On May 31st a prisoner exchange was executed that traded Sgt.Bowe Bergdahl for five Taliban leaders being held at Guantanamo Bay. The exchange went smoothly and was followed by a press conference in the Rose Garden with President Obama and Bergdahl’s parents celebrating his release. Even though there had been discussion in Washington for some time about arranging such a trade, the initial response was one of surprise as the actual mission and its particulars were kept secret due to “concerns that the Sergeant’s life might be in danger if they were leaked.” In his remarks the president emphasized that the United States has had the long standing policy of never leaving one of their men behind and with the U.S. involvement in Afghanistan coming to a close something had to be done to free the last prisoner of war before it was too late.
Yet as details of the lack of notification, the circumstances of the exchange and its terms were revealed- the administration came under fire and the fallout promises to be long and messy and possibly have a serious impact on Obama’s ability to work with Congress during his second term. Adding to this is the way Bergdahl allegedly came to fall into Taliban hands after walking away from his base- and the loss of the lives of a number of soldiers during the search and rescue operations that followed.
The President has been accused of breaking the law, Congress has promised to hold hearings, there are calls to try Bergdahl for treason, his parents have been receiving death threats and have been placed under protection- and once again, Susan Rice has put both feet in her mouth on a Sunday talk show. It’s a giant mess, to say the least.
The question that is on everyone’s mind is why handle it this way. The President had a number of options available to him, there had been discussion for a long time about a possible rescue or prisoner exchange, precedents have been set in the past that allow for such a negotiation- yet the President acted in secrecy and without involving the Congress and specifically, the Senate Intelligence Committee who has had prior notification of other high risk missions such as the raid that led to the execution of Bin laden- without any resulting leaks or fallout.
If we carefully examine the dynamics of this decision and the President’s attitude when challenged about it, a motivation that rings true emerges- one that is rooted in the present political climate and resulting power plays and deadlocks between the President and Congress. Adding to the sense of urgency is that it’s Obama’s second term, which leaves him little time to accomplish his goals and secure his legacy, which includes bringing an end to the war in Afghanistan and making sure to leave no one behind.
It’s not much of a leap to deduct that the president acted alone because he believed that partisanship and in-fighting would kill the deal. Such a belief also helps to explain the frequent charges that Obama is aloof, secretive, and arrogant and not a team player. It appears that the President has decided to use his executive powers to the full extent they are available to him and in doing so help him to leave office having done what he set out to do instead of being the lame duck he is sure the Congress will make him into.