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The Man Who Wasn’t There

Jun 9, 2014

Someday someone will write the definitive history of the Obama Administration. It won’t be yours truly, but I have surely got the right title: The Man Who Wasn’t There. It’s catchy and resonates with the famous poem and with a movie starring Billy Bob Thornton. Best of all, it pretty much tells the whole story.

One place the President wasn’t, much of the time, was the President’s Daily Brief. The PDB is where the President is supposed to be briefed on serious threats to national security. George W. Bush rarely missed one. Marc Thiessen reported in 2012 that Obama shows for less than half of his PDBs. His attendance fell even more as the election neared. In the week before terrorists in Benghazi murdered our ambassador, Obama didn’t show for a single one. He skipped another meeting the day after the attack to meet with grieving members of the State Department. He had no time to reschedule, since he had to fly off to a fundraiser in Las Vegas. 

Might things have turned out differently if the President had been properly briefed before the attack? There is no way to be certain, but the British pulled their own ambassador well before the violence in Benghazi. Did the Brits know something we didn’t, or was it just that they were paying attention? We do know that there were warnings of violence for months and that the ambassador himself requested more security. We have been told that Obama didn’t know about these requests. I believe it. 

We have been told that those responsible for the ambassador’s murder will be brought to justice, but if any progress has been made on this front, the Administration is keeping it secret. Days after the attack, CNN reporters entered the compound and found Ambassador Stevens’ diary on the floor. Apparently no official investigators had arrived. Are they there yet? 

What happened in Benghazi is apparently standard procedure for this Administration. The President launched a series of air strikes against the Libyan regime while he was on a “relationship-building trip” to Brazil. What exactly is that? Here’s a hint: it didn’t involve anything as dreary as treaties, agreements or negotiations. It was all about Latin America and Barack Obama loving one another. It may be first war ever started while the President was on spring break. 

He nearly launched a second one for not paying attention when he himself was talking. When you and your subordinates frequently say that the leader of the Syrian regime must go and when you draw red lines about chemical weapons, you may discover that you have accidently actually said something. That, in turn, might obligate you to act. When the President did show up to a meeting, he let the heads in the room talk but didn’t seem to be doing much listening. According to the New York Times, “He often appeared impatient or disengaged while listening to the debate, sometimes scrolling through messages on his BlackBerry or slouching and chewing gum.” So we almost ended up siding the Syrian rebel movement just as Al Qaeda was capturing that movement, because the President was playing Angry Birds. 

Things haven’t gotten any better. A year ago the President announced a new counter terrorism strategy to replace the post 9/11 policies initiated by George W. Bush. But according to the Washington Post, “Much of the agenda he outlined remains unfinished or not even begun.” The President said he was looking forward to engaging Congress on the issue, but even congressional Democrats admit that there has been little follow-through from the Administration. 

No one should be the least bit surprised, then, that this Administration could successfully spring an American soldier from the clutches of the Taliban and do it in such a way as to leave everyone wondering whether the folks in the White House can be trusted to tie their own shoes. Allow me to stipulate that, whatever Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl may or may not be guilty of, bringing him home to be judged here instead of by the Taliban is a worthy objective. Critics of the exchange are right to point out that we say we don’t negotiate with terrorists and nothing demonstrates our resolve on that point like negotiating with terrorists. It also reminds our enemies that we care a lot more about individual human lives than they do and reminds everyone that this is a weakness on our part. We are what we are, however, and the Israelis, who are a lot tougher minded than we are, make the same kind of exchanges. 

So perhaps the President couldn’t help paying such a sordid price for Bergdahl’s release, but he didn’t have to announce it in the Rose Garden. He didn’t have to say that it’s a “pretty sacred” rule that we never leave anyone behind when, if the worst about Bergdahl is true, we used to bring such fellows home and shoot them. The President’s National Security Advisor, Susan Rice, didn’t have to say that Bergdahl “served with honor and distinction,” though telling lies on Sunday morning news shows seems to be her special talent. 

