Just about everyone outside the White House could have predicted that its handling of the Bowe Bergdahl prisoner swap, from the deal itself to the blackout on Congress, would not be well received, a public relations strategist told Newsmax TV on Monday.
"It seems obvious for those of us outside the bubble of the White House," Jeff Berkowitz, founder of Berkowitz Public Affairs, said on the inaugural episode of "Midpoint," with host Ed Berliner.
But for everyone inside, the Bergdahl affair "was going to raise a lot of questions that they weren't prepared to answer," said Berkowitz, a former research director at the Republican National Committee.
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Berkowitz helped launch "Midpoint" with a discussion of what the administration needs to do to defuse outrage over the trade — five Taliban battlefield commanders for a captive Army sergeant labeled a deserter by some platoon mates — as well as bipartisan furor among congressional leaders who were kept out of the loop.
"They have a lot of hand-holding and apologies to make," he said, adding that any apology tour should encompass not just Capitol Hill but also U.S. troops and the American people.
Whether contrition will help Democrats in the upcoming elections is another matter.
"When you're in this sort of situation — a second midterm of a president who has horrible approval ratings at the moment — he is a weight around their necks," said Berkowitz, who predicted more Democrats will "start to break away and try and save themselves."
"But it's a sinking life raft off a sinking ship," he said, "and whether they try and distance themselves or not, those [Democrats] who are up for re-election are going to have a huge challenge."
One of the headwinds, Berkowitz says, is the White House's embrace of what could be called the Kerry doctrine: the belief, advocated by Secretary of State John Kerry in his failed 2004 presidential bid, that terrorism is a problem best handled by law enforcement, not the military.
"They want to pretend that Islamic terrorism is a thing of the past," said Berkowitz.
"If you talk to the real national security experts that follow what's going on . . . this is going to be an ongoing fight for a very long time in the future," said Berkowitz. "To downplay it is to make the American people ill-prepared to meet that threat."
Calling the president "allergic" to explaining his national security strategy, Berkowitz said that at the very least he was obliged to consult Congress about swapping Berghdal for five Taliban.
"Is that really the best option that we have? If it was, then they should have been prepared to go up to congressional leadership on both sides and make that case before making this deal," said Berkowitz. "And they clearly thought that they could just get away with it because they're the Obama White House. And that's an arrogance that has caught up to them."
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