Friday, January 30, 2015

Today's Tune: Bob Dylan - Stay With Me

Music Reviews: Bob Dylan - Shadows in the Wind

'Shadows in the Wind' is the sound of an old man picking over memories and it is quite gorgeous, says Neil McCormick

6:18PM GMT 23 Jan 2015

Dylan sings Sinatra? It shouldn’t work but Shadows In The Night is quite gorgeous, the sound of an old man picking over memories, lost loves, regrets, triumphs and fading hopes amid an ambient tumble of haunting electric instrumentation. It is spooky, bittersweet, mesmerisingly moving and showcases the best singing from Dylan in 25 years.
The very concept seems outrageous, which is perhaps why Dylan’s management have been at pains to insist it is not a Sinatra tribute. One was a vocal giant with perfect mix of tone, technique and emotional expression. The other has a voice that David Bowie described as “like sand and glue,” (and that was intended as a compliment). They are artists we listen to for very different reasons. Yet as a young man suffering romantic defeat, two albums helped me through my misery, Dylan’s Blood On The Tracks and Sinatra’s In The Wee Small Hours. Shadows In The Night is a perfect blend of those heartbreaking classics, digging beneath self-pity to reveal deeper relationship truths.
As much as I love Dylan, recent albums have suggested his barking, growling voice was shot beyond repair. But here his singing is delicate, tender and precise. There is age in the notes, for sure, a wobble and croak as he tackles chords from unusual angles, and falls away with fading breath. Yet somehow this ancient croon focuses the songs, compelling listeners to address their interior world in a way glissando prettiness might disguise.
It is perfectly set in simple yet inspired arrangements for a five piece band, replacing the usual nostalgic orchestras with weeping pedal steel guitars, gently sawed double bass, a swell of horns and the lightest hint of brushed hi hats. It is so sparse and present, you can hear foot pedals squeak, fingers scratch strings, Dylan breathing. Autumn Leaves is woozily sorrowful, Stay with Me is turned into a sacred prayer, That Lucky Old Sun has the stirring power of a gospel folk anthem.
We know of Dylan’s affection for early 20th century pop from his Theme Time Radio Hour and a strand of jazzy melodiousness running through his own latterday work. Dylan has spoken not of covering these classic songs but uncovering them, “lifting them out of the grave and bringing them into the light of day”. He takes beautiful material written by such greats as Rodgers and Hammerstein and completely inhabits them, reimagining Some Enchanted Evening with the wistful intimacy of someone peering back through the mists of time.
Some will scoff, but imagine a beloved grandfather at a family gathering singing ballads of love and yearning from his lost youth, and you will get some idea of the power of this extraordinary record. There wouldn’t be a dry eye in the house.

