Pragmatism, Obama and the Bergdahl Swap

article-2646603-1E5E6F6F00000578-125_638x406Originally published by the Jerusalem Post

US President Barack Obama is an artist of political propaganda. Both his greatest admirers and his most vociferous opponents agree that his ability to manipulate public opinion has no peer in American politics today.

So how can we explain the fiasco that is his decision not only to swap five senior Taliban terror masters for US Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, but to take ownership over the decision by presenting it to the American people in a ceremony with Bergdahl’s parents at the White House Rose Garden? Clearly Obama overreached. He misread the public’s disposition.

This much is made clear by the immediate criticism his actions received from the liberal media. It wasn’t just Fox News and National Review that said Obama broke the law when he failed to notify Congress of the swap 30 days prior to its implementation.

It was CNN and NBC News.

MSNBC commentators criticized the swap. And CNN interviewed Bergdahl’s platoon mates who to a man accused him of desertion, with many alleging as well that he collaborated with the enemy. It was CNN that gave the names of the six American soldiers who died trying to rescue Bergdahl from the Taliban.

What was it about the Bergdahl trade tipped the scales? Why is this decision different from Obama’s other foreign policy decisions? For instance, why is the public outraged now when it wasn’t outraged in the aftermath of the jihadist assault on US installations in Benghazi on September 11, 2012, in which US Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans were murdered? Politically, Obama emerged unscathed from failures in every area he has engaged. From Iraq to Iran to Syria to Libya to Russia and beyond, he has never experienced the sort of across the board condemnation he is now suffering. His political allies and media supporters always rallied to his side. They always explained away his failures.

So what explains the outcry? Why are people like Senator Dianne Feinstein, who have been supportive of Obama’s nuclear appeasement of Iran, up in arms over the Bergdahl swap? There are three aspects of the Bergdahl deal that distinguish it from the rest of Obama’s foreign policy blunders.

First, the Bergdahl deal was conducted in an unlawful manner and the White House readily acknowledged that it knowingly broke the law by not informing Congress 30 days in advance of the swap. This brazen lawbreaking angered Obama’s loyal allies in Congress who, like Feinstein, were insulted by his behavior.

Second, Obama initiated the story and made himself the sole owner of the swap.

Obama didn’t have to make the Bargdahl swap a story about his foreign policy. He chose to. As commentators have argued, if Obama had simply ordered the Defense Department to issue a press release announcing the swap the story probably wouldn’t have caused more than the normal amount of controversy.

And whereas Benghazi was a story about jihadists attacking, and Obama was pilloried – and defended – for his response to an act of aggression initiated by US enemies, Obama presented the Bergdahl swap as his brainchild. So it is impossible to blame anyone else for this move, or wish it away.

As the administration saw it, the public would rally around the leader over this feel-good story.

Obama obviously believed that the Bergdahl trade would help him to surmount his opponents’ criticism over the Veterans’ Administration scandal and other issues.

And this is where his failure to understand the disposition of the American people comes into play.

The third aspect of the swap that distinguishes it from his other foreign policy failures is that by organizing the ceremony at the Rose Garden, and making it a story about himself, Obama denied his supporters the tools they have used in every other instance to explain away his failures and justify his counterproductive decisions.

Obama sailed into office by presenting himself as a non-ideological pragmatist. Obama recognized that the public was tired of foreign policies based on ideology. George W. Bush lost public support for the war in Iraq, and for his foreign policy goal of bringing freedom to the Islamic world more generally, when his ideologically charged rhetoric of American exceptionalism stopped matching the situation on the ground.

A year after Bush declared an end to major combat operations in Iraq, the sight of US military contractors being lynched in Fallujah soured the public on American exceptionalism. In Obama, they hoped that they found the antidote to Bush – a man who promised to replace ideology with hard-nosed pragmatism.

In the event, Obama turned out to be even more driven by ideology than Bush was. Obama is the anti-Bush not because he matches Bush’s ideology with pragmatism. He is the anti-Bush because he matches Bush’s grand foreign policy based on American exceptionalism with his own grand foreign policy based on American moral deficiency.

He made this clear most recently at his commencement address at West Point last month where he stipulated that “American influence is always stronger when we lead by example. We can’t exempt ourselves from the rules that apply to everybody else… .”

