When a president decides to ignore the advice of military and intelligence professionals and shut out Congress, he can hardly complain when things go very, very wrong. That is essentially what has happened with respect to the Taliban trade debacle.
Before the U.S. transferred five Afghan Taliban detainees to secure the freedom of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, American intelligence officials predicted that two of the men would return to senior positions with the militant group, according to U.S. officials.
The classified assessment, a consensus of spy agencies compiled during the prisoner-swap deliberations, said two others of the five were likely to assume active roles within the Taliban, while only one of the five released detainees was considered likely to end active participation in the group’s effort to undermine the elected government of Afghanistan.
President Obama didn’t listen to the national security officials in his own administration, nor did he let Congress in on the deal. Perhaps he considers their views irrelevant, or maybe he understood that Congress would ask difficult questions and strongly object for precisely the reasons that the intelligence officials did. In any event, the White House might have gotten a better read on how the public would react and therefore decide to ditch the Rose Garden show, which backfired on the administration.
The episode is emblematic of this president. The White House’s insularity and arrogance, coupled with an ideologically-driven determination to end wars even if our enemies won’t end them, have resulted in a string of foreign policy disasters including, as we now see, the near-collapse of Iraq; the Syrian bloodbath; and, we fear, a phony Iran deal that will essentially allow the mullahs to have their nuclear-threshold state.
His motive, many suspect. is to close the detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, by dumping out its detainees, no matter what the risk. (“Some officials also thought the transfer could speed up the stalled effort to eventually close the Guantanamo prison, although angry lawmakers now are proposing even steeper restrictions on the administration’s transfer authority.”) It must nag at the president that he hasn’t been able to close Gitmo, a campaign promise and a point of contention with the George W. Bush administration. But using a prisoner swap and dressing it up as a great accomplishment isn’t going to get Obama what he wants.
When the attitude is “I know best” and “the facts be damned,” the results are bound to be bad. And when the president’s worldview is so skewed, he is likely to make a string of errors that embolden enemies, weakens our stature and freaks out our allies.