Bob Dylan: 'Shadows in the Night' review – an unalloyed pleasure

29 January 2015

<p>NYTT GREP: Bob Dylan tar for seg Frank Sinatra-tilknyttede sanger på sin nye plate, med stort hell synes VGs anmelder. Foto: AFP</p>
Bob Dylan (AFP)
It’s obviously up against some stiff competition from lingerie adverts and festive albums that came with free Christmas cards, but there’s an argument that Shadows in the Night may be the most improbable moment yet in Bob Dylan’s latterday career. By releasing a collection of standards from the Great American Songbook, Dylan, presumably inadvertently, joins in a trend begun 14 years ago by Robbie Williams. Ever since Williams proved that you could sell 7m copies of Swing When You’re Winning to an audience who’d never previously evinced much interest in the work of Cole Porter or Johnny Mercer, the Great American Songbook album has become a kind of sine qua non among rock stars of a certain vintage. They’ve all been at it, from Paul McCartney to Carly Simon to Linda Ronstadt. Rod Stewart seemed to treat the whole business less like a canny career move than a terrible endurance test to inflict on the general public. By the time he released his fifth Great American Songbook collection, you got the feeling that even the most indefatigable fan of the jazzy standard was on the floor tearfully pleading for mercy, and in danger of developing a nervous twitch brought on by the opening chords of Mack the Knife.
However, Dylan has latterly made a career out of doing the exact opposite of what most of his peers do. They dutifully tour their big hits, or perform classic albums in order; he takes to the stage and either brilliantly reinterprets his back catalogue or wilfully mangles it beyond repair, depending on whether you’re the kind of critic who gets whole paragraphs out of a change of syllabic emphasis in the lyrics of All Along the Watchtower or an audience member who’s heard three-quarters of Like a Rolling Stone without realising it’s Like a Rolling Stone. They make albums that cravenly attempt to conjure up the atmosphere of their best-loved classic works; he makes albums that conjure up a world before Bob Dylanexisted – filled with music that sounds like blues or rockabilly or country from an age when pop was as yet untouched by his influence.
The latter is one of the reasons that Shadows in the Night works. Most Great American Songbook albums feel grafted on to the artist’s career: too obviously glommed together as a money-making exercise or a means of tiding them over when inspiration fails to strike. By contrast, Shadows in the Night sounds entirely of a piece with the albums Dylan has been making for the last decade and a half. Performed by his current touring band and produced by Dylan himself – rather more beautifully than you might expect, given his reputation for bashing everything out in the studio as quickly as possible – it glides languidly along on bowed double bass and waves of pedal steel, occasionally gently supported by pillowy, muted brass. The playing is full of lovely, subtle touches: the guitar line that shivers in the background of Autumn Leaves’ opening lines; the moment three minutes into I’m a Fool to Want You when the music momentarily loses its rhythmic pulse as Dylan sings “I can’t get along without you”, as if it’s on the verge of collapse. If the album in its entirety sounds more monotone in pace than its immediate predecessors – Dylan’s drummer is frequently relegated to occasionally tapping a hi-hat, or banished from the studio entirely – any of its tracks could have been slipped on to Modern Times or Tempest without provoking puzzlement among listeners.
Certainly, the album fits perfectly with what you might call Dylan’s latterday persona, the grizzled old geezer unveiled on 1997’s Time Out of Mind, either sentimental or growling at the world to get off his lawn; “trying to get to heaven,” as the song of the same name put it, “before they close the door”. Whether that’s a part Dylan is playing or an accurate representation of what he’s like in his 70s is a moot point, but the songs on Shadows in the Night have been chosen – usually from less well-thumbed chapters of the Great American Songbook – to suit the character. Their lyrical tone is usually remorseful and lovelorn – The Night We Called It a Day, What’ll I Do, Full Moon and Empty Arms – and even when it isn’t, it ends up sounding that way because of Dylan’s delivery. His version of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Some Enchanted Evening takes a song about a burgeoning romance and ferrets out the misery buried in the lyrics. “Fly to her side and make her your own/ Or all through your life you may dream all alone,” he sings, but there’s a rueful quality to his voice that undercuts the carpe diem sentiment and a song cautioning the listener not to miss their chances suddenly becomes a song about missed chances.
A lot has been written about the state of Dylan’s voice in recent years, but if any songs suit a ruined voice, they’re those assembled here. Most of their authors were half Dylan’s age when they wrote them, but they sounded much older: everything is suffused with world-weariness and regret. The irony is that Dylan’s vocals on Shadows in the Night sound “better” in the conventional sense than they have in years, presumably because he’s singing softly – crooning, if you will. There’s certainly nothing here that resembles the opening of Tempest’s Pay in Blood, where a combination of rage and whatever havoc has been visited on his larynx over the years left him sounding like the frontman of Autopsy or Disembowelment, and what came out wasn’t words but a terrifying, incomprehensible growl. Still, such things are relative. His voice is still cracked and catarrhal and occasionally ventures wildly off pitch, usually when he tries to hold the songs’ long, dramatic, final notes. It doesn’t matter: it fits, as if the hard-won experience of the lyrics has been etched on his throat.
Dylanologists could doubtless tell you a lot about the relationship between the songs here and his own oeuvre: you suspect they’ll have a field day with the religious overtones of Stay With Me. To say that all seems besides the point isn’t to rubbish their close reading and study, which at its best is genuinely illuminating. It’s merely to suggest that Shadows in the Night works as an unalloyed pleasure, rather than a research project. It may be the most straightforwardly enjoyable album Dylan’s made since Time Out of Mind. He’s an unlikely candidate to join the serried ranks of rock stars tackling standards: appropriately enough, given that Frank Sinatra sang all these songs before him, he does it his way, and to dazzling effect.

How Much is That Psychology Degree Worth?

