Someday someone will write the definitive history of the Obama Administration. It won’t be yours truly, but I have surely got the right title: The Man Who Wasn’t There. It’s catchy and resonates with the famous poem and with a movie starring Billy Bob Thornton. Best of all, it pretty much tells the whole story. The rest of the book would be one long footnote.
One place the President wasn’t, much of the time, was the President’s Daily Brief. The PDB is where the President is supposed to be briefed on serious threats to national security. George W. Bush rarely missed one. Marc Thiessen reported in 2012 that Mr. Obama shows for less than half of his own PDB’s. His attendance fell even more as the election neared. In the weak before our ambassador was murdered by terrorists in Benghazi, Mr. Obama didn’t show for a single one. He skipped another meeting the day after the attack to meet with grieving members of the State Department. He had no time to reschedule, since he had to fly off to a fundraiser in Las Vegas.
Might things have turned out differently if the President had been properly briefed in the week before the attack? There is no way to be certain, but the British pulled their own ambassador well before the violence in Benghazi. Did the Brits know something we didn’t know or was it just that they were paying attention? We do know that there were warnings of violence for months and that the Ambassador himself requested more security. We have been told that Mr. Obama didn’t know about these requests. I believe it.
We have been told that those responsible for the ambassadors’ murder will be brought to justice, but if any progress has been made on this front, the Administration is keeping it a secret. Days after the attack, CNN reporters entered the compound and found Ambassador Stevens’ diary on the floor. Apparently no official investigators had arrived. Are they there yet?
What happened in Benghazi is apparently standard procedure for this Administration. The President launched a series of air strikes against the Libyan regime while he was on a “relationship-building trip” to Brazil. What exactly is that? Here’s a hint: it didn’t involve anything as dreary as treaties, agreements, or negotiations. It was all about Latin America and Barack Obama loving one another. It may be first war ever started while the President was on Spring Break.
He very nearly launched a second one for not paying attention when he himself was talking. When you and your subordinates frequently say that the leader of the Syrian regime must go and when you draw red lines about chemical weapons, you may discover that you have accidently actually said something. That in turn might obligate you to act. When the President did show up to a meeting, he let the heads in the room talk on but didn’t seem to be doing much listening. According to the New York Times: “he often appeared impatient or disengaged while listening to the debate, sometimes scrolling through messages on his BlackBerry or slouching and chewing gum.” So we almost ended up siding the Syrian rebel movement just as that movement was being captured by Al Qaeda, because the President was playing Angry Birds.
Things haven’t gotten any better. A year ago the President announced a new counter terrorism strategy, to replace the post 9/11 policies initiated by George W. Bush. But according to the Washington Post, “much of the agenda he outlined remains unfinished or not even begun.” The President said he was looking forward to engaging Congress on the issue, but even Congressional Democrats admit that there has been little follow-through from the Administration.
No one should be the least bit surprised, then, that this Administration could successfully spring an American soldier from the clutches of the Taliban and do it in such a way as to leave everyone wondering whether the folks in the White House can be trusted to tie their own shoes. Allow me to stipulate that, whatever Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl may or may not be guilty of, bringing him home to be judged here instead of by the Taliban is a worthy objective. Critics of the exchange are right to point out that we say we don’t negotiate with terrorists and nothing demonstrates our resolve on that point like negotiating with terrorists. It also reminds our enemies that we care a lot more about individual human lives than we do and reminds everyone that this is a weakness on our part. We are what we are, however, and the Israelis, who are a lot tougher minded than we are, make the same kind of exchanges.
So perhaps the President couldn’t help paying such a sordid price for Bergdahl’s release, but he didn’t have to announce it in the Rose Garden. He didn’t have to say that it’s a “pretty sacred” rule that we never leave anyone behind when, if the worst about Bergdahl is true, we used to bring such fellows home and shoot them. The President’s National Security Advisor, Susan Rice, didn’t have to say that Bergdahl “served with honor and distinction”, though telling bald face lies on Sunday morning news shows seems to be her special talent.
It now seems pretty clear that Sergeant Bergdahl lost his faith in his mission in Afghanistan and expressed that loss of faith by walking away from his fellow soldiers and towards the enemy. Whether he is responsible for the deaths of some of our soldiers or not, he certainly cost our military the time and resources they spent on looking for him. It also costs us five captured cutthroats that the Pentagon clearly did not want to see released. Even if this gaggle of foes is no longer useful on the battlefield, Mr. Obama has now turned them into Taliban Superstars. This is the kind of thing you try to do in the dead of night, not in the Rose Garden. This has to leave of a lot of the men and women under Mr. Obama’s command wondering in their Commander-in-Chief is a tuna fish sandwich.
Then there is this little matter of the law and the Constitution. Releasing prisoners from Guantanamo Bay without giving Congress thirty days notice violates the law. Does the law not matter to our President or did no one bother to check? Even if he decided he had to act swiftly because Bergdahl was in peril, he could at least have informed the leaders of both houses of Congress. He didn’t, perhaps because he doesn’t trust the Republican leader of the House. This one time teacher of Constitutional Law might have reflected he is not an autocrat and that the war powers are shared with Congress. That, however, would have required reflection.