As to American exceptionalism, Obama sneered, “What makes us exceptional is not our ability to flout international norms and the rule of law; it is our willingness to affirm them through our actions.”

But while Obama’s critics have pointed out the radicalism at the heart of his foreign policy from the outset of his presidency, his supporters were always able to explain it away.

Obama’s appeasement of the Iranians was pragmatic.

We don’t want a war there, they say.

His support for the Muslim Brotherhood is not radical. It too is pragmatic, they soothe.

And so on and so forth.

As for Benghazi, in the fog of war, the media preferred its commitment to Obama’s reelection over its responsibility to report the truth of what happened.

Obama’s success in getting away with serial foreign policy failures, and his success in hiding the radical ideological basis of his decisions has always owed to his supporters’ ability to plausibly deny both the failures and the ideological motivation for his actions.

His Rose Garden announcement made such spin all but impossible. Americans are not particularly interested in foreign policy. But there are a few things that they won’t buy.

They won’t buy that a man who comes to the White House sporting a Taliban beard and praising Allah in Arabic is a normal American father.

They won’t buy spin that describes a deserter as an exemplary soldier.

They don’t want to free five senior terrorists and mass murderers in order to buy Bergdahl’s release.

In believing that the public would side with him and Bergdahl and Bergdahl’s dad against critics of the deal, Obama showed that for all his propaganda prowess, he doesn’t understand the public.

The public didn’t oppose the war in Iraq because they thought the US is morally deficient. They opposed the war in Iraq because Bush wasn’t winning it. And the public believed that Bush’s push for the abstract goal of democracy lay at the heart of the failure on the ground.

For nearly six years, Obama and his supporters have managed to fend off allegations that his foreign policy is even more ideological – and far more radical – than Bush’s by channeling the public’s aversion to pie-in-the-sky rhetoric and obfuscating facts. But the Bergdahl announcement at the Rose Garden ended all of that.

The reason Obama is being denounced for the Bergdahl swap is because he orchestrated a radical spectacle. Try as he may to castigate critics of the deal as partisan and cynical, Obama cannot pretend away the fact that the ceremony he arranged and oversaw was an open celebration of an American defeat, by the US president and the unsympathetic parents of an accused deserter.

And worse still for Obama’s protestations of pragmatism, his decision to take sole ownership of the swap revealed his ideological myopia. Only someone blinded by a worldview in which America is morally deficient could have thought that Americans would join him and the Bergdahls in celebrating an American defeat.

And now everyone knows what makes him tick.

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  • Michael Garfinkel

    Caroline Glick is entirely correct.
    Here are some comments from the day of that awful Rose Garden Ceremony; I think they were in keeping with this article.

    Susan Rice (of Benghazi infamy): ““He (Bergdahl) is going to be safely reunited with his family. “He served the United States with honor and distinction.”

    Private Reiben: [shouts at Private Ryan] Hey asshole! Two of our guys died trying to find you all right?

    Private Ryan: Hell, these guys deserve to go home as much as I do. They’ve fought just as hard.

    Captain Miller: Is that what I’m supposed to tell your mother when she gets another folded American flag?

    Private Ryan: You can tell her that when you found me, I was with the only brothers I had left. And that there was no way I was deserting them. I think she’d understand.

    Private Bergdahl: (before he went A.W.O.L., and six American boys died trying to find him).

    “The future is too good to waste on lies…and life is way too short to care for the damnation of others, as well as to spend it helping fools with their ideas that are wrong. I have seen their ideas and I am ashamed to even be american[sic]. The horror of the self-righteous arrogance that they thrive in. It is all revolting.”
    “The system is wrong, the US army is the biggest joke the world has to laugh at. It is the army of liars, backstabbers, fools, and bullies. The few good [sergeants] are getting out as soon as they can, and they are telling us privates to do the same.”

    “I am sorry for everything here,” “These people need help, yet what they get is the most conceited country in the world telling them that they are nothing and that they are stupid, that they have no idea how to live. … We don’t even care when we hear each other talk about running their children down in the dirt streets with our armored trucks… We make fun of them in front of their faces, and laugh at them for not understanding we are insulting them.”

    …the horror that is america is disgusting.”

    Do Susan RIce and Barack Obama understand what constitutes “honor and distinction?”
    If so, then this is more of their customary dishonesty.

    Or, as is also likely, is Private Bergdahl their idea of Private Ryan?

    Is Private Bergdahl the Private Ryan of their “transformed” America?


  • John E Coleman

    America has Not and Never will Fail !
    Obama has failed at every decision he has made
    and after the outburst ! It is swept away with another
    Stick up our Rear End

  • Damaris Tighe

    Agree with everything that has been said about the Bergdahl swap (assuming he is indeed a deserter) but as a Brit I have a question: is Bergdahl Senior’s beard really a Taliban beard or is it a biker beard? – I’ve read that the biker community gave a lot of support to the family. Or maybe it’s a backwoodsman beard. His wife certainly doesn’t dress like a Taliban wife. Just asking …

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      • BEN JABO

        Go peddle your crap elsewhere, it’s beyond boring

      • Habbgun

        That’s nothing. My illiterate cousin in Afghanistan just got a big reward from 5 released Gitmo prisoners and all he had to start with was a deserter.

        • J.B.


    • sendtheclunkerbacktochicago

      Ignore the beard but pay close attention to his idiotic Muslim prayer that this Fraud / Muslim in Chief was smiling at. The man also had pro-Jihadis Youtube presentation. He gave his son some very stupid advice when telling him to “follow his conscience.” He should have done that before he joined the military. His decision to desert put many, many soldiers lives at risk in various ways. The man should be pounding rocks in Leavenworth and his Commander in Chief should be bringing him the rocks.

      • phoebeintheforest

        You are absolutely right! I don’t understand why more hasn’t been made of the father’s moronic advice to “follow your conscience”…all in caps and followed by a boatload of exclamation points. Clearly, the Bergdahls are an unusual family. What kind of father would encourage his son to walk away from his unit into the wilderness of Afghanistan? Bergdahl, Sr. & his son are lucky he wasn’t immediately beheaded by the savages! A normal father would have advised his son to honor his commitment and not to do anything stupid.

    • BagLady

      I was of the opinion that the father made a vow not to shave until his son was returned to him. Parent’s do such things at such times, don’t you know.

      • Damaris Tighe

        I heard that a long time ago but no-where seen it mentioned in coverage of the release so wondered whether the same person. There does seem to be a bit of demonisation going on, don’t you know.

      • Webb Cook

        No Baggie, it’s a full-blown Tallie-ban shaggy. Such is life in a small village.

  • Jobethian

    There was NO prisoner swap. The White House had ALREADY released the 5 Gitmo terrorists. According to their long-thought-out plan, they attempted to secure the release of Bergdahl in order to be able to CLAIM they had made a swap of POW’s. But White House is now admitting that Gitmo transfer happened first. They couldn’t notify Congress until they got Bergdahl, Did the White House illegally pay ransom demand for Bergdahl’s release?

    Follow the timeline. Follow the money. Two different groups (Haqqani Network is NOT Taliban), two different agendas (Haqqani only wanted money, not Taliban prisoners), two different crimes (Congress required 30 days notice and consent).

    There was NO prisoner swap.

    • Myrtle

      I agree, America has been duped again by the Kenyan CHRIST hating, Muslim

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  • Danny

    When I went to teachers college (a place drowning in a sea of Leftism), we were told as a given that any opposition to Obama whatsoever was an expression of racism. In other words, these morons at teachers college actually believed that anything Obama wanted (Obamacare for instance) would not have been opposed had a White Democratic President advocated for it. You have to be an idiot to believe that, and everybody believed it (with the exception of a few of us). Some of the media, like MSNBC took the same position. So if Caroline Glick says that even Obama’s media supporters have turned against him on this issue, you’ll have to excuse my skepticism. Impeach Obama.

  • BagLady

    They don’t want to free five senior terrorists and mass murderers in order to buy Bergdahl’s release.”

    You just made that up to give weight to your argument. These were low level Taliban leaders who had been shopped by their enemies in return for cash, a popular practise as I’m sure you know.

    They have never been accused of any particular crime..

    Had you every heard of any of these men prior to last week? No, and no-else ever had.

