Hillary Clinton Wants It Both Ways on the Bergdahl Trade

Most politicians are trying to get their stories straight on the Bergdahl trade, as far as what they knew, when they knew it and how much they opposed it — but Hillary Clinton might be the only person who flipped in favor of the deal.

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Most politicians are trying to get their talking points straight on the Bowe Bergdahl trade, as far as what they knew, when they knew it, and how much they opposed it — but Hillary Clinton might be the only person who flipped in favor of the deal. On Tuesday morning, the Associated Press reported that Clinton had publicly defended the deal on Monday. By Tuesday evening, The Daily Beast reported that, actually, the former secretary of state hadn't been too keen on the idea in the past. The trade presents a dilemma for politicians — no one wants to be pro-dealing with the Taliban or anti-soldiers coming home. So their statements have awkwardly tried to reconcile those things.

During a speech Monday, Clinton gave a "measured" defense of the exchange, arguing that while there are concerns about what will happen to the five released Taliban members, but "on the other hand you also don't want an American citizen, if you can avoid it, especially a solider, to die in captivity." But former administration officials told The Daily Beast that in 2011 and 2012, "she was very skeptical of the arrangement, she was very wary of it."

Clinton wouldn't be first person to change her tune on the deal, though most politicians are now trying to distance themselves from their support of such a trade. To be fair, there's a difference between supporting the terms of the deal and supporting Bergdahl's return, but these are some of starkest examples:

  • Sen. Jim Inhofe, the chairman of the Armed Services Committee, said in 2013, "It's important that we make every effort to bring this captured Soldier home to his family." This week he told Fox News that "it wouldn't make any difference who Bergdahl was. You don't swap out and turn back to the fight people who have killed Americans." 
  • Sen. John McCain called a possible trade "bizarre" in 2012, but in February of this year said he'd be "inclined to support such a thing, depending on a lot of details." Once the deal was announced, McCain said it was "disturbing" that the prisoners could return to the field, and "a mistake ... putting the lives of American servicemen and women at risk."
  • Sen. Claire McCaskill went from "I'm very proud that we have no POWs left in Afghanistan and the president should be proud of it also," to "I'm not going to comment until I look at the brief," in the space of two days, according to The Weekly Standard.

The main difference is that Clinton, as secretary of state, actually knew the specifics of the talks. Under the deal Clinton favored, three of the Taliban members would have been released, then the Obama administration would have waited 60 days to see how things went before trading the other two for Bergdahl. The deal would have also called on the Qatari government to do more to ensure the former prisoners were under some sort of house arrest. The Washington Post reiterated that Clinton was privately against the deal at the time. A spokesperson for James Clapper, the Director of National Intelligence then and now, said that though he too had reservations about the deal, circumstances regarding Bergdahl's health, Qatar's cooperation and the American troops drawdown had changed. And for Clinton, of course, the 2016 election is one more changed circumstance.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.