June 1st, 2014
04:27 PM ET
9 years ago

Political Chatter: The politics of Bergdahl's release

The release of U.S. Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, who was detained by the Taliban for nearly five years, included a heavy dose of partisan politics Sunday morning, less than 24 hours after he was securely in American hands.

National Security Adviser Susan Rice was once again in the line of fire on the political talk shows, just as she was after the deadly attack in Benghazi, Libya, in 2012.

Bergdahl’s release has ignited the debate over negotiating with groups the United States has determined to be terrorists.

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We’ll get you up to speed on the latest in Washington with this comprehensive roundup of all things political:

Bergdahl’s release: Rice appeared on two Sunday talk shows and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel on one to discuss Bergdahl’s release and respond to critics. Their comments were similar on each show, indicating they were well-prepared and anticipating push back.

Critics, including Rep. Mike Rogers, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said that President Barack Obama set a “troublesome” precedent that will have “huge consequences” by negotiating with terrorists.

“If you negotiate here, you've sent a message to every al Qaeda group in the world that says ... there is some value now in that hostage in a way they didn't have before,” Rogers said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

But Rice defended the decision, saying the U.S. has “a sacred obligation” to bring back Americans taken into captivity.

The United States “doesn’t leave a man or woman on the battlefield,” she said on “State of the Union.”

“Sgt. Bergdahl wasn't simply a hostage, he was an American prisoner of war, captured on the battlefield,” Rice insisted on ABC’s “This Week.”

Bowe Bergdahl's parents: 'It isn't over'

Hagel, on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” said the same thing: “This was a prisoner exchange after five years he'd been a prisoner of war.”

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, said on “This Week” that with the transfer, “every other terrorist has an incentive to capture more soldiers.”

Instead of negotiations, Cruz said the U.S. could have used military force.

Rice didn’t address whether military force had been an option to capture Bergdahl but said, “If for some reason we took a position now in the 21st century when some of our adversaries may not be traditional state actors that we would not do our utmost to bring our prisoners of war home, that would break faith with the American people and with the men and women who serve in uniform.”

The administration received the support of at least one veterans group on Sunday.

Paul Rieckhoff, head of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, said on “Meet the Press” that Bergdahl’s release is “an important message that's been sent to our forces - that we will always come for you.”

Rice also said on CNN that negotiations did not take place with the Taliban but with the government of Qatar, something echoed by Hagel.

“The transaction really was done by the Qatar government,” he said without noting they were the intermediaries with the Taliban.

On CBS News’ “Face the Nation,” Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, said his biggest concern was the release of five detainees from Guantanamo Bay detention center in exchange for Bergdahl. “It is disturbing that these individuals would have the ability to re-enter the fight,” he said.

Guantanamo detainees swapped for Bergdahl

Rice said on CNN that “these prisoners will be carefully watched, that their ability to move will be constrained.”

She expanded on ABC, saying the U.S. has been given “assurances” that the released detainees “in all likelihood will not pose a significant risk to the United States.”

Hagel on “Meet the Press”: “I will not sign off on any detainee coming out of Guantanamo unless I am assured, unless our government assured, our country can be assured that we can sufficiently mitigate any risk to American security.

The administration has also been slammed by members of Congress for not notifying them before Bergdahl’s transfer.

Political divide: 'Don't negotiate with terrorists' vs. 'Leave no man behind'

“I just don't understand why you wouldn't engage with people (Congress) who have done this for a long time,” Rogers said.

Hagel said he notified the appropriate members of Congress on Saturday, but he and Rice said they didn’t have time to tell Congress 30 days in advance because of the “acute urgency” of Bergdahl’s “health condition.”

Rice and Hagel were also asked whether the U.S. was going to investigate and potentially impose consequences on Bergdahl for his original disappearance, which includes speculation that he deserted or left his post.

Rice said his five-year detainment was an “extraordinary price” and that they will eventually learn the details of his disappearance.

