Jan. 30, 2015

The White House War on Semantics

See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil.

Eric Schultz opened up a can of worms when answering a question from ABC’s Jonathan Karl at Wednesday’s White House press briefing. Schultz, the White House deputy press secretary, gave a meandering answer on Jordan’s willingness to trade a convicted terrorist to ISIL for one of its captured pilots, noting that the United States doesn’t pay ransom to or negotiate with terrorists. Except when Barack Obama wants to.

Karl then asked, “[Y]ou say the United States government does not give in to demands [and] does not pay ransom. But how is what the Jordanians are talking about doing any different than what the United States did to get the release of [Bowe] Bergdahl – the releasing prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay to the Taliban, which is clearly a terrorist organization?”

Schultz stammered, “As you know, this was highly discussed at the time. And prisoner swaps are a traditional, end-of-conflict interaction that happens. As the war in Afghanistan wound down, we felt like it was the appropriate thing to do. The president’s bedrock commitment as commander in chief is to leave no man or woman behind.” (Ambassador Christopher Stevens, Glen Doherty, Sean Smith and Ty Woods were unavailable for comment.)

Pressed for clarification, Schultz added, “I’d also point out that the Taliban is an armed insurgency; ISIL is a terrorist group. So we don’t make concessions to terrorist groups.”

The Taliban must be wondering what it has to do to earn the “terrorist” label. Apparently, the massacre of more than 130 school children in Pakistan last month wasn’t enough to impress the Obama administration. Nor was the Taliban’s role in killing three American contractors in Kabul this week.

Did we mention that one of the Taliban Five is seeking to return to the battlefield?

Leaving aside the legal questions about the five-for-one swap for a deserter, few believe Schultz’s hair-splitting contrast between the Taliban and ISIL. And, by the way, it’s no mean feat for ISIL to be promoted from the junior varsity to a terrorist group with whom we’re not willing to negotiate – yet.

When Schultz’s boss, Press Secretary Josh Earnest, tried to clarify the remarks, they became even muddier. It was the groups’ scope of effort, explained Earnest, because “the Taliban’s objectives are focused specifically on Afghanistan” while ISIL and al-Qaida have a much larger agenda. That’s small consolation for the American families who lost loved ones fighting the Taliban’s terrorist regime in Afghanistan, particularly as Obama negotiates his foolish withdrawal from that country. The assertion also contradicts the Treasury Department’s consideration of the Taliban as terrorists for the purpose of economic sanctions.

In either case, we’d venture to guess that soon the Taliban will make peace with and provide safe haven for their ISIL brethren, regardless of what the White House press office wants to call it.

The problem with Obama’s foreign policy is that everything is a domestic political calculation. And, therefore, the fruit of Obama’s meandering foreign policy is quite rotten.

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