EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is Jonah Goldberg’s weekly “news”letter, the G-File. Subscribe here to get the G-File delivered to your inbox on Fridays.
Dear Reader (and those of you who get this “news”letter in talking-point form from the NSC),
I think the Bergdahl story is really very serious and there are still lots of things we don’t know. My friend James Rosen’s story that Bergdahl turned mujahideen in captivity is very interesting, but it doesn’t mean — nor does Rosen say — that he was a jihadi when he left his base. And, while the case doesn’t look good for Bergdahl, we don’t know that he was a deserter yet. We only know that he was AWOL. Indeed, according to an earlier Pentagon report, we know he had a habit of wandering off base. That may make him a flake or an idiot, but it doesn’t prove he was a deserter.
Indeed, there are so many unknowns here that it might be best to withhold judgment on a lot of aspects to this story.
Save perhaps one: The White House is run by clowns. It’s like a Fellini movie over there. Actually, that’s not quite fair. Clowns are actually pretty professional. They go to school to do what they do. That reminds me of one of my favorite scenes from The Simpsons. Sideshow Bob is talking to his brother Cecil through the plate glass of a jail visiting room.
Sideshow Bob: You wanted to be Krusty’s sidekick since you were five. What about the buffoon lessons, the four years at clown college?
Cecil Terwilliger: I’ll thank you not to refer to Princeton that way.
Look, I’m not making an ideological point here. For years, the White House had certain procedures and mechanisms in place that helped to ensure the dignity of the office and protect the president from saying too many things he’d later regret (like screwing up Billie Jean King’s resume, or slandering Rutherford B. Hayes, or calling the Benghazi attack a “bump in the road”). Of course, no president is immune to gaffes, but you try to keep them out of the prepared text. And of course, as conservatives, we can appreciate what amounts to one of our core insights on how the world works: Sometimes things go badly (I think it sounds more impressive in Latin).
In the old days, there was an unwritten rule of politics: Don’t put the president next to a guy who looks like he just emerged out of spider-hole with Mullah Omar. But these are more relaxed and tolerant times. Still, in the Washington of yore, the president’s advance team would at least go over with the president’s guests what they might say when standing alongside the leader of the free world. You know just to make sure everyone is on the same page. But that’s hard to do when the page is written in . . . Pashto!
Seriously, that Rose Garden ceremony with the Bergdahls was like a first draft of a scene from HBO’s Veep. In the final version, Mrs. Bergdahl would be in a burqa and ululating while Mr. Bergdahl was shouting “Allahu Akbar!” and firing an AK-47 into the White House portico causing plaster to fall down. But, you know, sometimes subtler is better.
I shouldn’t make light of Mr. and Mrs. Bergdahl’s ordeal, even if Mr. Bergdahl seems to have some, uh, interesting ideas. They remain sympathetic people put in a horrible situation (which is one reason the president desperately tried to make this all about them, as I write here).
Release the Hacks!
My only point is that the White House’s political chops in this fiasco look about as sharp as Dom DeLuise’s forehead. That’s kind of weird when you consider that his foreign-policy shop is largely run by political hacks — as Kim Strassel notes in her excellent column from yesterday. “Obama’s Kissingers,” as Strassel calls them, should be better at the politics than the foreign policy, given their resumes. But it turns out they stink at both. When you run foreign policy like a domestic political operation, it turns out that both the policy and the politics can blow up on you. I think this is because over the long haul foreign policy doesn’t work like domestic politics. You can have the best political hacks in the world, but if you give them a job they’re not suited for, it will actually make things worse. If you want to see what I mean, ask your mechanic to do your prostate surgery.
This president, we are constantly told, gets his information about scandals in his own administration the same way we do: from the newspapers. This raises an interesting question: Why have an office in the White House? Apparently you can do this job from anywhere.
Maybe Obama needs to get a subscription to Rolling Stone? If he’d read this story from two years ago, he’d at least know that Bergdahl’s case was like Norwegian weather in September: a lot of gray. In fairness, I don’t want the president of the United States wasting his time reading that rag. But in the old days, someone in the White House would have read up on the guy. A pro would have said, “Hey, let’s type Bowe Bergdahl into the Google machine and hit the ‘I’m feeling lucky’ button!” If they’d done that, they would have at least known not to say Bergdahl was captured on the “battlefield” and that he had served “with honor and distinction.” On why this was outrageous see Ralph Peters. On why this was politically stupid, see the entry in the dictionary for “Duh.”
“Go F*** Yourself San Diego”
This White House went a different way. They sent Susan Rice — Susan Rice! — out on the Sunday shows to beclown herself again. This woman was going to be secretary of state until she went out on the Sunday shows and read Ben Rhodes’s talking points verbatim. Apparently that’s sort of her thing. She reads what the hacks above — or below — give her. It’s like she’s the Ron Burgundy of foreign policy. But you’d think this time around she’d go over with her staff exactly what they know — and don’t know. You’d think she’d be like Roy Scheider in Jaws 2 telling the town council, “As God is my witness, I’m not going through that Hell again.” Instead she’s like Mikey from the Life cereal commercials and the White House political hacks are like the other kids. “Give these talking points to Susie, she’ll say anything.”
And now, to cover their mistakes, these guys are complaining anonymously to Chuck Todd that Bergdahl is being “swiftboated” by his former comrades. My friend Iowahawk called this one perfectly. Seriously, what’s the point of putting the hacks in charge if they can’t even hack right?