Another Round of Dueling Scandals

One tale of Russian intrigue is tough enough to follow, but there are two of them running in the news lately, both quite convoluted, they intertwine in all sorts of hard-to-follow ways. There’s really no one to root for, too, and so far no one seems to know anything for sure. There have lately been plot twists in both tales, and they only make things more confusing.
The first story concerns the Russian government’s alleged attempts to interfere with the American presidential election, and alleged collusion with those efforts by the campaign of President Donald Trump, which if true is undeniably a big deal. All the intelligence agencies have concluded the Russians did meddle in the race, although they wisely decline to say if it any effect on the outcome, even if all the leaks and other efforts alleged did seem aimed against Trump’s challenger, because she was so awful a candidate that no one could say with any certainty, and even committees in the Republican-controlled Congress agree the matter deserves further investigation. There’s less consensus about the allegations of Trump or his associates colluding with the meddling, but there’s ample evidence of business ties between state-controlled Russian interests and several of Trump’s associates, as well as countless contacts with Russian officials that were suspicious enough they were lied about, and a past campaign manager and National Security Advisor have already been defenestrated as a result and the Attorney General has been gladly forced to recuse himself from the whole mess. The latest revelation from The Washington Post is that yet another meeting between Trump’s transition team and Russian officials was arranged by the United Arab Emirates, which might or might not be anything nefarious, but it’s surely further proof that the story isn’t going away any time soon no matter how much Trump and his more stubborn supporters might wish it so.
Meanwhile, though, there’s always the ongoing saga of how President Barack Obama’s administration alleged meddled in the election. That all began one early morning when Trump “tweeted” the allegation that Obama — a “Bad (or Sick)” person — had wire-tapped Trump Tower during the “very sacred election process,” and it’s been mutating into an exponentially endless number of stories ever since. So far there’s absolutely no evidence offered by anyone at all that Obama literally wire-tapped Trump Tower, and the White House spokespeople have gone to great lengths to emphasize that of course Trump did not mean that allegation literally, but there has been reason to believe the more carefully vague claim that there was some sort of shenanigans going on. All the post-election leaks have indeed been damaging to Trump, some have surely violated some classified information law or another, and all have come from the kinds of federal government employees who have access to such information and probably preferred to Obama to Trump. Long before anyone considered the possibility of a Trump administration there were stories about Obama’s administration tapping the phones of Fox News and Associated Press reporters, as well as collecting phone information on just about everybody, which came to light after another leak the Russkies were probably in on, and they were also caught in enough big and small lies that almost anything seems possible, even all those talk-radio and YouTube theories about a “deep state” plot to destroy a populist threat.
The latest twist in this plot is that former Obama administration National Security Advisor Susan Rice has been unmasked as the woman who “unmasked” defenestrated Trump National Security Advisor Michael Flynn and other Trump associates in the widely leaked accounts of wire-tapped conservations with Russian officials. Those Trump associates weren’t being wire-tapped, by all accounts, but the Russians officials they were conserving with were under surveillance, so the wire-tapping was “incidental contact” and thus legal and justified by the most strict Republican standards, but “unmasking” the identity of American citizens overhead in such circumstances requires legal justifications that weren’t met to Republican standards, so it was all the talk on the right-wing redoubts of talk radio and YouTube. It didn’t help that it was Rice, well known for peddling such big Obama-era lies as the Benghazi fiasco being the result of an obscure YouTube video rather than the administration’s utterly incompetent handling of the entire Libyan fiasco, or Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl being a sympathetic hero rather than a deserter the administration traded five high-level terror leaders for, and that she was careful to say that any unmasking was “absolutely not for any political purposes.” At this point we wouldn’t anything past the Obama administration, but by now we know better than to try to prove that any of it was for a political purpose.
We don’t mind the government listening in on Russian officials no matter which party controls the executive branch, and we understand the reasons for classified information and protections, but we also appreciate knowing if someone in the government is involved in any shenanigans no matter which party is currently in power, and at the moment we wouldn’t put anything past anybody, so we’re following both plots through all the obligatory investigations with a desultory interest. We’ll venture no guesses how either story might end, except that as always the Russians don’t turn out to be the good guys and nobody winds up a unblemished hero.

