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Obama's New Team at State, Defense, NSC | The Nation

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Robert Dreyfuss

Bob Dreyfuss

News of America’s misadventures in foreign policy and defense.

Obama's New Team at State, Defense, NSC

The Wall Street Journal, evidently keen readers of this blog, devoted an editorial on Friday to my criticism of Barack Obama's foreign policy team. Its November 28 editorial, entitled "Obama's War Cabinet," quoted thus from a piece I posted here last week. The Journal began:

The names floated for Barack 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?

Despair might be too strong a word. But certainly glum fits. As the Journal gloats:

If reports are correct, on Monday the President-elect will ask Robert Gates to stay on as Secretary of Defense and name retired Marine General James Jones as National Security Adviser. ... The Gates selection is an implicit endorsement of President Bush's "surge" in Iraq and its military architect, General David Petraeus. ... Both these men can help Mr. Obama check the worst reflexes of his anti-antiterror base. Starting in Iraq. ...

Mr. Obama deserves credit for making flexibility a principle in assembling his Administration. As he said last year, "people should feel confident that we'll be able to hit the ground running." So far on security, not bad.

One pick that may not be announced today is that of John Brennan for CIA director. Brennan dropped out of the race for the CIA post after reports surfaced that he had supported torture of suspected terrorists.

After a letter from 200 academics and psychiatrists criticized Brennan for his alleged support for torture, Brennan took his name out of the running. "The challenges ahead of our nation are too daunting, and the role of the CIA too critical, for there to be any distraction from the vital work that lies ahead," he wrote, in a letter to Obama.

However, in my opinion, this is a canard, and it's too bad that Brennan isn't going to get the job. He's a veteran of decades spent at CIA, and he served as the founding chief of the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC).

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. As he told the National Journal in an interview in March:

I am a strong proponent of trying to focus more of our efforts on the upstream phenomenon of terrorism. I make the analogy to pollution. We learned that pollutants kill us when they get into the water we drink or the fish we eat or the air we breathe. But I think we also learned that we have to go upstream to identify and eliminate those sources of pollution. Terrorism is a tactic, and we have to be more focused upstream. Since 9/11, understandably we've focused downstream, on those terrorists who might be in our midst or trying to kill us, the operators. I think there needs to be much more attention paid to those upstream factors and conditions that spawn terrorists.

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.

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