Thursday, June 05, 2014

John McCain is Obama's Sal Maglie

Back in February, John McCain told Anderson Cooper he would support "some sort of exchange" for Bowe Bendahl -- at a time when it was public knowledge, explained by Cooper on the same show, that the exchange being negotiated was for the five Taliban detainees who later were in fact exchanged.  Now McCain says that the done deal is  "ill-founded," that it is "putting the lives of American servicemen and women at risk," and  that the five traded detainees are "the hardest and toughest of all" and "wanted war criminals."

I am reminded of the sage advice offered by Seattle Pilots pitching coach Sal Maglie in Jim Bouton's 1969 memoir Ball Four:
In the clubhouse meeting yesterday on the Oakland Athletics Sal Maglie said about Reggie Jackson, “Once in a while you can jam him.” I could just see the situation. Reggie Jackson up. Pitcher throws one high and inside, perfect jam pitch. Jackson leans back, swings and puts it into the right-field bleachers. And Sal screams from the bench, “Not now, goddammit, not now!” (Kindle locations 4403-4406).
It's not necessarily inconsistent to have been in favor of negotiating but now to balk at the terms of the actual deal struck. McCain did leave himself some wiggle room in his February exchange with Anderson Cooper: 
COOPER: Would you oppose the idea of some form of negotiations or prisoner exchange? I know back in 2012 you called the idea of even negotiating with the Taliban bizarre, highly questionable.
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: Well, at that time the proposal was that they would release -- Taliban, some of them really hard-core, particularly five really hard-core Taliban leaders, as a confidence- building measure. Now this idea is for an exchange of prisoners for our American fighting man. I would be inclined to support such a thing depending on a lot of the details.
COOPER: Of anybody on Capitol Hill, you know better than anybody what this young man must be going through. Obviously it's a very different time. How do you get through something like this? I mean, for somebody in this situation?
MCCAIN: Well, I was fortunate in where he is not that I had fellow POWs that even though I was a long time in solitary confinement we would tap on the wall to each other and stay in communication. If it wasn't for that, it would have been a very different story for most of us. And this is why I feel especially sympathetic for Mr. Bergdahl because he is all there by himself.
COOPER: So if there was some -- the possibility of some sort of exchange, that's something you would support?
MCCAIN: I would support. Obviously I'd have to know the details, but I would support ways of bringing him home and if exchange was one of them I think that would be something I think we should seriously consider. 
It's not quite true, as Steve Benen wrote of this exchange, that McCain was "asked specifically by CNN’s Anderson Cooper about the prospect of a 5-for-1 prisoner exchange."  But Cooper had referenced that longstanding prospect immediately before bringing McCain on:
The Taliban has long demanded the release of five Taliban prisoners from Guantanamo in exchange for his release. Well, today a U.S. official confirmed that new discussions led by diplomats and the Pentagon are underway.  
And McCain himself referenced the past negotiations over the five without suggesting that in a prospective prisoner swap he'd expect or demand a different price. The wiggle room he left himself also recalls Bouton's wise coach Maglie:
Maglie also said in the meeting that one way to handle Jackson was not to throw him any strikes. So Jackson hit three homers in the game, and after each one someone said, “There’s one of those goddam strikes” (locations 4408-4410).
That pretty much sums up Republican outrage at this point.

Edited 6/6

Update: Washington Post fact checker Glenn Kessler offers deep background on the various iterations of the deal reported since 2011, including a WaPo outline of the deal that came to be published on  Feb. 17, the day before McCain's CNN interview. He demonstrates beyond doubt that McCain knew the basic contours of the pending deal when he spoke to Cooper -- and also indicated approval of the basic swap two months later, in this April 24 AP interview in which he carped only at the logistics:
McCain, who was a prisoner of war in North Vietnam for more than five years, also said Obama administration officials first told Congress that they wanted to release five Taliban detainees at Guantanamo as a confidence-building measure to jump-start talks with the Taliban.

"I said that was insane ... to do that," said McCain, a frequent critic of the Obama administration who believes the government's approach to getting Bergdahl back is in disarray. "Then it was the swap for Bergdahl. I said, 'OK, fine. How are you going to do that?' They never explained anything to anybody about how it would be done. ... How can you get him back if you are totally disorganized?"

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