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June 2012
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DEBACLE Obama prisoner swap just plain incompetent

President Barack Obama's incompetence in foreign policy was well established even before last week's bizarre decision to swap five top-level Taliban detainees for an American soldier suspected of being a deserter.

There is the Iran debacle. The easing of sanctions has led nowhere in terms of a promised agreement to halt Iran's march to becoming a nuclear power. Meanwhile the government's own figures show that Iran and its trading partners, most notably China, are cheating in a big way on the relaxed oil export restrictions Iran received in return for agreeing to "talk" about its nuclear ambitions.

Then there is Syria, where Obama's "red line" on the use a chemical weapons by the Assad regime turned out to be yellow (which in turn emboldened Russia's Vladimir Putin to invade Ukraine and annex Crimea).

What's remarkable about last week's prisoner swap is not just that it was inept from a foreign policy perspective, but that it was also so inept politically. Even pundits on the left are calling it a disaster.

The controversy involves the swap of five Taliban leaders who collectively are thought to have thousands of deaths on their hands for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, whom Obama held out as the last American prisoner in the war in Afghanistan. Obama announced the trade in a Saturday Rose Garden event that featured Berghdahl's naturally grateful parents.

It was clearly a political exercise. Obama is known to have told colleagues months ago that he would like to bring home the "last American prisoner" during the fall election cycle, perhaps hoping to embellish his party's credentials with the many people who polls show want an end to U.S. involvement in Afghanistan.

But the wheels pretty quickly came off. Berghdahl's father ended the Rose Garden press conference with an Islamic exhortation and it was soon discovered that he has been an active advocate for release of all Guantanamo detainees for some time.

Meanwhile a 2010 Pentagon investigation surfaced that found a disillusioned Sgt. Bergdahl intentionally walked away from his unit when he fell into the hands of the Taliban. Members of his platoon came forward on national TV and asserted he is a deserter who expressed anti-American sentiments and deserves to be court-martialed.

Meanwhile the Taliban detainees who were released in exchange for Bergdahl were termed "the hardest of the hard-core" by Republican Sen. John McCain. Two of the detainees were wanted on international warrants for crimes against humanity (which begs the question: So why didn't we turn them over for prosecution?).

And the swap was done in clear violation of a law that requires the President to give Congress 30 days notice before releasing any Guantanamo detainee. But again, it is well established that the president has little respect for laws he finds inconvenient, not to mention the separation of powers.

This time however, Obama's actions are likely to prove a bigger problem than the previous lawless episodes related to Obamacare implementation and other "executive actions." It appears that in its efforts to make a well-timed political statement the administration committed a rather stunning failure to vet the backgrounds of Bergdahl and his father.

This now looks for all the world like a case of swapping five war criminals who are certain to return to the battlefield to fight Americans for an anti-American soldier who deserted. Certainly it's not going to win any votes for Democrats in the fall, which is why some of them are running away from the president as fast as they can on this one.

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