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President Obama under bipartisan attack over Bergdahl exchange

- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 8, 2014

While abroad in Europe last week, President Obama vehemently defended his decision to swap five Taliban guerrillas for Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, but upon returning home to Washington over the weekend, the president may no longer have control over the narrative and likely will face increasingly intense questioning over the deal.

By defiantly stating he won't apologize, Mr. Obama has tied his future to the prisoner exchange, analysts say, which may prove much more difficult to defend back at home than it was thousands of miles away in Europe.

The actions and words of lawmakers frustrated they weren't informed before the exchange took place, as required by law; the Army's investigation into whether Sgt. Bergdahl deserted his unit; and the future actions of the freed Taliban commanders, not explanations or speeches by the president, will determine where the story goes from here, according to some specialists.

"Obama is not master of his fate on the future of the Bergdahl issue," said Gordon Adams, a professor of U.S. foreign policy at American University who oversaw foreign affairs and national security budgets at the Office of Management and Budget in the Clinton White House.

Two days after announcing the agreement to bring Sgt. Bergdahl home, the president left Washington for a nearly weeklong stay in Europe, which included meetings with the new Ukrainian president and ceremonies commemorating the 70th anniversary of D-Day in Normandy.

But his travels also included frequent questions about whether trading Sgt. Bergdahl for five terrorists — men the administration admits could do harm to Americans in the future — was appropriate.

Mr. Obama seemed to accept to the fact that, once he arrived back at the White House, the uproar would only get worse.

"I make absolutely no apologies for making sure that we get back a young man to his parents and that the American people understand that this is somebody's child," the president said during a press conference, but added he is "never surprised by controversies that are whipped up in Washington."

Less than 48 hours after Mr. Obama returned to Washington, lawmakers from his own party continued to raise questions about why the administration chose to keep Congress in the dark, disregarding laws stating they must be informed 30 days prior to any prisoner exchange.

"This whole sort of deal has been one that the administration has kept very close, and in the eyes of many of us, too close," Sen. Dianne Feinstein, California Democrat, said Sunday during an appearance on CBS' "Face the Nation."

While Ms. Feinstein was somewhat reserved in her criticism, Republicans have gone several steps further.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican, said last week some in his party will call for the president's impeachment if he lets more prisoners exit Guantanamo Bay without proper congressional oversight.

The backlash from Congress, coupled with questions about the nature of Sgt. Bergdahl's capture by the Taliban and the future of the released Taliban commanders, could leave the president playing defense.

"Bergdahl, the Republicans, and those five terrorists in Qatar control the future here. If he comes back and the military determines that [Bergdahl] was AWOL, or worse, a deserter, the issue bleeds on for the president. That's because the Republicans will work hard to make the blood flow, as we approach the fall elections," Mr. Adams said.

"If any one of those bad guys gets out of control, escapes, or worse, seeks revenge for Guantanamo, that will hand the message to the Republicans on a silver platter," he said.

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