Republican reversals on securing the release of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl have been jaw-dropping for much of the week. As we discussed yesterday, Republicans were happy about an American POW coming home; then they changed their minds. Republicans endorsed the prisoner swap itself; then they changed their minds. Republicans extended their thoughts and prayers to Bergdahl and his family; then they changed their minds. Republicans demanded that the Obama administration had a responsibility to do everything humanly possible to free this POW from his captors; then they changed their minds.
But perhaps no one has been quite as brazen in the flip-flop department as Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who’s still treated as a credible figure on matters related to foreign policy and the military, despite his poor track record. The Arizona Republican expressed public support for the prisoner-swap, then did a 180-degree turn after President Obama pursued the court McCain endorsed.
Apparently, the senator is angry that his shameless flip-flop has been noticed.
“The details are unacceptable and for anyone to accuse me, therefore, of saying that I’d support any prisoner swap under any circumstances is lying,” he told CNN’s Jake Tapper.“And the details are outrageous. They went to Qatar, where the Taliban has an office, and in a year they are going to be out and the deal is, like any other agreement, as I said, in the details,” McCain said on CNN, explaining his opposition to the swap. “I mean, it’s just totally unacceptable. These people would be back in the fight.”
It’s hard to know if McCain actually believes what he’s saying. Indeed, the senator has never been detail-oriented, so perhaps he doesn’t fully understand the nature of the recent criticism.
But in reality, as the New York Times’ editorial board noted today, McCain “switched positions for maximum political advantage” – as he’s done “so often in the past.”
The lawmaker can throw around words like “lying” if he chooses, but a closer look at the facts lead to only one conclusion.
As far back as 2011, the Obama administration was in talks with the Taliban about securing Bergdahl’s release, in exchange for five specific detainees at the Guantanamo Bay prison, who would then be transferred to Qatar. Members of Congress, including McCain, were aware of these talks and knew exactly which five Taliban prisoners would be included in the prisoner-swap.
In 2012, McCain was asked about this during a national television interview. Though he said he’d need all of the details, the senator said he “would support” the exchange.
And then the Obama administration made the exchange, at which point McCain condemned the exact same policy he’d already endorsed.
Indeed, perhaps unaware his own position, McCain has been quite unconstrained in denouncing the swap he used to support, calling it “outrageous” and “unacceptable.” At a classified briefing yesterday, the senator reportedly “walked out shortly after shouting at an official.”
Tantrums don’t change the facts.
What surprises me is McCain’s willingness to keep digging. His audacious reversal was uncovered on Tuesday, at which point the senator could have laid low so as to not draw attention to his shameless, knee-jerk opposition to an idea he supported. Indeed, I had no intention of returning to the subject, since it was so obvious that the Arizona Republican had contradicted himself.
But McCain can’t seem to help himself. Caught in a shameless reversal, he feels the need to lash out, making matters worse for no reason.