John Brennan. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster.)
Were you a terrorist or member of Al Qaeda, you wouldn’t want to meet John Brennan in a dark alley. He’s an Irish tough guy, and he doesn’t apologize for wanting to obliterate Al Qaeda. For four years, as Obama’s top adviser on counterterrorism, that’s been his job. And in that job, he’s used drones freely to strike both leaders and members of Al Qaeda and related groups, including the Pakistani Taliban and Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). Often, innocents have died.
But Brennan may surprise us.
There have been scathing reviews on the left of Brennan’s role in the Obama administration, such as the one by Marcy Wheeler on Democracy Now!, in which she accused Brennan of being “Obama’s Cheney,” a “proven liar,” a supporter of torture, and more. The Democracy Now! piece included a clip of an intervention against Brennan by Code Pink, whose Medea Benjamin lashed out at Brennan over the drone assassination program.
And he’s been criticized by Gregory Johnsen as the “The Wrong Man for the CIA.”
But maybe, just maybe, John Brennan won’t be a bad CIA director. In 2008, as Obama’s chief adviser on intelligence matters during the campaign, Brennan was in line for the CIA job back then, and he didn’t get it because of widespread accusations, not necessarily accurate, that he supported torture during the George W. Bush administration. As a long-serving CIA officer, then as head of the National Counterterrorism Center, Brennan may or may not have objected to the use of waterboarding and other violent techniques, and it would be useful to question him on this topic during his confirmation hearing. But to say that Brennan was a supporter of torture, and that such a history disqualifies him to serve at the CIA, is an accusation without proof.
On drones, too, it’s a mixed bag. On several occasions, I met and interviewed Brennan, and indeed what stands out for me from those talks is his belief that the military is the wrong instrument in fighting terrorism. (During the George W. era, of course, the military was the administration’s instrument of choice for everything, from fighting terrorism to exporting democracy, so Brennan’s views were decidedly to the left.)
Last October, in a Washington Post profile, Brennan’s views on drones were also cast in a light that indicated that he has been trying to limit, not expand, drone warfare, and that he has sought to extricate the CIA from its role in lethal, drone warfare. Said the Post: