The GOP's Bergdahl backlash has slipped into farce

When you throw Oliver North into the mix, you know you're in trouble

(Image credit: (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite))

If you were to think of the person least qualified to criticize the Bowe Bergdahl prisoner swap, it would have to be someone who oversaw an even more controversial prisoner exchange. Throw in an illegal weapons sale, multiple felony charges, and bingo, you've got a guy with basically zero credibility to throw stones on this issue.

Enter Oliver North.

Yes, the former Reagan aide best known for his role in the Iran-Contra affair is miffed about the Bergdahl deal. North exhibited a complete lack of self-awareness Tuesday by baldly insisting, without evidence, that the Obama administration or one of its allies paid a hefty price to grease the deal.

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"Someone paid a ransom," he told Newsmax, estimating that it was probably around $5 million or $6 million.

"And if a ransom was paid, either at our behest or with American tax dollars," he later told Fox News' Sean Hannity, "it means this government is causing to be funded a criminal enterprise that kills Americans."

North even had the gall to boast that he was uniquely qualified to discuss the brouhaha because he knows "a lot about hostage negotiations."

Indeed, he does. North and other Reagan officials orchestrated illegal arms sales to Iran to rescue American prisoners, and then used the proceeds to finance a secret war in Central America. North was convicted of multiple felonies, though an appeals court later reversed the rulings.

So yes, it's safe to say North knows a thing or two about hostage negotiations.

North's foray into the debate would be merely laughable if it weren't part of the GOP's larger pattern of gleeful political opportunism on the issue.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) — himself a former prisoner of war freed in a mass prisoner exchange — called the swap a "mistake." Months earlier, he said he was "inclined to support" such a deal. Other Republican lawmakers who'd previously called for Bergdahl's release have suddenly changed their tune as well. Some even deleted from digital media their praise for the administration's handling of the situation.

Meanwhile, a GOP strategist raced to line up critics of Bergdahl who served with him, an act that smacked of swiftboating. And the National Republican Campaign Committee, perhaps predictably, has already begun using the scuttlebutt to fundraise for the party.

To be sure, there are several legitimate questions that can be asked about the swap. Perhaps most significant is the concern raised by many lawmakers, including some Democrats, that the administration did not properly keep Congress abreast of the negotiations.

But we've seen the GOP go down this path too many times before, seizing on every scandal, manufactured or not, to paint the administration as untrustworthy, lawless, and basically evil. It is the latest #Benghazi for the GOP to flog mindlessly and endlessly in hopes of somehow alchemizing campaign gold from their outrage.

Rather than focusing on whether Bergdahl deserted his troops, or whether the Taliban prisoners handed over were too dangerous to be set free, the GOP has instead focused the bulk of its energy on re-upping the exaggerated portrait of Obama as a reckless, incompetent "emperor" who needs to be impeached.

Trotting out Oliver North of all people to tsk-tsk the administration moved the backlash from over-the-top whinging to outright farce, and revealed for the umpteenth time that there's no bottom the GOP won't scrape.

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Jon Terbush

Jon Terbush is an associate editor at covering politics, sports, and other things he finds interesting. He has previously written for Talking Points Memo, Raw Story, and Business Insider.