Were Bloggers Wrong to Block Brennan for CIA?


by James M. Wall 

When President-elect Obama rolled out his national security team at a press conference in Chicago Monday, there was no CIA director on stage. 

Until November 24, Barack Obama had John Brennan on a short list to become the next director of the Central Intelligence Agency. Brennan is co-chair of the Obama review team on Intelligence matters.

But after intensive criticism from progressive bloggers, and a negative letter from a group of 200 psychologists, Brennan wrote to Obama and took himself out of consideration for any appointment in the intelligence sector.

The International Herald Tribune reported on the withdrawal:

. . . Brennan wrote in a Nov. 25 letter to Obama that he did not want to be a distraction. His potential appointment as CIA director has raised a firestorm in liberal blogs that associate him with the Bush administration’s interrogation, detention and rendition policies. Brennan, a 25-year CIA veteran, helped establish the National Counterterrorism Center and was its first director in 2004.

He has privately and publicly said that he opposed water boarding and questioned other interrogation methods that many in the CIA feared could be later deemed illegal. . . .

What happened to Brennan? The answer may lie in a comment from the strongly conservative Wall Street Journal that praised the Obama national security choices. It might not have been Brennan’s terrorism views that kept him from that stage Monday. In his blog for the Nation, Robert Dreyfuss puts it this way:

I’ve interviewed Brennan on a number of occasions, and he impressed me as an intelligent and thoughtful critic of President Bush’s entire so-called War on Terrorism. Brennan was one of the first top officials to ridicule the idea of calling it a “war,” and he is a supporter of a far more nuanced, supply-side approach to dealing with terrorism. He is a proponent of dealing with the root causes of terrorism, not just fighting its manifestation.

In that same blog posting, Dreyfuss quoted from the Wall Street Journal’s praise for the Obama team and ridicule of Dreyfuss. From the WSJ:

Obama’s national security team “are drawn exclusively from conservative, centrist and pro-military circles without even a single — yes, not one! — chosen to represent the antiwar wing of the Democratic party.” In his plaintive post this week on the Nation magazine’s Web site, Robert Dreyfuss indulges in the political left’s wonderful talent for overstatement. But who are we to interfere with his despair? 

Tomgram.com wonders if the neo cons that ran the Bush foreign policy are sneaking back into the Obama administration. The signs are not promising:

Given their right-wing proclivities, the Journal’s editorial writers then offer the equivalent of high praise for Obama’s choices: “So far,” they conclude, “on security, not bad.” That should make just about anyone who voted for Obama to change American global policy in significant ways pause a moment for reflection.

And the Journal isn’t alone. Other Republicans are, according to the Times of London, already “showering praise on these selections. Senator Lindsey Graham said that Mr Gates, President Bush’s Defense Secretary, had ‘led us through difficult times in Iraq’ and that Mrs Clinton had a ‘little harder line’ than Mr Obama on foreign policy.”

The dark prince of neocons Richard Perle commented, “I’m relieved… Contrary to expectations, I don’t think we would see a lot of change.”

If the Dark Prince is relieved, does this mean Obama’s team is prepared to fulfill the dream of the neo cons and drag the US into yet another war in order to remove Iran as a threat to Israel’s security? 

Senator Clinton’s support for Israeli war policies should also “relieve” Perle’s worries over a new administration. She bring a less than stellar record on human rights to her new position. Stephen Zunes writes for Alternet.com that as a senator, Clinton was among. . .

. . . .  a minority of Democratic Senators to side with the Republican majority in voting down a Democratic-sponsored resolution in 2007 restricting U.S. exports of cluster bombs to countries that use them against civilian-populated areas. Each of these cluster bomb contains hundreds of bomblets that are scattered over an area the size of up to four football fields and, with a failure rate of up to 30 percent, become de facto land mines. Civilians account for as much as 98 percent of the casualties caused by these weapons.

Senator Clinton also has a record of dismissing reports by human rights monitors that highlight large-scale attacks against civilians by allied governments. For example, in the face of widespread criticism by reputable human rights organizations over Israel’s systematic assaults against civilian targets in its April 2002 offensive in the West Bank, Senator Clinton co-sponsored a resolution defending the Israeli actions, claiming that they were “necessary steps to provide security to its people by dismantling the terrorist infrastructure in the Palestinian areas.”

She opposed UN efforts to investigate alleged war crimes by Israeli occupation forces and criticized President Bush for calling on Israel to pull back from its violent re-conquest of Palestinian cities in violation of UN Security Council resolutions.

Against that record of support for military options in the Levant region, the absence of Brennan on the team could loom large. Indeed, so far as Robert Dreyfuss is concerned, the strange case of Brennan and the CIA appointment he did not receive, cries out for an explanation:

When I interviewed Brennan last, for a piece for The Nation this summer, he told me on the record — as an adviser to then candidate for president Barack Obama — that he thought that Obama would, as president, talk to both Hamas and Hezbollah. Brennan is an astute observer of political Islam, and he knows what he is talking about when he mentions these groups. He’s under no illusion about their views, but at the same time he is enough of a realist to know that you can’t ignore these groups and hope that they go away, and you can’t kill them.

It’s true that Brennan has been obtuse, at times, when it comes to torture. In his letter to Obama, he pointed out, however, that he had no part in shaping CIA or administration policy on torturing detainees. It’s possible that his obtuseness did him in, in terms of getting the CIA post. But I’d look elsewhere. It’s far more likely that Brennan was shot down, behind the scenes, by the Israel lobby and its allies inside the Obama camp. This needs looking into.

I agree. If Obama’s choice for CIA director also comes from what the WSJ describes as the same “conservative, centrist and pro-military circles” that gave Obama his national security team, doesn’t that leave the pro-war Israel Lobby-neocon crowd firmly in charge of our Middle East policy?

It does, unless Barack Obama really means it when he says that it is his vision that will prevail. But what is that vision, exactly, if he feels comfortable with a national security team that thus far, has not a single anti-war member that plays either point guard or at the very least, a sixth man role on his team?

About wallwritings

From 1972 through 1999, James M. Wall was editor and publisher of the Christian Century magazine, based in Chicago, lllinois. He was a Contributing Editor of the Century from 1999 until July, 2017. He has written this blog, wall writings.me, since it was launched April 27, 2008. If you would like to receive Wall Writings alerts when new postings are added to this site, send a note, saying, Please Add Me, to jameswall8@gmail.com Biography: Journalism was Jim's undergraduate college major at Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia. He has earned two MA degrees, one from Emory, and one from the University of Chicago, both in religion. He is an ordained United Methodist clergy person. He served for two years in the US Air Force, and three additional years in the USAF reserve. While serving on active duty with the Alaskan Command, he reached the rank of first lieutenant. He has worked as a sports writer for both the Atlanta Journal and Constitution, was editor of the United Methodist magazine, Christian Advocate for ten years, and editor and publisher of the Christian Century magazine for 27 years. James M Wall died March 22, 2021 at age 92. His family appreciates all of his readers, even those who may have disagreed with his well-informed writings.
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1 Response to Were Bloggers Wrong to Block Brennan for CIA?

  1. Chris Pierson says:


    There was an interesting piece on Brennan on Democracy Now a couple of weeks ago. It connects or attempts to connect Brennan with the Rendition Program and Wiretapping. Here is the link http://www.democracynow.org/2008/11/17/obama_taps_ex_cia_officials_tied

    Also, I think they’ve had 4 or 5 stories on Brennan.

    Chris Pierson, Chicago, IL

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