There’s something very odd going on these days at the White House.
How else to explain the Bowe Bergdahl debacle? Team Obama, which games every move it makes to gauge the political leverage gained or lost, must have known the true story about the Army sergeant who his former comrades say was disgruntled with the war and simply walked away.
If the charge of desertion is true, why trade five top-level Taliban terrorists for him? Why would the White House expose itself to such easy criticism? Why would President Obama so clearly violate the law that requires him to notify Congress 30 days before any release of prisoners from Guantanamo Bay?
And why on earth would the president send National Security Adviser Susan Rice, she of the multiple lies on the Benghazi attack that left four Americans dead, to the Sunday talk shows to proclaim that Sgt. Bergdahl had “served the United States with honor and distinction”?
There can be only one answer: Mr. Obama saw more upside than down with the hostage-for-terrorists trade. Aside from changing the subject from the president’s latest scandal — the horrendous treatment of veterans at the nation’s VA hospitals — Mr. Obama must have concluded that the controversial move would, in the end, deliver him political leverage against Republicans, which he sorely needs going into what is expected to be a bloodbath for Democrats on Election Day 2014.
Of course, part of the calculation was that the U.S. media would once again defend Mr. Obama. And while some news outlets have run stories about the puzzling details behind Sgt. Bergdahl’s “capture,” others are adhering to the White House talking points.
On Tuesday, the Washington Post said “the long arc of Bergdahl’s deployment and captivity is being scrutinized in light of the rising, mostly partisan debate.” The White House calculation was no doubt that Republicans would object to the swap, allowing the president to charge that the GOP will “say no” to anything — even the release of an American soldier.
The New York Times on Monday disputed reports that some U.S. soldiers were killed searching for Bergdahl. And ABC News has moved on altogether, opening its Tuesday nightly news with a story about a big hailstorm in Nebraska.
That the White House had gamed out every scenario for the post-release spin was evident Sunday, when Mrs. Rice and other Democrats hewed closely to talking points: That Sgt. Bergdahl was a “prisoner of war,” not a “hostage”; that his “deteriorating health” made the swap so urgent there was simply no time to notify Congress; that questions about the Army sergeant are “not the point,” as Mrs. Rice said, “The point is that he is back.”
What then of congressional objections? Even top Democrats, like Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said she wasn’t notified of the swap. The takeaway: Mr. Obama is more willing to negotiate with the Taliban than Congress.
But the White House conclusion on lawmakers was this: Let ‘em whine. Their approval rating is in single digits, so no one cares what Congress thinks.
Still, there’s this: The White House must have known that first-hand accounts of Sgt. Bergdahl and his disgruntlement with America would eventually make the press. Even though Army colleagues were ordered to sign nondisclosure agreements, Team Obama had to know that if Sgt. Bergdahl suddenly became a “hero,” members of his platoon would be outraged and talk, damn the consequences.
Mr. Obama must have also known that more details would emerge, like the fact that top Pentagon and intelligence community officials had nixed previous deals for the five terrorists, citing top-secret information. Time magazine reported that in the end, the White House and State Department won by arguing that the military should “suck it up and salute.”
So the question that remains is: Could Mr. Obama and his advisers have so miscalculated the swap? Is the terrorist trade just another example of a Year Six president drunk with power, taking advice from a handful of sycophantic yes men on the couches in the Oval Office?
“We are going to learn the facts on what happened here,” State Department spokesperson Marie Harf said Tuesday. “We do not know the fact pattern yet.”
But the White House is delivering its own “fact pattern,” so far being followed by the media. And the Sgt. Bergdahl saga is playing out almost exactly like the aftermath of Benghazi, right down to lies from Mrs. Rice. Mr. Obama and his fellow Democrats are painting Republicans as purely partisan. Soon, the entire mess will be plunged into a “blue ribbon investigation,” allowing administration officials to refuse comment.
Mr. Obama is all about the politics. The White House has done this time after time with scandal after scandal. They know how to play the game. And despite appearances now, this whole saga is going along as planned.
The president may be incompetent, but he’s not stupid. He’s just counting on the American people to be.
• Joseph Curl covered the White House and politics for a decade for The Washington Times. He can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter @josephcurl.