It’s been a few days since President Obama announced that Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl has been freed from his Taliban captors, which sparked an unexpected partisan fight. As Rachel put it on the show last night, “Before this happened, you would have laughed out of the room a would-be screen writer who tried to sell you a plot about the freeing of an American prisoner of war being treated as bad news in the United States of America. But incredibly, that really is where we are now.”
Paul Waldman made a persuasive case that Republicans condemning the White House might have fared better if they’d stuck to sensible questions.
This illustrates one of their central political problems: even when they have a reasonable complaint about a decision President Obama has made, Republicans are so quick to jump on the train to Crazytown that they undermine their own legitimate arguments – among everyone other than the folks who already agree with them. […][M]any Republicans find themselves unable to make the reasonable case, instead running immediately to unreasonable ones.
There is no scenario in which the release of an American prisoner of war is bad news. None. The very idea is absurd.
That said, if the White House’s over-excited critics wanted to initiate a serious debate about some related aspects of the Bergdahl story, there’s room to do so. Adam Serwer had a terrific piece, for example, questioning whether President Obama and his team sidestepped the letter of the law when it failed to notify Congress 30 days in advance of the transfer plan. Adam’s piece also noted the dubious use of signing statements, which Obama criticized during the Bush/Cheney era, but which this administration nevertheless occasionally relies on.
If GOP officials and their allies focused on these legitimate areas of inquiry, which deserve legitimate responses, they might instigate a real conversation about substantive issues – some of which might put the White House in an awkward position.
But the instinct to start a partisan food fight is apparently too strong, and so we’re stuck with dumb arguments instead of good ones.
* Obama negotiated with terrorists! This is a dumb argument. Not only did Reagan and Bush/Cheney negotiate with terrorists, but we’re winding down a war, and prisoner swaps are a normal part of the process.
* Bergdahl was a deserter! We don’t know the details of Bergdahl’s service, but they aren’t directly relevant to whether the United States unconditionally brings back American prisoners of war or whether the Obama administration followed the proper legal course.
* We freed five of the most dangerous Taliban members in the world! Actually, no, we didn’t. And as a point of fact, holding these prisoners at Guantanamo Bay forever has never really been an option – they were probably set to be released next year anyway.
* Six Americans died trying to find Bergdahl! That’s been reported by some as fact, but the facts are murkier than some news organizations have claimed.
* The freed Guantanamo detainees may return to the battlefield! Bush/Cheney freed several hundred Guantanamo prisoners, and some of them posed national security threats afterwards. When the Republicans complaining this week can document how outraged they were about this, I’ll be glad to take them seriously now. Besides, the five individuals in question aren’t going to Pakistan or Afghanistan; they’re going to Qatar, which will hold them for at least year.
* Bergdahl’s dad has a beard! And Benghazi! And this is all intended to distract from the VA scandal! Impeach! You’ve heard the expression, “You catch more flies with honey”? Well, Republicans would catch more flies with sanity.
GOP officials demanded, repeatedly, that the Obama administration exhaust every option to secure Bergdahl’s release. That’s exactly what the administration did. Now Republicans – including some who had expressed support for the very agreement Obama accepted – seem to be responding to the news by saying, “When we said, ‘Do whatever it takes,’ we didn’t mean this.”
It’s reached the point at which many Republicans who extended their thoughts and prayers upon hearing about Bergdahl’s release are quickly scrubbing the Internet, pretending they never actually extended any well wishes to the American POW and his family at all.
The right had an opportunity to pursue legitimate questions in a responsible way. Regrettably for everyone involved, they chose a more ridiculous path.