The right’s latest dirty Bergdahl trick: Pitting Clinton against Obama

Reports that Hillary Clinton favored a tougher deal in 2012 tell us nothing about what she'd have done in 2014

Published June 4, 2014 2:40PM (EDT)

  (Reuters/Carlo Allegri/AP/Photo collage by Salon)
(Reuters/Carlo Allegri/AP/Photo collage by Salon)

I wrote yesterday about why the GOP’s Benghazi fever so easily developed into Bergdahl-zi fever. Both started with B, both led to calls for investigation (and, better yet, impeachment); both let the right play on the scurrilous anti-American, Muslim-sympathizing caricature they’ve created of President Obama. But I did leave out one thing: Both offer an opportunity to either smear likely 2016 Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, by associating her with a risky Obama decision, or to separate her from Obama and split the Democratic party.

Today that last seductive feature of the Bergdahl story is becoming obvious, largely due to a story by the Daily Beast’s Josh Rogin that proclaims: “Hillary Was Skeptical Of Taliban Swap.” Notably, the article features great reporting on Clinton’s concerns about the deal to exchange Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl for five Taliban prisoners.

Great reporting on the deal that was under consideration two years ago, that is.

Clinton “had severe reservations about the potential deal, and demanded stricter conditions for the release of the prisoners than what President Obama settled for last week,” Rogin reports. And while she “had a framework deal drawn up that was much tougher on the Taliban than what ultimately got done two years later… she may not have even signed off had negotiations succeeded.” But they didn’t; the Taliban backed away.

Wingnuts are tweeting the Rogin story at me to “prove” that even Clinton opposes the deal Obama made. The Daily Caller is using it to scream “Hillary Clinton Deserts Obama on Bergdahl-Taliban Trade Despite Personal Involvement.” That’s the Daily Caller, playing both sides of the story, smearing Clinton and Obama at the same time.

But there are many problems with using Clinton’s doubts about a 2012 deal to trash one made in 2014. First of all, the devil is in the proverbial details, and we still don’t know all the details of either negotiation.  Most important, all of the conditions most relevant to the deal – Bergdahl’s health and safety, the Taliban’s political standing, the state of the war in Afghanistan, the regional security situation – have changed in two years. Nobody can reliably say Hillary Clinton would have opposed the 2014 deal just because she was skeptical, or wanted more, in 2012.

They especially can’t say that, because Clinton herself says she supports the deal that was made.  “We do have a tradition and I ascribe to it,” Clinton said. “We try not to leave any of our soldiers on the field. We try to make sure, insofar as possible, you know, we bring them home.” Clinton praised the decision as one of the "Hard Choices" she wrote about in her upcoming book. She went on to acknowledge worries about whether the released prisoners will return to the battlefield. But those are concerns Obama himself acknowledged in his remarks Tuesday.

Rogin gets a little too cute when he claims Clinton hasn’t said whether she supports Obama’s decision. “Clinton gave a vague and noncommittal statement on the prisoner swap, declining to say whether she was for it or against it,” he wrote. But in real time, every major news outlet that covered Clinton’s remarks described them as a "defense" of Obama’s decision. To make them “vague and noncommittal,” Rogin had to truncate her remarks to two sentences. That’s unfair. Even Townhall’s Katie Pavlich described Clinton as defending Obama.

Having said all of this, I’ll admit I’m slightly dismayed by the mixed signals coming from Camp Clinton. At best – assuming she supports the president’s Bergdahl decision – she’s still plagued by supporters who see political gain in undermining Obama. Assuming she’s running for president again, I’d like to see more discipline in the ranks this time around.

And that’s the best-case scenario. The worst is that she is, as some suggest, authorizing these anonymous accounts of her tougher stance in 2012 to at least sow confusion about whether she support’s Obama’s controversial “hard choice.” That would be tragic. If Clinton still thinks her path to the White House involves being more hawkish than Barack Obama, as well as undermining our first black president, she didn’t learn anything from 2008. And she won’t get there this time, either.

I happen to think she’s smarter than that, and gremlins in the media and on the right are sowing this dissent. I hope I’m right.

By Joan Walsh

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

2016 Elections Afghanistan Barack Obama Bowe Bergdahl Hillary Clinton Taliban The Daily Beast U.s. Military