Knowing an epic political disaster when she sees one, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is seeking to distance herself from the swap of five Taliban commanders for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, who has been described by fellow army soldiers and official Pentagon reports as a deserter who may have been seeking to join the Taliban.
The presumed Democratic presidential front-runner for 2016 was deeply involved in deliberations about the secret negotiations between the United States and the Taliban in 2011 and 2012 that eventually led to the five-for-one exchange, reports The Daily Beast.
Now that the deal is quickly becoming a public-relations nightmare for the Obama administration, unidentified pro-Clinton insiders have begun frantically spinning Clinton’s involvement in the trade as Clinton’s disagreement about the terms of the trade.
The story goes that a first round of negotiations about the swap went on for many months before temporarily falling apart. Bureaucrats from the White House, the State Department and the Defense Department negotiated directly with Taliban leaders on several occasions during 2011 and 2012 in Doha and Munich. During that time, Clinton’s surrogates swear, she had managed to outline an agreement that would have been far stricter on the Taliban than Obama’s deal in 2014.
“She was heavily involved from the beginning. She was very skeptical of the arrangement. She was very wary of it,” one unnamed ex-Obama administration official told The Daily Beast. “If we had come to some agreement she perhaps would have backed it, but we never got to that point.”
Clinton’s strict, secret deal, her surrogates said, would have prevented released commanders from going back to war against the United States. Her ambition, her unnamed supporters said, also included a broader peace deal instead of the stand-alone deal the Obama administration later negotiated.
While there appears to be no public record on the hard-hitting deal the presidential hopeful wanted to strike, the Clinton supporters who supplied the information about it say it demonstrated that she is a realist who didn’t trust the Taliban or the Haqqani network, which held Bergdahl.
Rep. Jim Moran, a Virginia Democrat, also went on the record with The Daily Beast on behalf of Clinton.
“She was felt that the Haqqani network were really bad guys,” Moran said. “She was reluctant to enter into negotiations with them.”
Moran also suggested that the claims of Clinton’s surrogates that she remained strong while Obama later did not are at best a simplification.
“The talks evolved,” he told the Beast. “The fact that we are going to be pulling out of Afghanistan shortly meant that the likelihood of retrieving Bergdahl was diminishing. And once the war in Afghanistan is over, some will argue that we no longer have a legal right to detain the Taliban.”
Moran did not explain why he thought Clinton agreed to enter into negotiations with the Taliban for a two-year period or so in spite of her reluctance to do so.
The mostly-secret deal the Obama administration ultimately struck after Clinton left the State Department reportedly includes a one-year travel ban for the Taliban commanders. Reports out of Qatar, the destination of the Taliban prisoners, indicate that they are now freely walking around Doha under the deal to which the Obama administration agreed.
On Monday, before the news of Bergdahl’s release had become a rapidly increasing liability for Obama, Clinton was calling the Bergdahl-for-Taliban leaders swap a “noble” outcome.
She observed that other countries such as war-ridden Israel have agreed to such trades, and she said she worried that Bergdahl could end up dead.
“This young man, whatever the circumstances, was an American citizen — is an American citizen — was serving in our military,” the former Secretary of State said, according to ABC News. “The idea that you really care for your own citizens and particularly those in uniform, I think is a very noble one.”
Even on Monday, though, Clinton was hedging her bets.
“You don’t want to see these five prisoners go back to combat. There’s a lot that you don’t want to have happen. On the other hand you also don’t want an American citizen, if you can avoid it, especially a solider, to die in captivity,” she added. “I think we have a long way to go before we really know how this is going to play out.”