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Obama Should Own Bergdahl Decision

obama-hagel-dempsey

My latest for War on the Rocks, “HAGEL: CLIMBING OUT FROM UNDER THE BUS,” has posted.

In testimony before the House Armed Services Committee, White House officials pointed the finger at Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel as having ultimately approved the swap of Bergdahl for five Taliban leaders held captive at Guantanamo. Outgoing committee chairman Buck McKeon (R, CA) told the press that the administration seems to be setting up Hagel as the “fall guy” for the feel-good moment that quickly turned controversial.

[...]

Now, I happen to be in the minority here. As an American and as a veteran, I expect our leadership to do what’s necessary to get our prisoners of war home safely. Distasteful as releasing Taliban militants might be, it’s hardly unprecedented to engage in prisoner swaps in these cases, especially as wars wind to their conclusion (although President Obama should have followed the law and notified Congress ahead of the swap; but that’s a separate issue). Regardless, it strains credulity that anyone other than the Commander-in-Chief made the call on this one.

[...]

But if Hagel is going to be the fall guy, he’s not cooperating. Appearing himself before McKeon’s committee Wednesday, he declared, “We made the right decision, and we did it for the right reasons” – note the “we” – and continued, “I want to be clear on one fundamental point – I would never sign off on any decision that I did not feel was in the best interests of this country.” He added, “Nor would the president of the United States, who made the final decision with the full support of his national security team.”

That version of events – which I believe happens to be the truth – is the right tack for the administration to take. The president made a difficult judgment call, but one that any of his predecessors would have likely decided the same way. He should simply own it.

Much more at the link but that’s the gist.

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About James Joyner
James Joyner is the publisher of Outside the Beltway, an associate professor of security studies at the Marine Corps Command and Staff College, and a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. He has a PhD in political science from The University of Alabama. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter.

Comments

  1. OzarkHillbilly says:

    Obama:

    “I make no apologies for it. It was a unanimous decision among my principals in my government, and a view that was shared by the Joint Chiefs of Staff. This is something I would do again and will continue to do whenever I have an opportunity.”

    I think it is safe to say that in such an unequivocal statement Obama has owned the decision. James? I think you need to get far far away from the beltway, because anyone who would focus on the “White House’s” throwing (????) Hagel under the bus while totally ignoring who it is that is driving that bus, well let’s just say you seem to be having trouble with the English language here.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 38 Thumb down 0

  2. C. Clavin says:

    WTF???
    Did Florack or Jenos write this post for you, James?
    Because it certainly seems blithely un-tethered from reality.
    Obama owning it:

    “…We saw an opportunity and we took it. And I make no apologies for it…this is something that I would do again and I will continue to do wherever I have an opportunity, if I have a member of our military who’s in captivity. We’re going to try to get ‘em out…”

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 25 Thumb down 0

  3. beth says:

    If Hagel is in fact being thrown under the proverbial bus here – and so far we only have McKeon’s word on that

    So you’ve written an entire column based on what some Republican with a political ax to grind has to say on the matter without even seeing any evidence of it yourself? Because if you have seen any evidence of it, you surely didn’t make it clear in the column (and yes, I went and read the whole thing).

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 26 Thumb down 0

  4. beth says:

    By Monday, however, the “I’s” and “we’s” went away, shifting to a “he.”

    Can you show us some examples of this?

    Two weeks ago, Hagel himself told “Meet The Press” that “I signed off on the decision. The president made the ultimate decision.”
    Of course he did.
    Furthering a trend that’s been ongoing for decades, Obama largely ignores his Cabinet secretaries who, like Hagel, tend to be career Washingtonians.

    But here it seems like you’re saying he did take Hagel’s advice – so what’s the problem?

    I’m not really trying to nutpick your nutpicking but some of this just doesn’t make sense to me.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 18 Thumb down 0

  5. Rafer Janders says:

    Did Doug ghost-write this column for you, James, and you just forgot to give him proper attribution….?

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 19 Thumb down 0

  6. Guarneri says:

    In retrospect it would have been so much cleaner if Michelle had just engaged in a robust hash tag campaign for Bergdahl.

    Lessons learned.

    Carry on.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 1

  7. stonetools says:

    Count me as the one who believes Obama has fully owned the decision. It’s the Republican here who wants to frame the decision as somehow shameful and one which Obama should want to distance himself from. According to the Republican frame, Obama traded a deserter for five Al-Qeada superheroes.
    The reality is different and its coming out that , for example, that Bergdahl isn’t just simply a traitor and the Gauntanamo detainees are’nt superheroes.
    I’m thinking that his scenario will play out like BENGHAZI!. The initial impressions are awful, the conservatives are exultant, the liberals take to their fainting couches, and the media proclaim for the 127th time, the “end of the Obama presidency.” Then the Administration begins its defence, the facts come out, the liberals rally, the conservatives quietly retreat, and the media move on to something else.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 18 Thumb down 0

  8. beth says:

    @stonetools:

    Themn the Administration begins its defence, the facts come out, the liberals rally, the conservatives quietly retreat, and the media move on to something else.

    And the Bergdahls live in isolation, looking over their shoulders for the rest of their lives.

    All together everybody – USA! USA! USA!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 14 Thumb down 0

  9. Rafer Janders says:

    In testimony before the House Armed Services Committee, White House officials pointed the finger at Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel as having ultimately approved the swap of Bergdahl for five Taliban leaders held captive at Guantanamo.

    The link in this sentence in your article goes to an ABC News story that relies largely on various Republicans claiming that unnamed “Administration officials” were blaming Hagel — in other words, it’s unverifiable hearsay from Obama’s enemies. I can’t believe you’re so gullible as to give that any credence, or so lazy as to pass it off to your readers as any kind of solid proof of your thesis.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 23 Thumb down 0

  10. Rafer Janders says:

    By Monday, however, the “I’s” and “we’s” went away, shifting to a “he.”

    Proof, please. Because other than your word, there’s no real evidence for this in your article.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 0

  11. gVOR08 says:

    @stonetools: And come election the average voter will be vaguely aware of a lot of smoke and unaware that there was never any fire. The Republican strategy is screw the country; obstruct everything, attack everything, defame everybody. The worst part of it is that it’s working.

    Bergdahl sounds like he was a fragile personality to start with, and now he’s been a Taliban prisoner for five years. One would hope the press and the GOPs would have the decency to leave him alone and let him heal as best he can. Not gonna happen. The GOPs will put him through their character assassination meat grinder.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 14 Thumb down 0

  12. stonetools says:

    @beth:

    And the Bergdahls live in isolation, looking over their shoulders for the rest of their lives.

    All together everybody – USA! USA! USA!

    Indeed, I have noticed that not one of the OTB front pagers have condemned the conservatives who have slandered Bergdahl’s parents, tried Bergdahl in the press, and who have whipped up the “patriots” who are issuing death threats against the Bergdahls. Doug has said that he somehow didn’t notice the Fox News “analysts” and right wing bloggers who did this, but there has been a lot of this stuff out on the Internets. you would think that some sort of comment is due.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 21 Thumb down 0

  13. mantis says:

    Regardless, it strains credulity that anyone other than the Commander-in-Chief made the call on this one.

    Then perhaps you should be a bit less credulous regarding the conveniently unverifiable statements of one Rep. McKeon.

    Seriously James, did you just fall off the turnip truck?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 13 Thumb down 0

  14. Rafer Janders says:

    @stonetools:

    Doug has said that he somehow didn’t notice the Fox News “analysts” and right wing bloggers who did this, but there has been a lot of this stuff out on the Internets.

    Give Doug a break. He was too busy combing through the 600 plus pages of Hillary Clinton’s new book looking for attributions. The man has priorities.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 13 Thumb down 1

  15. Rafer Janders says:

    @stonetools:

    Indeed, I have noticed that not one of the OTB front pagers have condemned the conservatives who have slandered Bergdahl’s parents, tried Bergdahl in the press, and who have whipped up the “patriots” who are issuing death threats against the Bergdahls.

    Doug, for one, does his usual biased and responsibility-deflecting “I’m just reporting on what the polls say, not on the fact that those polls are influenced by conservatives who’ve slandered an American soldier and his family.”

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 12 Thumb down 0

  16. al-Ameda says:

    Notwithstanding the salient fact that Obama has made repeated statements to the effect that he does in fact “own” the Bergdahl Manufactured Crisis …. Buck McKeon is a hack, it’s that simple.

    Outgoing committee chairman Buck McKeon (R, CA) told the press that the administration seems to be setting up Hagel as the “fall guy” for the feel-good moment that quickly turned controversial.

    What happened here with the Bergdahl Decision/Crisis is not about high legal principles, or even high moral principles, it’s about ongoing intense dislike of this president.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 0

  17. James Joyner says:

    The premise of the piece is that, after having initially taken responsibility for the decision as collective with POTUS signing off, the administration shifted to blaming Hagel in closed testimony before HASC Monday. The source for that is HASC chairman McKeon and various anonymous sources. Dozens of news outlets reported this. Among them were The Hill and ABC News, neither of which are known to be right-leaning, partisan, or simply trolling for clicks.

    ABC News, “Hagel Made Final Call on Bergdahl Swap, Congress Told,” June 9

    The Hill, “Obama, not Hagel, responsible for Bergdahl, says White House“, June 10

    The story had been out there some 18 hours, unchallenged by the White House, when I wrote the piece under solicitation from the editors.

    And note that the piece calls on the president to own the decision, not simply because he made it, but because it was the right decision. This is hardly hackery.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 1

  18. JohnMcC says:

    @al-Ameda: Happened to watch a good part of that hearing (couldn’t stand another minute of jabbering about Rep Cantor). Won’t re-check on the C-SPAN website before I write this so some caveats — BUT my memory is that Chairman McKeon cleared that question up with his first round of questions. Sec Hagel acknowledged that he’d approved the decision but said the final word was the President’s. McKeon thanked him and the hearing moved on.