By Ann Coulter
January 28, 2015

The Republican leadership in Congress still hasn't held hearings on why college is so expensive, although I proposed the idea two weeks ago. Of course, it's been a month since the GOP took control of Congress, and they also haven't voided Obama's unconstitutional executive amnesty, passed e-Verify, a fence bill or the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Act.

Democrats are on offense all the time, even when they've just had their legs cut off. They announce absurd agenda items and then indignantly demand to know why Republicans are refusing to deal with the free unicorn-rides proposal. Obama is a lame-duck president and, three months ago, his party was slaughtered in midterm elections. And yet, I gather that his State of the Union address consisted of a litany of insanely expensive, utterly pointless ideas.

And Republicans fall for it every time. They consider it a major victory to come back with a free-market approach to surrender.

In response to Obama's "free" community college idea, Republicans should say: We're not giving you anything, and, in fact, we're demanding answers from the entire "higher ed" establishment. You'll be surprised how liberating and fun it is to go on offense, Republicans.

The GOP needs to hold tobacco company-style hearings, hauling in the presidents of various universities and asking them to justify their multimillion-dollar salaries.

We want professors explaining, under penalty of perjury, exactly how much they make per hour for their rigorous schedules of two classes a week, summers off, and full-year "sabbaticals" every few terms.

Also, we'd like to know how driving the getaway car for a cop-killer constitutes a qualification to teach college.

College professors relentlessly hound the rest of society for its crimes -- racism, sexism, "white privilege" -- look what you're doing to the environment! Why are we paying them, again? There's no visible reason most of these people should be teaching at all. How about they explain their value to the taxpayers who subsidize their cushy lives?

Other than engineers, economists and quarterbacks, no one acquires any marketable knowledge at college. The sole purpose of a degree is to function as a substitute IQ test. If employers were allowed to give applicants 15-minute intelligence tests, they'd have the exact same information as knowing what college a person attended.

But they can't do that, so families have to spend a quarter of a million dollars to give their kids the parchment equivalent of an IQ score. High school kids who get into good schools should present employers with their college acceptance letters and skip the going-to-college part.

Republicans need to force colleges to issue reports, just like drug companies, attesting to the average cost, and the average salary, for every degree. It will cost you $160,000 to receive a degree in Spanish literature and will take you 88 years to pay that back.

Trust Ann -- liberals will go wild. That's how you'll know you've struck gold.

They will scream bloody murder, accuse Republicans of "McCarthyism," say it's too burdensome to collect this information and how can you put a dollar value on a college education?

They better be able to put a dollar value on a college degree! That's how it's being sold. Obama doesn't say it's important to go to college to learn to think analytically, read critically or be exposed to different ideas -- none of which occurs at most colleges, anyway.

No, that's not the pitch. The pitch is: You're going to fail in this economy without a college degree!

If colleges really believe their product is worth anything, why don't they guarantee their own student loans? Why should taxpayers be on the hook for everyone's tuition?

According to the colleges, their graduates are going to earn all sorts of money! At least that's what they say when they're conning teenagers into taking out colossal student loans.

"It's burdensome" is not an excuse accepted by the government in any other context. It doesn't work for businesses being forced to come up with reams of information for the IRS, the EPA or OSHA. And the taxpayer isn't on the hook for the deceptive promises of any other industry -- except hucksters for home mortgages and student loans.

I would like to hear college presidents explain that what they do is totally different from any other company.

Democrats need to be exposed as hustlers for the most fraudulent, overpriced scam in the country. There's no other industry that has politicians flacking for it, much less conniving to prevent consumers from getting truthful information about the merchandise.

Going after Big Education is all upside for the GOP. College professors and administrators already vote 98 percent for the Democrats. In fact, it's a triple-play for Republicans: They would punish a liberal constituency, strike a blow against the principal vehicle of liberal indoctrination in America, and the middle class will love it.


Swapping Prisoners with Terrorists

Obama’s disastrous policy dates back to his earliest days in office. 

Suddenly, there is outrage in the land over President Obama’s policy of negotiating prisoner swaps with terrorist organizations, a national-security catastrophe that, as night follows day, is resulting in more abductions by terrorist organizations.

Well, yes, of course. But what took so long? Sorry if I sometimes sound like I work the “I Told You So” beat at the counter-jihad press. But as recounted in these pages, immediately upon assuming power in 2009, Obama started negotiating exchanges of terrorists — lopsided exchanges that sell out American national security for a net-zero return.  

Critics now point to the indefensible swap Obama negotiated with our Taliban enemies in 2012 as if it were the start of the problem. In reality, the springing of five top Taliban commanders in exchange for the Haqqani terror network’s release of U.S. soldier Bowe Bergdahl was fully consistent with what was by then established Obama policy. There was nothing new in our president’s provision of material support to terrorists even as those terrorists continued to conduct offensive terrorist operations against our troops.

Clearly, the Bergdahl–Taliban swap was a disaster. As I’ve previously noted, it would be a profound dereliction of duty for a commander-in-chief to replenish enemy forces in this manner even if the captive we received in exchange had been an American war hero. To the contrary, Obama replenished our enemies in exchange for a likely deserter who may have voluntarily provided intelligence to the enemy and whose treachery cost the lives of American soldiers who tried to find and rescue him.

Even the conservative media are now suggesting it was the Bergdahl–Taliban swap that marked Obama’s reckless departure from longstanding American policy against negotiation with terrorists, and in particular against exchanging captured terrorists for hostages. This policy reversal has indeed incentivized jihadists to capture more Westerners, and prompted state sponsors of jihadists, such as Qatar, to propose more prisoner swaps. Moreover, the Obama strategy has deprived the U.S. of any moral authority or leadership influence to dissuade other countries, such as Jordan, from releasing anti-American jihadists in similar prisoner exchanges.

But the disaster did not begin with the Bergdahl–Taliban swap.

As I detailed in a column soon after Obama took office — specifically, on June 24, 2009 (“Negotiating with Terrorists: The Obama administration ignores a longstanding — and life-saving — policy”):
Even as the mullahs [i.e., the rulers of Iran’s Shiite regime] are terrorizing the Iranian people, the Obama administration is negotiating with an Iranian-backed terrorist organization and abandoning the American proscription against exchanging terrorist prisoners for hostages kidnapped by terrorists. Worse still, Obama has already released a terrorist responsible for the brutal murders of five American soldiers in exchange for the remains of two deceased British hostages.
To summarize: The Iranian government implanted a network of Shia jihadist cells in Iraq in order to spearhead the terror campaign against American troops. The point was to duplicate the Hezbollah model by which Iran controls other territory beyond its borders. In fact, the network of cells, known as Asaib al-Haq (League of the Righteous), was organized by Hezbollah veteran Ali Musa Daqduq.

The network was run day-to-day by two brothers, Qais and Layith Qazali. Both brothers and Daqduq were captured by U.S. forces in Basrah after they orchestrated the assassination-style murders of five American soldiers abducted in Karbala on January 20, 2007.

A few months later, in May 2007, the terror network kidnapped five British civilians. As American troops put their lives on the line to protect Iraq, the terrorist network told Iraq’s Iran-friendly prime ministerNouri al-Maliki, that they would release the Brits in exchange for Daqduq and the Qazali brothers. The Bush administration refused the offer.

But soon after entering office in 2009, President Obama decided to change course and entertain the offer. The new administration rationalized that the trade could serve the purpose of Iraqi political reconciliation — which is to say: Obama, in the midst of pleading for negotiations with the “Death to America” regime in Tehran, prioritized the forging of political ties between Iraq and an Iran-backed terror network over justice for the murderers of American soldiers.

Conveniently, Iran’s influence over Maliki ensured that Iraq would play ball: Maliki’s government would serve as the cut-out, enabling Obama to pretend that (a) he was negotiating with Iraq, not terrorists; and (b) he was releasing terrorists for the sake of Iraqi peace, not as a ransom for hostages.

Layith Qazali was released in July. This failed to satisfy the terror network, which continued to demand the release of Daqduq and Qais Qazali. The terrorists did, however, turn over two of the British hostages — or rather, their remains.

I know you’ll be shock-shocked to hear this, but while Obama’s minions were practicing their so-very-smart diplomacy, the jihadists were killing most of their hostages. At least three of the Brits were murdered. Yet even that did not cause Obama to reconsider his position.

In late 2009, the administration released Qais Qazali in a trade for the last living British hostage, Peter Moore. As The Long War Journal’s Bill Roggio reported at the time, an enraged U.S. military official aware of the details of the swap presciently observed: “We let a very dangerous man go, a man whose hands are stained with U.S. and Iraqi blood. We are going to pay for this in the future.”