It now seems pretty clear that Sgt. Bergdahl lost his faith in his mission in Afghanistan and expressed that loss of faith by walking away from his fellow soldiers and towards the enemy. Whether he is responsible for the deaths of some of our soldiers or not, he certainly cost our military the time and resources they spent looking for him. It also cost us five captured cutthroats that the Pentagon clearly did not want to see released. Even if this gaggle of foes is no longer useful on the battlefield, Obama has now turned them into Taliban superstars. This is the kind of thing you try to do in the dead of night, not in the Rose Garden. This has to leave a lot of men and women under Obama’s command wondering if their Commander-in-Chief is a tuna fish sandwich. 

Then there is this little matter of the law and the Constitution. Releasing prisoners from Guantanamo Bay without giving Congress 30 days notice violates the law. Does the law not matter to our President or did no one bother to check? Even if he decided he had to act swiftly because Bergdahl was in peril, he could at least have informed the leaders of both houses of Congress. He didn’t, perhaps because he doesn’t trust the Republican leader of the House. This one time teacher of Constitutional Law might have reflected he is not an autocrat and that war powers are shared with Congress. That, however, would have required reflection.

Editor's Note: Ken Blanchard is our political columnist from the right. For a left-wing perspective on politics, please look for columns by Cory Heidelberger every other Wednesday on this site.

Dr. Ken Blanchard is a professor of Political Science at Northern State University and writes for the Aberdeen American News and the blog South Dakota Politics.


01:51 pm - Mon, June 9 2014
larry kurtz said:
Opinions are like recta, Ken: everybody has one.
11:34 am - Tue, June 10 2014
Roger Holtzmann said:
Thanks for the penetrating insight, Larry.

With the benefit of hindsight, it’s always easy to see that an event like Benghazi could have been predicted/avoided. I am more understanding of such a failure than I am of deliberate actions which are undertaken without regard to clearly foreseeable deleterious consequences. (See the Iraq War.) Obama’s statements about red lines and chemical weapons falls into this category. To make such a promise when our military was already stressed, and acting would have likely have drawn in Russia, and possibly Iran, into the conflict was just plain foolish. Not following through was embarrassing and hurt our credibility — the only thing worse would have been actually carrying out air strikes.

As for the Berghdal affair … we had to get him back so long as there was any shred of a possibility he was being held against his will. Was the price too high? Probably, but it was a seller’s market. What can you do? The problem was Obama (vainly) trying to buff up his Commander-in-Chief cred by making a huge show of “leaving no man behind.” There were apparently questions galore about Berghdal’s behavior, so it should have been done quietly.

06:46 pm - Tue, June 10 2014
dave tunge said:
My take on this, and agreement with Ken, is that our Commander-in-Chief is not a commander.......and he is definitely not a leader. He's the man who wasn't there ( because nobody knows where he came from) and he's the man who isn't there ( always politicking across the country or on the golf course). There just isn't a positive thing to say about this man as pertains to the health and well being of our nation. His disrespect for our constitution and the laws of this county are openly apparent.
I can't agree with Roger that we had to get back Berghdal. Sellers market?
Trading 5 Taliban Generals for a deserter and possible traitor makes one ponder why the President would do something so insane. Because he can? Because we have religiously held firm that the US will not negotiate with terrorists? Because he wants to evacuate Gitmo......and this would be a running start?
And now the Rose Garden party morphs into Hagel's potential demise.
It sure looks like Obama is in an "I don't care anymore" mindset and is more concerned with what he will do at the end of his (and ours) two more long years.
07:14 pm - Tue, June 10 2014
larry kurtz said:
Tell it to Dave, Rog.

05:42 am - Wed, June 11 2014
Ed said:
Thanks, Ken for an informative view. Enjoy others thoughts and comments that speak to the column, Sorry larry.
06:36 am - Sun, June 22 2014
larry kurtz said:
South Dakota's earth hater party agrees with Ken: that red state's white people want to impeach a black president as the calls to indict the Bush regime heats up.

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