June 10, 2014 at 1:00 am

When a president goes rogue

What Winston Churchill said of Secretary of State John Foster Dulles — that he was a bull who carried his own china shop around with him — is true of Susan Rice, who is, to be polite, accident prone.

When in September 2012 she was deputed to sell to the public the fable that the Benghazi attack was just an unfortunately vigorous movie review — a response to an Internet video — it could have been that she, rather than Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, was given this degrading duty because Rice was merely U.N. ambassador, an ornamental position at an inconsequential institution. Today, however, Rice is President Barack Obama’s national security adviser.

Perhaps she did not know, in advance of the swap of five terrorists for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, the, shall we say, ambiguities about Bergdahl’s departure from his platoon in Afghanistan, and the reportedly deadly consequences of his behavior.

Perhaps this exchange really is, as Obama said in defending it, an excellent thing “regardless of the circumstances, whatever those circumstances may turn out to be.”

His confidence in its excellence is striking, considering that he acknowledges that we do not know the facts about what would seem to be important “circumstances.”

Obama did not comply with the law requiring presidents to notify Congress 30 days before such exchanges. Politico can be cited about this not because among the media it is exceptionally understanding of Obama’s exuberant notion of executive latitude, but because it is not. Politico headlined a story on his noncompliance with the law “Obama May Finally Be Going Rogue on Gitmo.” Politico said Obama’s “assertive” act “defied Congress” — Congress, not the rule of law — in order “to get that process of closing Guantanamo Bay prison moving.” It sent “a clear message” that “Obama is now willing to wield his executive powers to get the job done.” Or, as used to be said in extenuation of strong leaders, “to make the trains run on time.”

The 44th president, channeling — not for the first time — the 37th (in his post-impeachment conversation with David Frost), may say: “When the president does it, that means that it is not illegal.”

George Will writes for the Washington Post.