Meanwhile, as I related in July 2009, Obama released the “Irbil Five” — five commanders from the Iranian Revolutionary Guard’s Quds force. Like Daqduq, the Quds force was coordinating Iran’s terror cells in Iraq. At the time, General Ray Odierno, then the top U.S. military commander in Iraq, publicly stated that Iran was continuing to support, fund, and train the terrorists attacking American and allied forces.

As Michael Ledeen pointed out, the release of the five Iranian terrorist commanders – three years before Obama’s release of the five Taliban commanders – was the price the mullahs had demanded to free Roxana Saberi, a freelance journalist the mullahs had been holding. The Obama administration, naturally, claimed that it was not negotiating with terrorists but with sovereign governments (just as it claimed only to be negotiating with Qatar as it cut the Bergdahl deal with the Taliban and the Haqqanis). Besides, said the administration, the president’s hands were tied by the status-of-forces agreement, which purportedly required turning prisoners over to the Iraqi government (for certain return to Iran) — even prisoners responsible for killing hundreds of Americans, even prisoners sure to persevere in the ongoing, global, anti-American jihad.

And then there was Daqduq. His comparative notoriety, coupled with a smattering of negative publicity over the other terrorist negotiations and swaps, caused a delay in his release. But in July 2011, with the Beltway distracted by the debt-ceiling controversy, the Obama administration tried to pull off Daqduq’s stealth transfer to Iraq.

As I noted at the time, however, the Associated Press got wind of the terrorist’s imminent release, and its short report ignited fury on Capitol Hill. Several senators fired off a letter, outraged that the United States would surrender “the highest ranking Hezbollah operative currently in our custody” — a man who would surely return to the jihad “to harm and kill more American servicemen and women” when Iraq inevitably turned him over to Iran, as it had done with other released terrorists.

The administration retreated . . . but only for the moment. Realizing it would be explosive to spring Daqduq during his reelection campaign, Obama waited until the Christmas recess after the election. The president then had the terrorist quietly handed over to Iraq, which, after acquitting Daqduq at a farce of a “trial,” duly released him to Hezbollah in Lebanon.

There is a reason why the Arab press was reporting that the Obama State Department was entertaining discussions with Egyptian authorities about freeing the Blind Sheikh — Omar Abdel Rahman, the convicted terrorist serving a life sentence for running the jihadist cell that bombed the World Trade Center and plotted other attacks against New York City landmarks. There is a reason why, when he assumed power in 2011, Muslim Brotherhood–leader-turned-Egyptian-president Mohamed Morsi proclaimed that his top priorities included pressuring the United States to return the Blind Sheikh to Egypt.

Long before the Bergdahl–Taliban swap, it was well known that the Obama administration was open for business — if the business meant releasing terrorists.

— Andrew C. McCarthy is a policy fellow at the National Review Institute. His latest book is Faithless Execution: Building the Political Case for Obama’s Impeachment.

Do we really mean ‘never again’?

By Charles Krauthammer
January 29, 2015

Candles burn by a memorial plaque at the Birkenau Nazi death camp in Oswiecim, Poland, Tuesday, Jan. 27, 2015, after the official remembrance ceremony. (Alik Keplicz/AP)

Amid the ritual expressions of regret and the pledges of “never again” onTuesday’s 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, a bitter irony was noted: Anti-Semitism has returned to Europe. With a vengeance.
It has become routine. If the kosher-grocery massacre in Paris hadn’t happened in conjunction with Charlie Hebdo, how much worldwide notice would it have received? As little as did the murder of a rabbi and three children at a Jewish school in Toulouse. As little as did the terror attack that killed four at the Jewish Museum in Brussels.
The rise of European anti-Semitism is, in reality, just a return to the norm. For a millennium, virulent Jew-hatred — persecution, expulsions, massacres — was the norm in Europe until the shame of the Holocaust created a temporary anomaly wherein anti-Semitism became socially unacceptable.
The hiatus is over. Jew-hatred is back, recapitulating the past with impressive zeal. Italians protesting Gaza handed out leaflets calling for a boycott of Jewish merchants. As in the 1930s. A widely popular French comedian has introduced a variant of the Nazi salute. In Berlin, Gaza brought out a mob chanting, “Jew, Jew, cowardly pig, come out and fight alone!” Berlin, mind you.
European anti-Semitism is not a Jewish problem, however. It’s a European problem, a stain, a disease of which Europe is congenitally unable to rid itself.
From the Jewish point of view, European anti-Semitism is a sideshow. The story of European Jewry is over. It died at Auschwitz. Europe’s place as the center and fulcrum of the Jewish world has been inherited by Israel. Not only is it the first independent Jewish commonwealth in 2,000 years. It is, also for the first time in 2,000 years, the largest Jewish community on the planet.
The threat to the Jewish future lies not in Europe but in the Muslim Middle East, today the heart of global anti-Semitism, a veritable factory of anti-Jewish literature, films, blood libels and calls for violence, indeed for another genocide.
The founding charter of Hamas calls not just for the eradication of Israel but for the killing of Jews everywhere. Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah welcomes Jewish emigration to Israel — because it makes the killing easier: “If Jews all gather in Israel, it will save us the trouble of going after them worldwide.’’ And, of course, Iran openly declares as its sacred mission the annihilation of Israel.
For America, Europe and the moderate Arabs, there are powerful reasons having nothing to do with Israel for trying to prevent an apocalyptic, fanatically anti-Western clerical regime in Tehran from getting the bomb: Iranian hegemony, nuclear proliferation (including to terror groups) and elemental national security.
For Israel, however, the threat is of a different order. Direct, immediate and mortal.
The sophisticates cozily assure us not to worry. Deterrence will work. Didn’t it work against the Soviets? Well, just 17 years into the atomic age, we came harrowingly close to deterrence failure and all-out nuclear war. Moreover, godless communists anticipate no reward in heaven. Atheists calculate differently from jihadists with their cult of death. Name one Soviet suicide bomber.
Former Iranian president Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, known as a moderate, once characterized tiny Israel as a one-bomb country. He acknowledged Israel’s deterrent capacity but noted the asymmetry: “Application of an atomic bomb would not leave anything in Israel, but the same thing would just produce damages in the Muslim world.” Result? Israel eradicated, Islam vindicated. So much for deterrence.
And even if deterrence worked with Tehran, that’s not where the story ends. Iran’s very acquisition of nukes would set off a nuclear arms race with half a dozen Muslim countries from Turkey to Egypt to the Gulf states — in the most unstable part of the world. A place where you wake up in the morning to find a pro-American Yemeni government overthrown by rebels whose slogan is “God is Great. Death to America. Death to Israel. Damn the Jews. Power to Islam.”
The idea that some kind of six-sided deterrence would work in this roiling cauldron of instability the way it did in the frozen bipolarity of the Cold War is simply ridiculous.
The Iranian bomb is a national security issue, an alliance issue and a regional Middle East issue. But it is also a uniquely Jewish issue because of Israel’s situation as the only state on earth overtly threatened with extinction, facing a potential nuclear power overtly threatening that extinction.
On the 70th anniversary of Auschwitz, mourning dead Jews is easy. And, forgive me, cheap. Want to truly honor the dead? Show solidarity with the living — Israel and its 6 million Jews. Make “never again” more than an empty phrase. It took Nazi Germany seven years to kill 6 million Jews. It would take a nuclear Iran one day.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Today's Tune: The War on Drugs — Come to the City

The Illegal Bergdahl Deal: Sordid Details, Troubling Implications

Guy Benson | Jan 27, 2015

(Bloomberg) -- A video released by the Taliban shows the handover of Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl from their custody to U.S. Special Forces. 

Multiple news sources are now reporting that the US Army is charging Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl -- the American soldier handed over by terrorist hostage takers in exchange for the release of five high-ranking Taliban commanders from Guantanamo Bay last spring -- with desertion.  This comes as no surprise for those who followed the Bergdahl controversy closely; as Katie reminded us earlier, Bergdahl's platoon mates unanimously spoke out against his actions.  The evidence of his desertion is overwhelming.  Other facts suggest that he may have crossed a line into active collaboration with the enemy.  Despite the fact that the military had drawn negative conclusions about Bergdahl's conduct as far back as 2010 and declined to list him as POW, White House National Security Advisor Susan Rice declared that his service was marked by "honor and distinction" on national television.  This was part and parcel of the Obama administration's public relations strategy surrounding the entire affair: Wave the flag about a captured American returning home to his family, and hope that the good vibes and emotional images of relieved family members and friends would crowd out the more sordid details -- such as the freed terrorists' long trail of blood and destruction, Bergdahl's alleged crimes, and the manner in which Obama bypassed strong objections from top military and intelligence officials to close the deal.  Remember this?
Leaders of the U.S. intelligence community and military were opposed to freeing five senior Taliban commanders in exchange for Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl when the White House first began exploring the prisoner swap in 2011 and 2012. The U.S. military wanted to bring Bergdahl home, but releasing Mullah Mohammad Fazl, Mullah Norullah Noori, Abdul Haq Wasiq, Khairullah Khairkhwa, and Mohammed Nabi Omari was seen as too dangerous at the time. James Clapper, the director of National Intelligence, according to three U.S. intelligence officials flat out rejected the release of the five detainees, saying there was too high a risk these Taliban commanders would return to the battlefield and orchestrate attacks against Americans. Clapper was not alone. Leon Panetta, who was then the Secretary of Defense, declined to certify that the United States could mitigate the risk to national interests of releasing the Taliban commanders...Current U.S. intelligence and defense officials who spoke to The Daily Beast on Monday say the process for exchanging Taliban for Bergdahl this time was rushed and closely held, in some instances leaving little room for any push back against a policy clearly favored by the White House. “This was an example of forcing the consensus,” one U.S. military official said. “The White House knew the answer they wanted and they ended up getting it.”

The administration has insisted that the Bergdahl swap was not an instance of the US government violating its longstanding policy against negotiating with terrorists, assuring the country that it was a routine prisoner exchange.  This assertion is contradicted by the nature of Bergdahl's captors, and the White House's own spin that the plan had to be hatched and executed quickly, without informing Congress (as required by law), because the terrorists had threatened to kill Bergdahl.  That's not how routine prisoner exchanges work.  Another one of their excuses wilted under light scrutiny.  The reality is that the Obama administration has been ideologically hellbent on emptying Gitmo for years, despite Congress' repeated refusals to go along.  This scenario offered the president a chance to "get rid of" five dangerous terrorists and dress it up as a happy homecoming story. So the decision was made to (effectively, if not explicitly) negotiate with terrorists, then deny that any such thing had occurred. Now five influential jihadist captains are living comfortably in this "allied" nation, and a probable deserter/collaborator is set to stand trial here at home.  Does anyone doubt rumors that White House officials tried to stall the investigation and keep the desertion charges under wraps?

According to Shaffer, the Obama official at the center of these political machinations is the now-infamous Ben Rhodes, of course.  News of the desertion charges thrusts the administration's terrorist-releasing policies back into the spotlight, raising fresh questions:

Before he was released from a U.S. maximum-security prison last week,a confessed al Qaeda sleeper agent was offered up in a potential prisoner swap that would have freed two Americans held abroad. The Daily Beast has learned that the proposal was floated in July 2014 to the then-U.S. ambassador in Qatar by an individual acting on behalf of that country’s attorney general. According to two individuals with direct knowledge of the case, the proposition was made shortly after the Obama administration traded five Taliban fighters for Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl. Those fighters were also sent to Qatar, where they’re to remain under government watch until later this year. U.S. officials have said they’re at risk of plotting further attacks against the United States. The proposed swap involving the al Qaeda agent, Ali Saleh Al-Marri, raises troubling questions about whether the Bergdahl trade opened a kind of Pandora’s box, signaling to foreign governments that they can pressure the United States to make concessions on terrorism by trading American prisoners abroad for dangerous extremists held in the United States.

The administration denies that Al-Marri's early release from federal prison -- which we wrote about just last week -- was tied to any quid pro quo.  Why should Americans believe that claim?

Obama Keeps Bowing In The Middle East

January 27, 2015

Secretary of State John Kerry delivers a speech about violent extremism to the audience at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland on Jan. 23, 2015.Demotix/Corbis

At the World Economic Forum last week, Secretary of State John Kerry argued that while extremists may cite Islam as a justification for terrorism, the world should refrain from using the term “Islamic radicals.” Extremism, Kerry maintained, is apart from Islam, and the millions who support or engage in violence in its name are driven by “criminal conduct rooted in alienation, poverty, thrill-seeking and other factors.”

