Obama’s Tuned Out, Rice Is Mendacious, and We Didn’t Appreciate Panetta Enough
The revelations of the ever-worsening Bergdahl deal tell us that two of our early impressions have been confirmed by subsequent events, and one has been contradicted by subsequent events.
Impression One: Obama has mentally checked out of his presidency.
In light of everything that we’ve learned about Bergdahl in the past few days, we must consider two possibilities. One is that Obama knew that Bergdahl opposed the U.S. mission in Afghanistan, that he told his father he was ashamed to be an American, that he renounced his citizenship before disappearing, that other soldiers lost their lives because of his decision to leave his post, and that he may have been helping the Taliban in their bomb-building and ambushes . . . and Obama went ahead with the trade anyway.
Guy Benson offers the supremely cynical “they knew” assessment:
They figured that the feel-good nature of the “POW” returning home narrative would be blindly seized upon and enabled by a media exhausted by the egregious VA scandal story. Unpleasant details would be white-washed or mostly ignored, and the only real outrage would emanate from the usual suspects on the Right. They thought they could counter critiques of the nature and terms of the trade with faux-indignant questions about whether skeptics were in favor of “leaving Americans behind.”
The other possibility is that Obama didn’t know any of this, and he approved the deal — and invited Bergdahl’s parents to the White House! — poorly-briefed and ill-informed about this supremely consequential, life-and-death decision. Of course, this wouldn’t be the first time Obama has been called “disengaged” on matters of war or the first time someone suggested that “White House officials have not been reading their briefing books.”
In a long, detailed profile piece, Politico paints a picture of a president increasingly ready to wrap it up and move on to post-presidential life:
With his daughters around less, the Obamas are taking fuller advantage of the perquisites of the office, such as squeezing “A Raisin in the Sun” on Broadway into a recent Manhattan fundraising trip.
In a departure from a long practice of keeping his personal circle strikingly tight and rarely lingering at official events, Obama has been hosting star-studded dinners that sometimes go on well past midnight and inviting a few newcomers such as former NBA star Alonzo Mourning into his social sphere. He’s playing golf more than any other year, replacing basketball as his go-to sport, partly because of concerns about getting injured . . .
The presidential dinners, inside the White House and beyond, are more and more frequent. At one dinner, not previously disclosed, the Obamas hosted U2’s Bono, Gen. Colin Powell, Apple CEO Tim Cook, investor Warren Buffett and World Bank President Jim Yong Kim. Another drew actors Will Smith and Samuel L. Jackson, along with journalist Gayle King. Anna Wintour, the editor-in-chief of Vogue, attended a dinner with fashion-industry insiders.
The guests don’t appear on the public visitor logs because they are considered “purely personal” visits. Multiple White House aides claimed not to know about them. Valerie Jarrett, the senior adviser and longtime confidant of the Obamas who organizes the dinners, appears to be the only regular from the West Wing . . .
The president has traveled more during the first half of 2014 than he has at any other time of his presidency, except when he faced reelection in 2012, according to a review of his schedule. He’s left town at least once a week since the State of the Union address.
As the crisis in Ukraine escalated in early March, White House aides turned to a less consequential matter: Should Obama travel to Florida for a planned weekend golf getaway?
Earlier in the presidency, current and former aides said, they probably would have canceled the trip. Obama, and his image protectors, had always been mindful about doing anything that could be turned into a Republican attack line.
This time, Obama saw no need to stay back in Washington, in part because the situation in Ukraine had cooled by that Friday. He told an aide that he’d be making the same calls to foreign leaders whether he was in the Situation Room or sunny Key Largo.
At a leisurely dinner with friends on that Saturday night, Obama expressed no regrets about the mini-vacation at the lush Ocean Reef Club resort or the publicity surrounding the trip, which reportedly required planes, five helicopters, more than 50 Secret Service agents and airspace restrictions over South Florida. After a difficult few weeks dealing with an international crisis, he relished the break, which included two rounds of golf.
He’s got presidential senioritis.
Impression Two: Susan Rice is a partisan hack masquerading as a policy expert.
The evidence for this reputation goes back a long way. From April 1994:
At an interagency teleconference in late April, Susan Rice, a rising star on the NSC who worked under Richard Clarke, stunned a few of the officials present when she asked, “If we use the word ‘genocide’ and are seen as doing nothing, what will be the effect on the November [congressional] election?” Lieutenant Colonel Tony Marley remembers the incredulity of his colleagues at the State Department. “We could believe that people would wonder that,” he says, “but not that they would actually voice it.” Rice does not recall the incident but concedes, “If I said it, it was completely inappropriate, as well as irrelevant.”
Of course, since then she’s offered the infamous Benghazi lies, but now we’ve gotten a rerun, raising the question of just how frequently and blatantly a national-security official can lie to the American public without career consequence:
“Sergeant [Bowe] Bergdahl wasn’t simply a hostage; he was an American prisoner of war captured on the battlefield,” National Security Advisor Susan Rice insisted on Sunday morning in an appearance on ABC’s This Week. “He served the United States with honor and distinction.”
Adding cryptically that there will be time to “learn what has transpired in the past years,” Rice went on to inform the public how they should feel about Bergdahl’s release. “[T]his is such a joyous day,” she swore.
Well, 48 hours after that appearance, it seems the public is not taking Rice’s advice. As more details of Bergdahl’s service emerge, none of which looks especially exemplary, some have begun to ask if Rice had again disseminated misleading information on the Sunday morning talk shows.
On Tuesday, no less a figure than Ret. U.S. Army Gen. Barry McCaffrey definitively asserted that she had.
“I think what bothers people is having our commander-in-chief on television putting a glow of euphoria around this guy,” McCaffrey began, summarizing what he thought was fueling the backlash against this prisoner swap. “And then followed on with Dr. Susan Rice, who’s such a brilliant person, calling him having him served with honor and distinction when they knew full well this wasn’t the case.”
Impression Three: Leon Panetta was a tired old Washington hand, probably too old to be much more than a placeholder at the CIA.
Mea culpa, Mr. Panetta. From the perspective of us on the Right, Panetta may have been the best choice Obama has made so far. We now know he opposed trading any captured Taliban for Bergdahl. You may recall that when he was CIA director, he pushed back hard against Nancy Pelosi’s convenient claim that “the CIA lies to us all the time.” Despite some doubts at the start, Panetta proved to be a pretty solid director at Langley, having a big hand in the bin Laden raid. Later, as secretary of defense, Panetta asked other Obama administration officials why they were picking a fight with Catholic bishops over contraceptive coverage. Most recently, he supported the creation of a select committee to investigate the Benghazi attacks, saying, “I hope Democrats participate, and it really is a legitimate effort.”
I’m sure conservatives can find Panetta decisions they disagree with, but let’s face it: In a national-security team that included or includes the likes of Susan Rice, Hillary Clinton, John Kerry, and Tommy Vietor, he looks like George S. Patton.