Stillwater News Press

Opinion

June 7, 2014

GEORGE WILL: When a president goes rogue

STILLWATER, Okla. — What Winston Churchill said of Secretary of State John Foster Dulles – that he was a bull who carried his own china shop around with him – is true of Susan Rice, who is, to be polite, accident prone. When in September 2012 she was deputed to sell to the public the fable that the Benghazi attack was just an unfortunately vigorous movie review – a response to an Internet video – it could have been that she, rather than Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, was given this degrading duty because Rice was merely U.N. ambassador, an ornamental position at an inconsequential institution. Today, however, Rice is Barack Obama's national security adviser, so two conclusions must be drawn.

Perhaps she did not know, in advance of the swap of five terrorists for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, the, shall we say, ambiguities about Bergdahl's departure from his platoon in Afghanistan, and the reportedly deadly consequences of his behavior. If so, then she has pioneered a degree of incompetence exotic even for this 10-thumbed administration.      If, however, she did know, and still allowed Obama to present this as a mellow moment of national satisfaction, she is condign punishment for his choice of such hirelings.

Perhaps this exchange really is, as Obama said in defending it, an excellent thing “regardless of the circumstances, whatever those circumstances may turn out to be.”

Such as the note Bergdahl reportedly left before disappearing, in which he supposedly said he did not approve of the U.S. mission in Afghanistan. And the notably strong and numerous expressions of anger by members of Bergdahl's battalion concerning his comportment and its costs.      

Obama did not comply with the law requiring presidents to notify Congress 30 days before such exchanges.

The 44th president, channeling – not for the first time – the 37th (in his post-impeachment conversation with David Frost), may say: “When the president does it, that means that it is not illegal.” Already the administration says events dictated a speed that precluded complying with the law.

This explanation should be accorded open-minded, but not empty-minded, consideration. It should be considered in light of the fact that as the Veterans Affairs debacle continued, Obama went to Afghanistan to hug some troops, then completed the terrorists-for-Bergdahl transaction. And in light of the fact that Obama waged a seven-month military intervention in Libya's civil war without complying with the law (the War Powers Resolution) that requires presidents to terminate within 60 to 90 days a military action not authorized or subsequently approved by Congress.   

 This episode will be examined by congressional committees, if they can pierce the administration's coming cover-up, which has been foreshadowed by the response to congressional attempts to scrutinize the politicization of the IRS. If the military stalls on turning over files to Congress pertaining to the five years of Bergdahl's absence, we will at least know that there is no national institution remaining to be corrupted.    

Email George Will at georgewill@washpost.com.

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