area that they warned him was controlled by the Taliban. They also don't seem happy about the five Taliban leaders released in the exchange. I wonder if Obama ever thought about the Afghan people when he approved the exchange. We know that he didn't inform Hamid Karzai about the exchange until it was done.

Former Attorney General Michael Mukasey draws the connection between the release of five Taliban leaders from Gitmo to President Obama's stated objective of closing down Gitmo. This is just one step towards that ultimate goal.
Every one of the five detainees released from Guantanamo, as reported by Tom Joscelyn in The Weekly Standard, is not only a senior Taliban official, but also someone who has trained with and coordinated fighting with al-Qaeda before 9/11. Which is to say, at precisely the time when his administration is trying to withdraw troops from Afghanistan in a way that at least will not threaten the safety of those who remain behind until the end of 2016, if not beyond, the president has provided skilled strategic planners to the Taliban; at the time when it is the administration’s announced intention to separate the Taliban from al-Qaeda, the president has provided the Taliban with military leaders who have a history of close ties with al-Qaeda.

Was he aware of that when he presided over a Rose Garden celebration?

In one respect, however, the freeing of these five with the retrieval of Bergdahl as a cover makes the goal the president announced on his second day in office easier to achieve, although it is hard to think that he would have been so cynical as to have consummated this ghastly transaction with such a thing in mind. Because these five are by far the worst Taliban detainees housed at Guantanamo, the freeing of the remainder could be seen as a trifle in comparison.
Sadly and disturbingly, Mukasey doesn't think that there is anything that Congress can do to stop Obama. The normal tools of Congress - oversight, power of the purse, or impeachment - won't be of any help.

George Will says that Obama has basically "gone rogue."
Perhaps this exchange really is, as Obama said in defending it, an excellent thing “regardless of the circumstances, whatever those circumstances may turn out to be.” His confidence in its excellence is striking, considering that he acknowledges that we do not know the facts about what would seem to be important “circumstances.”

Such as the note Bergdahl reportedly left before disappearing, in which he supposedly said he did not approve of the U.S. mission in Afghanistan. And the notably strong and numerous expressions of anger by members of Bergdahl’s battalion concerning his comportment and its costs.

Obama did not comply with the law requiring presidents to notify Congress 30 days before such exchanges of prisoners at Guantanamo. Politico can be cited about this not because among the media it is exceptionally, well, understanding of Obama’s exuberant notion of executive latitude but because it is not. Politico headlined a story on his noncompliance with the law “Obama May Finally Be Going Rogue on Gitmo.” It said Obama’s “assertive” act “defied Congress” — Congress, not the rule of law — in order “to get that process [of closing the prison at Guantanamo] moving.” It sent “a clear message” that “Obama is now willing to wield his executive powers to get the job done.” Or, as used to be said in extenuation of strong leaders, “to make the trains run on time.”

The 44th president, channeling — not for the first time — the 37th (in his post-impeachment conversation with David Frost), may say: “When the president does it, that means that it is not illegal.” Already the administration says events dictated a speed that precluded complying with the law.

This explanation should be accorded open-minded, but not empty-minded, consideration. It should be considered in light of the fact that as the Veterans Affairs debacle continued, Obama went to Afghanistan to hug some troops, then completed the terrorists-for-Bergdahl transaction. And in light of the fact that Obama waged a seven-month military intervention in Libya’s civil war without complying with the law (the War Powers Resolution) that requires presidents to terminate within 60 to 90 days a military action not authorized or subsequently approved by Congress.
Will admonishes us to be ready for the standard administration response to scandals. The first step will be to delay Congress as long as possible for information from this episode. It might take until Obama has left office for us to find out why, how, and when Bergdahl's file has been cleansed.

This is why Jonathan Turley writes that "Obama may be the president Nixon always wanted to be."

Whenever I see Jay Leno or Jimmy Kimmel doing a routine where they interview people on the street and uncover shocking ignorance about current events and our government or claiming knowledge over something that hasn't happened, I think that, gosh, those people get as many votes as I do. Then I hope that those people are anomalies and that Leno and Kimmel had to ask hundreds of people those questions before they find the ignorant ones they put on TV. But this result doesn't encourage me. Close to 10% of the vote this past Tuesday went to Leland Yee, the San Francisco Democrat who has been indicted on money laundering and gun-running charges and dropped out of the race.

Ezra Klein seems to have become aware of what conservatives have argued for so long - the government is just too big. Klein realizes that the VA scandal was a function of its size and structure. And he also argues that Obama has a "management problem" in that he hasn't done anything to solve a problem he himself acknowledged.
At that point, he'd been president for five years. He had done nothing to solve that systematic problem. Six months later, he's still done nothing to solve that systematic problem. The broken system that led to HealthCare.Gov is still in place.
Now, how long will it take Klein to realize that such problems as appeared in the VA are endemic to all programs run by the government?

Yet more evidence has come to light exposing the obvious lie that Barack Obama and the Democrats told us about how the Affordable Care Act would reduce the deficit. The CBO now claims that they can't assess the fiscal impact of the law. So they could issue projections before the law was passed in 2010, but now that parts of it have been implemented, they're flummoxed? The reason is that the Obama administration keeps changing or delaying parts of the law.
When Congress passed the health care law in 2010, the CBO estimated it would reduce the deficit by more than $120 billion over a decade, compared to the agency’s current-law baseline projection of spending, revenue and the deficit. That meant the health care law would, in effect, pay for itself and deliver an additional fiscal bonus.

