While conservatives grapple with Obama’s nomination of former Sen. Chuck Hagel to head the Defense Department, the Left is struggling with Obama’s decision to nominate John Brennan as the new CIA Director. Dubbed the “Assassination Czar” by the far-left program Democracy Now, Brennan was Obama’s original choice to head the CIA when he was first elected in 2008. An uproar from the left, however, caused Brennan to withdraw his nomination. With reelection safely behind him, though, Obama clearly feels emboldened to push again for Brennan.
The left’s ire was particularly acute four years ago, because Brennan had been a high-level CIA official during the Bush Administration. At the time, the left was consumed with moral urgency to reverse many Bush anti-terror policies. Brennan was seen as a key player in the development of those policies.
Brennan spent years at the CIA and served as chief of staff to former director George Tenet during the creation of the post-9/11 detention and interrogation programs. The New Yorker’s Jane Mayer described him as a “supporter” of the programs, which included torture and the use of secret prison “black sites.”
After he withdrew his name for consideration for the CIA job, Brennan was appointed by Obama to be his chief counter-terrorism advisor. In that role, he has overseen a sweeping expansion of the drone program and adoption of a “kill list,” where the President can order targeted assassinations of terrorists.
Brennan has helped construct and justify the Administration’s claim that it can kill people, including American citizens, abroad on its own authority, even when those people are not in countries with which we are at war. His speech in April was a sort of catechism, culminating in “targeted strikes are wise.” We have done it in Pakistan and Yemen; could we do it in London or Paris?
In the aftermath of Brennan’s nomination yesterday, the ACLU cautioned the Senate not to proceed with confirmation “until it assesses the legality of his actions in past leadership positions in the CIA during the early years of the George W. Bush administration and in his current role in the ongoing targeted killing program”. ACLU’s statement is telling, since the organization doesn’t usually take positions on nominees for the executive branch.
Obama’s decision to forge ahead with Brennan’s nomination suggests he feels he has a personal political mandate following his reelection. Brennan’s legacy hasn’t changed in the four years since his name was first floated as CIA Director. If anything, the civil libertarian critique of his record has strengthened, given the increased use of drone strikes and targeted assassinations.
Obama understands, however, that much of the left’s outrage directed against Bush wasn’t as much about his specific policies as his political affiliation. Obama has continued most of the Bush-era anti-terror policies, as even staunch leftists now wearily acknowledge.
Although I actively opposed Brennan’s CIA nomination in 2008, I can’t quite muster the energy or commitment to do so now. Indeed, the very idea that someone should be disqualified from service in the Obama administration because of involvement in and support for extremist Bush terrorism polices seems quaint and obsolete, given the great continuity between Bush and Obama on these issues. Whereas in 2008 it seemed uncertain in which direction Obama would go, making it important who wielded influence, that issue is now settled: Brennan is merely a symptom of Obama’s own extremism in these areas, not a cause. This continuity will continue with or without Brennan because they are, rather obviously, Obama’s preferred policies.
A tiredness usually settles in during a President’s second term. Even the left gets weary of its moral outrage. While the usual suspects are expressing outrage over Brennan’s nomination, his confirmation fight will likely end with a whimper. As Greenwald notes, these are “obviously Obama’s preferred policies.”