This soothing half-baked philosophy is cant in the Obama Administration. So when ISIS takes credit for beheading the Japanese hostage Haruna Yukawa, it shouldn’t have been surprising that the most important thing Rick Stengel, an undersecretary of state for happy thoughts, could think to tweet to his followers was that the decapitation had, “Nothing religious about it.”
We’ve gone from incessantly offering (appropriate) distinctions between factions of Islam to fantasizing that terrorists are a bunch of shiftless underprivileged adrenaline junkies with no particular philosophy at all. Religion is an organized collection of beliefs that makes sense of existence. Under no definition of “faith” is there a stipulation that it must be devoid of any violence. And whether or not violence used in Islam is a distortion of the faith is for people of that religion to work out for themselves, not for a talking head from Vermont to decree.
If the administration is interested in seeing how this works, we don’t have to look farther than our good allies in Saudi Arabia, where the national flag features an inscription of the Islamic creed – “There is no god but God, Muhammad is the messenger of God” – which is neatly underlined by a sword. This, I think is fair to say, may insinuate that a coupling of violence and faith is indeed possible in modern religion.
Perhaps Barack Obama can ask new Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz when he pays his respects (an honor the victims in Paris did not receive) what the deal is. He could ask how women are thrown into the streets for public beheadings has anything to do with religion and violence. The Saudi government, after all, has defended the recent decapitation of a Burmese woman (caught on video) as compulsory to “implement the rulings of God.” It’s the ninth such execution this year. (All these beheadings sure are a weird coincidence, no?)  Perhaps Saudi monarchs are driven by alienation and poverty when they are induced to flog writers who insult them? And perhaps Kerry has a better grasp of Islamic law than the Wahhabi sect running the religious police force in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the birthplace of Islam? I imagine he thinks he does.

I don’t propose invading the Arabian Peninsula, or anyone else for that matter. But George Bush, another House of Saud coddler, used to claim that U.S.’s fight in the Middle East was about promoting democracy. Obama has talked about how important it is for our diplomacy to mirror our values. In reality, of course, friendly autocrats help us fight stateless Islamic extremism and offer stability. King Abdullah and his successor have also acted as a counterbalance to Iran – a precarious situation we helped establish. (Though, under this president, we do not afford an Egyptian army that scuttled the Muslim Brotherhood takeover of that nation the same courtesy.)
So everyone understands why we ignore the fact that King Abdullah’s Saudi Arabia became the world’s largest source of funds of Salafist jihadism and the fact that religious state institutions are the leading voices perpetuating that jihadism. Obama will pay his respects to the government in a nation that has no real elections, political parties or dissent. We ignore that, too. And Saudi Arabia also proves that governments run by certain faiths have been more inclined to create alienation, poverty and a whole lot of thrillseekers – even when in the fortuitous position of sitting on a wealth-producing commodity.
But surely there is some kernel of moral duty among American leaders to promote liberal values around the world. Juxtapose how this administration treats allies; how the president admonishes and undermines an elected leader he doesn’t particularly care for and, at the same time, reveres and celebrates the life of a degenerate dictator. King Abdullah had “about” 30 wives, and fathered “about” 35 children, according to sources. Some of them were only young teens when they were forced to wed the then middle-aged King. Some of these women remained prisoners for many decades against their will. Considering the human trafficking and white slavery that is generally overlooked by the monarchs, perhaps he really is a moderate. The freshly deceased King Abdullah, says the president, was “a candid leader who had the courage of his convictions, including his passionate belief in the importance of the U.S.-Saudi relationship as a force for stability and security in the Middle East.”
While this administration is having a meltdown over the fact that Benjamin Netanyahu will be speaking to congress about the threat Iranian nuclear ambitions, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is sponsoring an essay competition in the United States to Honor former Saudi King. Marine Corps Maj. Gen. Frederick M. Padilla, the president of the National Defense University, want to challenge future students “while honoring the late king.” “This scholarly research competition presents NDU students with a unique opportunity to focus their research and writing efforts on relevant issues at the intersection of U.S. security interests and the Arab-Muslim world,” the release said.
It’s fair to say that every administration has gone out of its way to avoid insulting these immoral dictatorships. It’s just that so few have been as consistent and obsequious as this one.

David Harsanyi is a Senior Editor at The Federalist. Follow him on Twitter.