Why The Bowe Bergdahl Charges Are Bad For Iran Deal

W. James Antle III Managing Editor
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The charges against Bowe Bergdahl are not merely embarrassing to the White House. They will further undermine the already shaky confidence in the Obama administration’s nuclear negotiations with Iran.

Sound like an exaggeration? Questions about whether Bergdahl deserted date back not just to when the administration traded five Taliban commanders for his release, but to when he was initially captured in 2009.

Liberals pushed back hard against criticisms of the Bergdahl swap, with longtime Democratic consultant Donna Brazile going so far as to call the desertion allegations a Republican PR campaign intended to make the president look bad.

Even some liberals conceded that executing the trade without notifying Congress was legally questionable. A 2013 defense bill stipulated that when transferring Guantanamo detainees, the administration “shall notify the appropriate committees of Congress” no later “than 30 days before the transfer or release.”

That didn’t happen.

“Disregarding parts of laws passed by Congress was once a key part of Obama’s bill of grievances against George W. Bush,” MSNBC’s Adam Serwer observed.

Maybe if Congress had been notified the transfer would have happened anyway, given concerns about Bergdahl’s health. Or maybe someone would have raised important questions about the president’s master plan, which in retrospect seems less than airtight.

Either way, the latest revelations about Bergdahl come as the Obama administration is trying to negotiate a deal that would restrict but not dismantle Iran’s nuclear program with a minimum of congressional involvement.

If the talks are successful, they will result in an executive agreement rather than a binding treaty requiring Senate ratification. But there is bipartisan support for a bill mandating congressional review of the deal. Even if this legislation fails, Congress would still have to vote on relief from the sanctions imposed by statute.

Because of this — and because the success of such a framework in avoiding an Iranian bomb requires rigorous inspections and verification of Tehran’s compliance — trust is important.

Anything that erodes trust is bad for getting lawmakers and voters on board with any Iran pact. This includes things that don’t have anything to do with Iran.

President Obama promised that under Obamacare, if you like your health plan or doctor you would be able to keep them. That promise turned out to be untrue. You don’t have to be a very clever wordsmith to argue Obama is saying to Iran, “If you like your nuclear program, you can keep your nuclear program.”

It’s a zinger even a Republican politician could deliver.

Closer to the issue at hand, the president not so long ago declared anti-terror efforts in Yemen a success. Some called it the “Yemen model.”

The president of Yemen has since fled the country to escape the advance of Islamist radicals. The model looks busted.

Asking Republicans in Congress to trust President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry in negotiations with the Islamic revolutionary government responsible for the 1979 hostage crisis was always going to be a tough sell.

Doing so while Iranian-backed rebels in Yemen are stealing U.S. intelligence files in a country that was supposed to be a model of success in the war on terror, makes things even tougher.

Bergdahl is just the latest reason to think that maybe, just maybe, the administration doesn’t know what it’s doing.

None of this is being written with any pleasure. A nuclear deal likely is the least bad option on a menu that includes a nuclear Iran or another Iraq-style U.S. war in Iran. We’re still dealing with the consequences of the last war in the region.

Depending on what happens if diplomacy fails, it’s possible that the international sanctions keeping Iran in check right now will begin to erode.

And for all the Obama administration’s many problems, it’s not clear that Republicans — including chief pen pal Tom Cotton — have realistic alternatives.

But just because a deal would be desirable, doesn’t necessarily prove it is attainable. If the Bergdahl debacle is the last of nuclear talks’ death by a thousand cuts, that will be its latest detraction from American security.

W. James Antle III is managing editor of The Daily Caller and author of the book Devouring Freedom: Can Big Government Ever Be Stopped? Follow him on Twitter.