The CBO based its estimate on the assumption that the law, which included hundreds of billions of dollars’ worth of Medicare cuts and tax increases to pay for health care subsidies, would be implemented as written. Now, after a chaotic start and a series of delays or adjustments in various provisions of the act, including an employer mandate that was expected to bring in new tax revenue, it’s unclear to what extent those promised savings are being realized.

The Associated Press reports that more than 2 million people who signed up for Obamacare apparently have data discrepancies that might put their coverage at risk. Why would we be surprised, with all the problems with the website, that data problems persist?
About 1 in 4 people who signed up have discrepancies, creating a huge paperwork jam for the feds and exposing some consumers to repayment demands, or possibly even loss of coverage, if they got too generous a subsidy.

Michelle Obama lectures Democratic donors to remember about the separation of powers between the three branches of government so that they don't get impatient that her husband hasn't accomplished as much as they would like. Too bad her husband doesn't have the same respect for the separation of powers.

The Democrats have been trying to meddle in Republican primary battles to get weaker candidates. Yet it's not working this year in Senate races. But they've been ramping up those efforts in congressional races.

Hillary Clinton's aides are already trying to pressure the media to limit their negative coverage of her.

Daniel Henninger contrasts Obama's foreign policy with the anniversaries we're celebrating this week - the 70th anniversary of D-Day and the 25th anniversary of the man standing up to the tank in Tiananmen Square.
The president and his supporters would argue, as he has, that the world today is different than the one that existed in 1944 or 1989. An alternative exists, Mr. Obama said at West Point, other than endless war and militarism or doing nothing.

We straw men whom Mr. Obama set up and knocked down repeatedly in his Military Academy apologia would note that in the past five years the space between all or nothing has filled with Russia's border busting, Iran's nuclear-bomb project, Syria's sarin gas, China's disruptions of its neighbors, North Korea's threats against South Korea and Japan, Venezuela's Tiananmen-like crackdown of its democracy protesters, and al Qaeda subdividing into multiple cells from Asia to Africa.

In keeping with the postmodern idea that nothing is ever settled, the Obama foreign-policy shop would reply that their middle way of sticking a thumb—or the U.N.'s thumbs—into the world's bursting dams fits the current American mood of post-Iraq and Afghanistan fatigue. Past some point, those fatigue metrics reflect a discounting of American leadership going forward, not what happened 10 years ago.

All of this, however, ducks the one big question asked of any modern president's foreign policy: What, exactly, do you guys stand for? What, when you've left the building, will the United States represent?

After more than five years of Obama foreign policy, what we've got is a huge fuzzball of good intentions. It doesn't stand for anything—not a strategy, not a set of identifiable ideas, no real doctrine and not much to show for whatever it is.

Barack Obama in the world resembles Casper the Friendly Ghost—with the U.S. role fading in and out of view as is his wont. Hillary Clinton flew a million miles as Secretary of State with no evident concept of what she was doing or why. John Kerry endlessly slips in and out of capitals, talking. This, they say, is "smart power."

Smart power just sprung a volunteer POW named Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl for five stone-killer Taliban. No one in the Obama White House, including as always Susan Rice, can give an adequate explanation for what this was all about. Only the president knows. That may work for him. But for everyone else in an unsettled world, not so well.

People are witty - check out some of the tweets and memes that have sprung up about the terrorists-for-Bergdahl exchange. This one from Mad Magazine is my favorite.
If Obama's lost Mad Magazine.... (UPDATE: I see that James Taranto's mind was running on a similar path.)

Taranto goes on to contrast emails that Bergdahl wrote his parents disdaining American efforts in Afghanistan with what John Kerry told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee back in 1971 about our efforts in Vietnam. No wonder that the administration was so quick to grab on to the "swift boating" complaint. Democrats seem amazed that anyone would find this sort of behavior objectionable.
To the administration, the release of the Taliban quintet is at least as much a benefit as a cost. In Warsaw yesterday, after acknowledging the continued danger they pose, the president explained: "But this is what happens at the end of wars. That was true for George Washington; that was true for Abraham Lincoln; that was true for FDR; that's been true of every combat situation--that at some point, you make sure that you try to get your folks back."

The predecessors Obama cited all commanded wars that ended with a clear victory. (He should have mentioned Truman along with FDR, who died a few weeks before the Germans surrendered.) Obama, by contrast, is trying to wind down an unpopular war via a negotiated settlement.

Kerry's activism back in 1971 was in the service of a similar end. When he ran for president in 2004, he expected both his war record and his antiwar activism to work in his favor. After all, most Americans had wanted out of Vietnam, and the Nixon administration achieved that aim a couple of years later. But while Kerry's end might have been justifiable, it did not justify the means of slandering his fellow Vietnam veterans.

The left's blinkered view of military culture is perhaps best summarized by Elias Isquith, a young writer for Salon.com, who yesterday explained the backlash against the Bergdahl deal as follows: "When a member of the military fails to adhere to the far right's rigid formula of what a soldier should be (nationalistic, religious, obedient; conservative) right-wingers . . . come down on them [sic] like a ton of bricks." He cited one example in addition to Bergdahl: John Kerry.

Isquith seems to imply that servicemen are fungible, each entitled to equal respect regardless of conduct. But the bitter criticism of Kerry in 2004 and Bergdahl today would carry no force if it came from mere "right-wingers." It comes, instead, from servicemen and veterans who see the two men as having behaved dishonorably. Once again the left is being undone by its failure to comprehend the centrality of honor to military culture.

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