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A Bad Deal Back in the News

The American public’s memory is short, and until Wednesday it had likely forgotten the name of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl.
He was briefly a celebrity last year when he was released from Taliban captivity in exchange for five high-ranking terrorists being held at the Guantanamo Bay in a deal brokered by President Barack Obama, complete with a Rose Garden news conference featuring Bergdahl’s teary-eyed parents and assurances from the White House that the freed prisoner had “served his country with honor and distinction.” There was a brief controversy about it, given that the five high-ranking terrorists were certain to return to their murderous ways, the teary-eyed father’s remarks in English and Arabic and Pashto at the news conference revealed he was a Taliban-sympathizing nut, and the soldiers who served with Bergdahl were telling anyone who would listen that he was a deserter and collaborator, and the Government Accountability determined the president’s deal had violated federal law, but it soon passed.
Until Wednesday, when the Army announced that Bergdahl would be court-martialed on charges of desertion and misbehavior before the enemy. Even Bergdahl’s brief celebrity is enough to interest the media in a trial, so we can expect extended coverage of the evidence brought against him, and one can only hope that it will rekindle some of the public outrage that attended his release. Five high-ranking terrorists were released for him, a trade that looks even worse as the tide of war continues to not recede, Bergdahl’s Taliban-sympathizing nut of a father will likely become an annoying presence on the nation’s newscasts, and the president’s tendency to go beyond the traditional legal restraints on executive power has continued to prove troublesome, so perhaps the outrage will be even greater this time around. Should one of those five released high-ranking terrorists be able to claim credit for notably deadly attack Americans might grow greater yet, although the scant coverage of the terrorism committed by other prisoners released from Guantanamo Bay suggests it will have to be something spectacular.
There’s no getting those terrorists back, and little hope of persuading the current administration to capture and incarcerate any more of them, but the public outrage might do some good. The Bergdahl trade was one of several briefly outraging stories over the past many years that have steadily eroded the president’s support on foreign policy, and the public’s discontent has emboldened members of both in Congress in to resist the president’s effort to negotiate a deal with Iran regarding its nuclear weapons program. So far the administration has declined to offer any details about what they’re offering, asking that the public trust its good intentions and expertise, but it’s hard to trust anyone who would swap five high-ranking terrorists for a deserter to make a deal with the likes of the Iranian government.
Much of the media will be looking for something else to talk about other than nuclear bombs and what might happen if Iran gets some, and the Bergdahl story could prove a distraction, and there will certainly be some stories about the poor young man caught in George W. Bush’s war who reached out to the enemy, but it won’t help with the president’s public relations efforts.

— Bud Norman

A Soldier Comes Home

Only the most hard-hearted won’t be happy that Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl will soon be coming home to his family after five years as a prisoner of Afghanistan’s Taliban, but only the most soft-headed won’t have worries about how it was accomplished. Soft-headedness being so much more prevalent among the American public these days than hard-heartendness, the happiness is bound to play better in the press than the worries.
Bergdahl’s release comes in exchange for the release of five very dangerous men currently being held at the Guantanamo Bay detention facility, an arrangement of dubious legality, and is intended mainly to meet a pre-condition for negotiations with the Taliban that will likely lead to even more worrisome concessions. There are also questions about whether Bergdahl was a prisoner of war or a deserter, and ample reason to believe that he’s not the gung-ho soldier the script requires. None of this should cause any worry to the Obama administration, however, which will likely benefit from the inevitable news footage of the Sergeant and his mother embracing at last.
The emotions of that moment will be prominently displayed on the front page of every newspaper in the country and impossible to dismiss, while the potential carnage and heartbreak made possible by the release of five is less easily grasped and impossible to photograph. The Obama administration has always intended to empty Guantanamo Bay, and the return of lone American prisoner of the Afghanistan War provides an excellent opportunity to reduce its population of detainees by five. With the end of the war already scheduled to coincide with the next presidential election, regardless of conditions on the ground, the heart-touching photographs of a soldier back in his adoring hometown will be useful in the mid-terms. Should any of the released terrorists succeed in their stated goals of mass-murdering Americans, Bergdahl and the conditions of his release will be long forgotten and politely unmentioned by most of the media.
Any questions of legality should also be answered by that front page photo of the mother and child reunion. From Obamacare to the Mexican border to the bureaucrats of the Internal Revenue Service such niceties as the rule of law are routinely flouted, and few will insist on any sort of punctiliousness when the administration can claim with a straight face that after five years they had too short a time to comply with the law and still save Bergdahl’s life. That the law was intended to prevent the release of dangerous terrorists will be little noted for the reasons explained in the previous paragraph.
Nor will most of the public take notice that while the administration is declaring something akin to victory in Afghanistan it is opening negotiations with the enemy by making concessions. At this point the left that opposed the war from the beginning is willing to end it on any terms, the right that supported the effort has long since given hope that the current administration will see it to a successful conclusion, and the vast majority of those in the middle will be satisfied that they don’t have to hear about it anymore. The mother and child reunion will be the happiest memory of the war, and the only one that sticks.
If Bergdahl proves less than the heroic figure required for the role, they can always change the script. A man embittered by the futile war that George W. Bush started but but liberated from its captivity by the noble Obama who ended it will make a suitable narrative, no matter that Obama had also advocated the war and was running it at the time of Bergdahl’s capture. Even the most far-fetched story lines work when the visuals are so strong as a small town and a mother embracing a returning soldier.
Which is not to say that we’re so hard-hearted we won’t be a bit choked up when he’s back on American soil. We’re glad he’s coming home, and would advise any Republicans raising pertinent questions to make clear that they are as well. The cold calculations of war are unappealing, as as anyone who fell for the sappy sentimentalism of “Saving Private Ryan” should realize, and one should always make them with a realization of the humanity at stake, and not be indifferent to the emotion of a mother and child reunion. Still, those worries persist.

— Bud Norman