Much has been made of the parents of POW Bowe Bergdahl, who criticized President Obama's efforts to free their son this week and spearheaded their own efforts to release him from his Taliban captors. But what's less publicized is one of the major impediments to their son's release: Senator John McCain.
Breaking a yearlong silence about their son, Bob and Jani Bergdahl spoke with The Idaho Mountain Express' Gregory Foley Wednesday about their son's situation and the Obama administration's foot-dragging. “He has never contacted us,” Jani Bergdahl said of President Obama. “We haven’t gotten a Hallmark card, we haven’t gotten a note signed by an aide, nothing. Is it because he thinks we’re not Democrats?” According to The New York Times' Elisabeth Bumiller and Matthew Rosenberg, the parents are angry with the Obama administration for delaying a prisoner swap with the Taliban because of "pressure from Congress in an election year not to negotiate with terrorists." As we've covered earlier, one of the main opponents to the proposed release plans has been former POW John McCain, who spent 5 years in captivity in North Vietnam.
In January, when a deal was proposed to transfer five Taliban detainees in exchange for a statement against violence from the Taliban, McCain lashed out against the deal calling it "bizarre." In March, Senate Intelligence Committee chairwoman Dianne Feinstein told Foreign Policy's Josh Rogin that a pending deal to release Taliban figures from Guantanamo Bay would involve a swap for a Westerner, though the name of the Westerner was not revealed. Thus far, the deal has been pitched as a confidence-building measure to forge a political settlement with the Taliban. But McCain opposed the idea of swapping the Taliban for a Westerner as a precursor to negotiations. "If it's intended to be a ‘confidence-building measure,' that is an extreme measure," he said. "This whole thing is highly questionable because the Taliban know we are leaving. I know many experts who would say they are rope-a-doping us."
Of course, there's nothing hypocritical about McCain's opposition to the deal. On the contrary, the fact that he was a POW strengthens his case that he sympathizes with the Bergdahls' situation, more than anyone else could, but is also making sure the administration is getting the best possible deal for a potential release. It does raise questions, however, why the Bergdahls are mainly speaking out against the administration, not critics like McCain who have put the breaks on proposed deals.