When it was announced this weekend that Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl would be released from captivity after five years, some skeptical observers took to social media to declare this was meant to distract from the VA scandal. After all, VA Sec. Eric Shinseki had just resigned on Friday, and news of an ex-POW coming home would presumably provide some much-needed positive news for an administration that had been inundated by scandal, potentially changing the conversation on the Sunday morning talk shows.
But whether a coincidence or a Machiavellian plot, this has turned out to be yet another example of Obama being deprived of a clear-cut national security “win.” An event which might normally unite the nation in celebration has proven anything but celebratory. Not only did the administration violate the law in order to cut the deal — and not only did they have to release five dangerous Gitmo detainees (potentially incentivizing future kidnappings) — but, on top of all of that, serious allegations have surfaced about whether or not Bergdahl was actually a deserter.
These allegations might normally be dismissed by the administration as another example of a “phony scandal” being ginned up by right-wing extremists were they not originating from mainstream media sources. CNN’s Jake Tapper, for example, penned a story headlined: “Fellow soldiers call Bowe Bergdahl a deserter, not a hero” — and the Daily Beast is up with an article titled: “We lost soldiers in the hunt for Bergdahl, a guy who walked off in the dead of night.” For obvious reasons, Americans might be less than enthused to discover we released dangerous prisoners in exchange for someone who allegedly walked away from duty.
But putting aside the serious and substantive questions, this is yet another example of Obama failing to turn the tide politically. This is a trend that, interestingly enough, I had just written about. My latest column in the Telegraph is titled, “President Barack Obama’s national security flops keep coming,” and one of the things I noted was that Obama’s recent attempts to change his negative momentum have been tainted. Here’s an example:
Over the Memorial Day holiday, Obama scheduled a surprise visit to Afghanistan (where he will eventually fulfill his 2008 campaign promise of ending the war.) It should have been a positive story, but a pall was cast when it was revealed that the White House had accidentally outed the CIA chief living in Afghanistan. And thus, an otherwise positive trip turned into a mockery.
The final chapter on Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl has yet to be written, and maybe more information will emerge. Either way, if President Obama was secretly hoping this announcement would engender comity, or even change the subject from the VA scandal to something more positive, he was sorely mistaken.