June 1st, 2014
04:27 PM ET
7 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. rs

    There should be no "POLITICS" around the release of an American POW. Only punks and losers (like the GOP) will try to capitalize on this.

    June 1, 2014 04:31 pm at 4:31 pm |
  2. as30

    RS:

    It's ironic that in one line you say there should be no politics with this issue and hurl a dirty political insult. At least you broke this nonsense up into to sentences. You feel proud of yourself??

    June 1, 2014 05:08 pm at 5:08 pm |
  3. Richard Right

    We do not know the truth. Did Bergdahl stupidly leave base seeking alcohol, was he deserting, or is there another truth. I know for a fact the 5 released will seek the opportunity to kill Americans and I'm sure some will be successful.

    June 1, 2014 05:08 pm at 5:08 pm |
  4. Marva

    I applaud the POTUS for accomplishing the release of this POW! I don't care that 5 Gitmo detainees were exchanged – they had been held at Gitmo long enough. They couldn't possibly have any CURRENT actionable intelligence to disclose. Their only value to the U.S. was in securing the release of an American POW. What is astonishing, though, is Republicans never criticized Reagan when he negotiated with Iranian militants for the release of Americans at the Embassy in Iran! He wasn't even POTUS when the deal was being struck! He was a presidential candidate ... did he notify Congress of the negotiations? If so, did Congress notify President Carter that it was negotiating with the militants? I will advocate for diplomacy (and results) over "use of military force" every time! How many American soldiers may have died trying to effect the release of this one POW? And, had President Obama notified Congress, you can bet the details of the negotiation would have been leaked to the media!

    June 1, 2014 05:18 pm at 5:18 pm |
  5. Marie MD

    McCain, more than any teaklan/repug, should understand. Then again, he's still and will always be a sore loser.

    June 1, 2014 05:21 pm at 5:21 pm |
  6. Tom l

    rs,

    I'm surprised you're not saying either you're with us or you're with the terrorists is you don't agree exactly with the president's decision and follow it up with you're unpatriotic. You sound no different from George Bush. Congrats.

    June 1, 2014 05:29 pm at 5:29 pm |
  7. sammy750

    There is NO reason to discuss this with Congress, They are on vacation 2/3 of the year. They have no interest in the operation of this nation. Boehner has accomplished nothing in the House still he become Speaker in 2010. Obama needs to ignore the HOUSE completely and let them remain on vacation and collect paychecks for doing nothing.

    June 1, 2014 05:30 pm at 5:30 pm |
  8. Amazing

    I can only seconded RS' comment. The GOP shows how low they will go to win at politics since they have no real ideas.

    June 1, 2014 05:34 pm at 5:34 pm |
  9. GODZILLA1

    Oh Republicans, why do you care so little about our soldiers?

    June 1, 2014 05:34 pm at 5:34 pm |
  10. Spgfld Tom

    Did Susan Rice get her information from a YouTube video? For the record, Sgt. Bergdahl walked away from his base (a deserter.....probably) and people died trying to find him. "We had to act fast"....is 5 years considered fast in Obamaland? Anything to get the VA scandal off the news, huh, Mr. President?

    June 1, 2014 05:44 pm at 5:44 pm |
  11. Tampa Tim

    Congress is riding high off their recent increase from 6% to 9% of people who think they are doing an excellent job. But, don't get too excited GOBaggers, they are still polling less favorable than horse manure.

    June 1, 2014 05:46 pm at 5:46 pm |
  12. R F

    If McCain was president he would blowup the world...republicans are worried that the detainees should not have been exchanged for Berghadi because they may come back one day and attack the US? Really? This kid was sick and terrified for 5 years .. He's a hero and he's home .. Let the terrorists go back to their jungle! We brought home an American home to his family !

    June 1, 2014 05:52 pm at 5:52 pm |
  13. brownbuttonglutton

    We negotiated with terrorists to free a deserter.

    June 1, 2014 05:58 pm at 5:58 pm |
  14. davecu

    Sure am glad we don't negotiate with terrorists, unless, of course, it's politically beneficial.
    Principles are non-negotiable. Politics are.
    Barry can negotiate with the taliban but the with the republicans so that it serves America's purposes.

    What are the consequences of these 5 mutts being free a year from now?

    June 1, 2014 06:12 pm at 6:12 pm |
  15. Thomas

    Close Guantanamo_Bay_detention_camp !

    It's time

    June 1, 2014 06:21 pm at 6:21 pm |
  16. DRAKE MALLARD

    the Reagan administration’s talks with Iran aimed at winning the release of U.S. hostages held in Lebanon. in the Iran case, the United States was negotiating with a sovereign government. So it was OK.