    “… hardcore jihadis responsible for 9/11.” [McCain]

    “…When I saw the names the other day, wasn’t familiar with any of these
    names. So we had more than 12 years if we could have proven that they
    had done something wrong that we could prosecute them for I’m confident
    we would have done it, and we didn’t.” [Air Force Col Morris Davis – chief military prosecutor, Gitmo, ret’d]

    • Norbert Haag

      can you tell me the names of taliban leaders you are familiar with?

      Quite frankly I doubt it. Your whole argument is lacking any substance.

      • BagLady

        No, I cannot name a single Taliban leader, but then I wasn’t the Chief Prosecutor for 10 years at Guantanamo whilst these so called “mass murderer” were incarcerated and, presumably, investigated to no avail.

        I am not arguing substantially or otherwise. I am quoting someone who must surely know a great deal more on the subject than you and I.

        If it doesn’t meet with your own ‘truth’ then tough.

        • Norbert Haag

          There is no own truth, truth is based on facts. there only is truth. Those who speak of own truth are spinning.

          After that answer your argument became even weaker.

    • Webb Cook

      They should’ve been killed 12 years ago and then we never would’ve heard of them. Before a convicted murder is executed, you liberals whine over him every day, but the instant he’s sent to Hell, you never say another word about him. Why is that?

    • nightspore

      Low level? Not according to Allan West:

      The five released were senior Taliban officials, basically members of Mullah Omar’s inner circle.

      And here’s what the NYT had to say

      The five Taliban detainees at Guantánamo, including two senior militant commanders said to be linked to operations that killed American and allied troops as well as implicated in murdering thousands of Shiites in Afghanistan …

      Once again, you demonstrate that you’re just here to post dissembling messages, to muddy the waters if you can. (“BagLady” is obviously a front.) But what’s the point – when your little tricks are so obvious?

  • Myrtle

    just a note about this site, I really do appreciate the privledge that I gives us to vent, I do thank you, but still, it would be so nice to come here and see some good healthy American pics, heroes to say, instead of naked bimbos

    • Webb Cook

      Where are all these naked bimbos?

  • Habbgun

    The reason Obama is having a problem is that he got upstaged by Bergdahl’s father. With the beard and the ponytail he hit all the leftist dog whistles and Obama looked like the boring corporate square. Sure Obama is taking flak but a leftist can say they are outraged at the swap but they’ll be against it before they are for it or however that works. And if they are for it they’ll be for the Bergdahls and against Obama.

    Barack got out-hippied. He’s so five minutes ago.

  • LoJoFo

    Caroline, it’s not that Obama is such an “artist of political propaganda.” It’s that the populace are so godless and thus, so lost.

  • David Landau

    The key point of this piece is Obama’s “own grand foreign policy based on American moral deficiency.” This of course leads Obama to side with America’s enemies. Another piece recently published here, about Obama’s Guatemala policy revealing him as a leftist radical, coincides nicely with Ms. Glick’s analysis.

  • Ellman48

    “It was CNN that gave the names of the six American soldiers who died trying to rescue Bergdahl from the Taliban.”

    I would replace the word “rescue” with “capture” in the above statement. It was the Taliban that “rescued” him from his platoon and the America that he found “disgusting”.

  • Ellman48

    “His political allies and media supporters always rallied to his side. They always explained away his failures.”

    They did more than that. They portrayed failures as successes, bad news as good news, incompetence as brilliance, stupidity as wisdom, misery as joy, etc. For them everything Obama touches turns to gold. He is the closest thing to a man-god than we’ve ever had on Earth before. Maybe we should make him King or Czar?

    I envision him as Xerxes descending a staircase composed of their backs and behinds.

  • Ellman48

    “This brazen lawbreaking angered Obama’s loyal allies in Congress who, like Feinstein, were insulted by his behavior.”

    When are these fools in the Congress going to realize who and what they are dealing with?! It’s like he’s charmed their clothes off their backs but they don’t realize that they are naked!

  • Ellman48

    “Obama cannot pretend away the fact that
    the ceremony he arranged and oversaw was an open celebration of an
    American defeat, by the US president and the unsympathetic parents of an
    accused deserter.”

    In Obama’s world defeat is victory, failure is success, delusion is reality, lies are truth, words are actions, dependence is freedom, etc. His world is very similar to that in Orwell’s “1984”.

  • ApolloSpeaks



    Click for the article.

  • DonaldWo

    Caroline’s last paragraph hit the nail right on the head!