Hagel said, “This is a guy who probably went through hell for the last five years. And let's focus on getting him well and getting him back with his family.”

The VA scandal: Just two days after the resignation of VA head Eric Shinseki, Rieckhoff with IAVA said Shinseki should have been aware of the problems.

“We've been trying to tell him, there have been congressional testimonies. Me personally, every other veterans group in the country had been trying to warn him, trying to warn the President. The IG report has been supported by dozens of other IG reports, GAO reports - they didn't listen,” he said on “Meet the Press.”

Audit that led to Shinseki's resignation paints scandal in starkest terms

McCain has a suggestion for the next VA head.

“I would ask (Oklahoma Sen.) Tom Coburn, if there [is] anybody in Congress that knows more about health care. Then Tom Coburn should be the next secretary of the Veterans Administration, in my view,” he said on “Face the Nation.” The Republican is retiring from Congress at the end of this year.

It would be a shock if Obama nominated Coburn, who is a big proponent of smaller government and private health care.

Hillary Clinton and Benghazi: Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was a popular topic on the Sunday talk shows as Republicans continue to attack her over Benghazi and with the early release of the Benghazi-focused chapter of her book.

Cruz chided Clinton for being “all politics all the time” and that her Benghazi chapter is “pure political spin.”

Clinton knocks those 'who exploit' Benghazi in memoir chapter

Cruz even dug up the popular mantra - right-wing conspiracy - from President Bill Clinton’s years, which is a tactic Republicans are using to remind people that a potential Hillary Clinton presidency would be a third term for Bill Clinton.

“And she's more focused on blaming the so-called vast right-wing conspiracy than on the terrorists,” he said on “This Week.”

Reince Priebus, head of the Republican National Committee, made similar comments on “Fox News Sunday,” saying she “has been playing politics with this issue from the very beginning” and that her book preview is part of an “organized political defense.”

But Priebus went further than Cruz, saying Benghazi disqualifies her from running for president.

“I think she gets an ‘F’ as Secretary of State. Whether it is Russia, Iran sanctions … and now obviously Benghazi,” he said.

Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri defended Clinton, saying the Republicans are the ones who are playing politics over Benghazi.

“And the interesting thing to me about me the release of the POW, Sgt. Bergdahl, is the Republicans immediately criticizing that. We saved an American and foreign policy gets criticized. We lose American lives on foreign soil, the President gets criticized,” she said. “Are you seeing a theme here? It's politics.”

Cruz went beyond Benghazi in his criticism of Clinton, connecting Clinton with Obama, whose approval ratings of foreign policy was at 38% in an April NBC News poll.
“The Obama-Clinton foreign policy is a disaster,” he said.

2016: Cruz refused to say if he was going to run for president but seemed to make a strong pitch. “What I'm ready to do is to make the case to the American people that the path we're on isn't working,” he said on “This Week.”

Meanwhile, former Virginia Sen. Jim Webb, who retired from the Senate after just one term, left the door wide open for a possible presidential run.

“We're taking this one day at a time. I'm very happy to be back in the discussion,” the former Democratic senator said on “State of the Union.”

soundoff (103 Responses)
  1. Thomas Collins

    My question is where was this "no man left behind" sentiment during Vietnam and Korea? We left many men in these two countries.

    June 2, 2014 09:31 am at 9:31 am |
  2. Jerry

    The law of the land should ALWAYS be followed/obeyed!!! Double punks and losers should NOT be allowed to post their stupid/idiotic/vitriolic comments.

    Oops! Sorry, I forgot CNN will allow any comment that will insult the intelligence/rightfulness of the GOP. But, but, but will readily allow any comment from idiotic morons that will support 0-Bama no matter how stupid/clueless his decisions are; even when HE is braking the law.

    Oh well...

    June 2, 2014 09:32 am at 9:32 am |
  3. Gurgyl

    Lies are GOP era, be glad, he is out. Killed Bin Laden. Republicans are big Taliban.

    June 2, 2014 09:43 am at 9:43 am |
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