    How about in 2007, when the U.S. negotiated with Sunni insurgent leaders in Iraq to get them to stop bombing U.S. troops and join the fight against al-Qaeda in Iraq? We bribed them. We paid them off. And if you Google the statements of various U.S. officials back in 2005-2006, they were insulted when the U.S. media referred to the Sunnis as insurgents. No, those officials insisted, they’re terrorists!

    What about the Taliban in Afghanistan? We have negotiated in the past with them, and we will do it in the future. We will do it whether a Republican or a Democrat occupies the White House. Why? Because once you acknowledge (as we have) that you cannot win a war militarily, there are only two other ways to end it: surrender or negotiate with your enemy. The United States might be capable of winning the war in Afghanistan militarily, but the sacrifice and cost in civilian lives would be too unpalatable to contemplate. This was the conclusion reached by civilian and military leaders years ago.

    June 1, 2014 06:22 pm at 6:22 pm |
  17. JustPlainJoe

    My dear rs, not only are there many layers of complexity in this story but to attempt to close the conversation down with terms like "losers" and "punks" furthers the divide of reasonable people. This is a difficult situation. We love hearing of one of our own returning home. It is most gratifying. But the price of dealing with the irrational individuals who wish you dead, needs to also be considered. There are 5 individuals who have a strong vested interest in American deaths now released into the world. This is worthy of discussion despite your comments. The world is a complex place. We need to deal with it.

    June 1, 2014 06:29 pm at 6:29 pm |
  18. Alok Mathur

    Guanatanomo Bay is going to be closed, anyway. If I recall correctly, it will close within a year and all those prisoners will eventually be released to their countries of origin. In this case, the 5 prisoners will be released to the Government of Qatar with certain restrictions on their freedom. So, getting one of our troops back in exchange for prisoners at that facility sounds like a pretty good deal to me.

    But, the GOP is going to go to great lengths to paint this as a colossal booboo by the Obama administration. A little bit like their failed attacks on Obamacare, renewable energy, and a host of issues where the GOP continues to be at odds with the public at large.

    The GOP needs to come up with some solutions that make sense for the country. Attacks on the administration can only go so far. Folks are not stupid.

    June 1, 2014 06:30 pm at 6:30 pm |
  19. NS

    @rs
    Exactly! Can't we just be freaking happy that he is home?

    June 1, 2014 06:32 pm at 6:32 pm |
  20. Dave

    Republicans have politicized everything way too often. They are finished in the next two elections.

    June 1, 2014 06:35 pm at 6:35 pm |
  21. NamePatricia Robinson

    I think a President who negotiates with terrorist should not be President. It is a sad day for America now they will think we will do it all the time.

    June 1, 2014 06:43 pm at 6:43 pm |
  22. king

    The repubs claimed that Obama is setting a precident on negotiating with terrorist, are you flipping kidding me. Wasn't it their master Reagan that gave iran weapons for some prisoners. Lesson folks if we are not willing to negotiate with folks. Well we leave our country and those who fight for it in a lot of doo doo. Unless we are willing to turn back to our barbarian ancestors and start wiping out villages and countries, because we are the strongest and baddest, and we dont want to hear what you have to say. And dats that.

    June 1, 2014 07:06 pm at 7:06 pm |
  23. American Worker

    Liars accepting assurances from Liars.

    June 1, 2014 07:08 pm at 7:08 pm |
  24. WSM

    This trade / negotiation with terrorists is not sitting well with me – nor should it.

    1) This young man was a deserter and walked off his post. Desertion in the military is serious and the deserter can be punished severely. He got two brave young soldiers KILLED going out and searching for him. Why should this soldier be celebrated like a hero?

    2) In return for this deserter (Bergdahl), the Taliban got five soldiers of their own back. Oops, except they weren't merely "soldiers", they are:
    Mullah Mohammad Fazl (Taliban army chief of staff)
    Mullah Norullah Noori (senior Taliban military commander)
    Abdul Haq Wasiq (Taliban deputy minister of intelligence)
    Khairullah Khairkhwa (Taliban governor of the Herat province and former interior minister)
    Mohammed Nabi (senior Taliban figure and security official)

    These guys were major players in allying with al Qaeda even before 9/11.

    3) Obama has set a dangerous precedent in negotiating with terrorists. Now that this "transaction" has happened, terrorists everywhere will be emboldened at the prospect of taking American hostages for even more leverage.

    4) Congress is routinely involved with high level negotiations of this magnitude. Obama bypassed them without a word. If one of these five Taliban commanders kills a single American, the blood will be on Obama's hands.

    Dangerous stuff, people. There's something really fishy here.

    June 1, 2014 07:09 pm at 7:09 pm |
  25. Joe Voter

    the released detainees “in all likelihood will not pose a significant risk to the United States.”
    Sounds like triple speak to me.

    June 1, 2014 07:10 pm at 7:10 pm |
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