    Whatever Rep McKeon wrote earlier, the facts were disclosed quickly.

    In the BENGHAZI! matter involving the DOD response to the Consulate attack, McKeon quickly corrected Rep Gowdy when that gentleman said questions about the military response were unanswered. Made me suspect that McKeon might be a fairly stand-up guy and that was the impression I got from watching the hearing.

    Just sayin’.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 1

  19. Blue Galangal says:

    The Hill, “Obama, not Hagel, responsible for Bergdahl, says White House“, June 10

    …I feel very dim but, how, again, does that headline (and premise) show the White House shifting blame from Obama to Hagel? If I take out the subordinate clause, “Obama responsible for Bergdahl, SAYS WHITE HOUSE.” (June 10th.)

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 13 Thumb down 1

  20. stonetools says:

    Part of the Republicans response is to claim that the “military” condemns the deal and that the “sissy, leftist, civilian” Obama Administration rolled over for the Taliban. The Obama Administration did the right thing in putting Chuck Hagel (decorated Vietnam veteran) front and center in its defence. Bluntly, Hagel can measure d!cks with anyone when it comes to military and patriotic cred.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 0

  21. anjin-san says:

    Bluntly, Hagel can measure d!cks with anyone when it comes to military and patriotic cred.

    In the reality based community, sure. Hagel’s record speaks for itself. That won’t stop Florack and the other armchair warriors from trashing him in a hot city minute.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 2

  22. beth says:

    @James Joyner: I’m sorry James, but in reading both those stories I only see them quoting McKeon as a source for the “throwing Hagel under the bus” story. They do have other people who discuss whether Congress was notified or not but unless I’m reading them incorrectly (always a possibility) I don’t see anyone, not even anonymous sources, pushing that story except McKeon. Maybe someone else can read them and find where others state Obama is trying to blame Hagel.

    Again, I’m not accusing you of hackery. I just don’t see where you get the rationale behind your column.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 0

  23. Guarneri says:

    I didn’t want to put words in James’ mouth, but his comment at 11:14 seems what he meant all along, despite musings about his ability to read from certain commenters.

    However, I have more important news. Its about to break in a Rose Garden announcement that another US soldier has been found – among the domino cities falling in Iraq – and will be returned in a swap. I’ve even got the Obama text.

    “Good afternoon. As we have recently demonstrated the principle of ‘no soldier left behind’ trumps all discussion of the nature and equity of the negotiated transaction. Therefore, in keeping with that principle, I am announcing that we have traded Michelle for this soldier, who has served with honor and distinction. This saddens me, but principle is principle. And now a few words from this brave soldier’s father – freshly shaven – although in Islamic prayer.”

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  24. mantis says:

    @James Joyner:

    Yes, other outlets reported what McKeon said. I don’t see any other sources quoted, anonymous or otherwise.

    What’s more likely, that the White House would roundly contradict all of their public statements so far, change the story to one in which Hagel made the final call, but only do so in a classified meeting? What possible purpose would that serve?

    The question is not whether McKeon said it or whether news agencies reported that he said it. The question is why did you believe it to be true.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 0

  25. Jeremy R says:

    Let’s unwind McKeon’s BS. President Obama made the decision and Hagel then had to ultimately sign off on it. That’s because congressional republicans forced through legislation that gives the secretary of defense the final say over gitmo transfers, and sets a bar that was meant to be almost impossibly high for the SecDef to certify.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  26. Eric Florack says:

    @C. Clavin: so, the blame being shifted to hagel is all hagels imagination? or is it the congressional testimony by WH officials that ‘hagel made the final call”?

    Now, just for laughs, lets go with the argument that Obama stood out in front of this thing without wavering. Laughable, nut lets go with it for a second. why would the american people be suspicious of Obama nlame shifting to a handy target, had he not had an extensive record of doing exactly that?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 6

  27. al-Ameda says:

    @Guarneri:

    “Good afternoon. As we have recently demonstrated the principle of ‘no soldier left behind’ trumps all discussion of the nature and equity of the negotiated transaction. Therefore, in keeping with that principle, I am announcing that we have traded Michelle for this soldier, who has served with honor and distinction. This saddens me, but principle is principle. And now a few words from this brave soldier’s father – freshly shaven – although in Islamic prayer.”

    Are you still angry that Michelle Obama is urging schools to join the efforts to fight childhood obesity?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  28. Guarneri says:

    Not at all angry. Just laughing at her pathetically ineffectual and arrogant media stunt. Hubby in trouble?

    She should have done a hash tag thingy. The Nigerian girls are back, right?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 5

  29. al-Ameda says:

    @Guarneri:

    She should have done a hash tag thingy.

    Thingy: #lolRepublicansLikeObesity

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0