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Brennan and Gates: a Big Win, a Continued Loss

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Sunday before last, Glenn Greenwald provided substantial pushback on the possibility of one-time George Tenet deputy John Brennan heading the CIA for the Obama Administration. Ten days later, Brennan withdrew his name from consideration, specifically citing a “firestorm” in the “liberal blogs” for blocking his ascent. 

It’s not so much a victory for the blogosphere as it is a victory for transparency, openness, and the media—be it establishment or new—paying attention to the things that matter to America.

The Obama transition team might be vetting the heck out of prospective administration hires to make sure that they haven’t done anything embarrassing on a personal or financial level, but it is up to blogs and other media professionals to vet our next government for things that embarrass us as a nation. That means torture, that means rendition, that means completely mishandling and exploiting the threat of terrorism.

Only with a full airing and open discussion of the viewpoints of potential Obama teammates can we really get the change we voted for, the change we deserve.

Only hours later, word got out that President Elect Obama would retain the services of Bush Defense Secretary Robert Gates, at least for the foreseeable future.

On Tuesday evening, Jane appeared on The Rachel Maddow Show to raise doubts about the pick because it hinted at a continuation (an escalation?) of failed tactics in the Afghan theater—which it most certainly does.

However, that is only one part of the problem with this non-pick pick.

Gates, of course, was already covered with the stink of Iran Contra when he was nominated to head the CIA by President Reagan in 1987. So covered, in fact, he had to withdraw from consideration. Four years later, after a report from the panel investigating Iran Contra found that Gates had lied to investigators about what he knew and when he knew it, but that his lies did not rise to the level that warranted prosecution, Daddy Bush re-nominated Gates for DCI. It was a long, contentious confirmation hearing, but Gates lied his way through it—again contradicting the findings in the Iran Contra report.

All of that is to say that Robert Gates is no straight shooter. He is a self-serving liar who has always put his own image and career ahead of duty, honor, and country. There is no reason for a President Obama to expect anything different from the DoD version of Gates just because he is in a different job, or because he is reportedly building his dream house for a much anticipated retirement.

Further, Gates does not really represent “competence.” As Glenn Greenwald recently observed, you can’t really separate competence and ideology:

[I]sn’t competence determined, at least in part, by ideology? For instance, isn’t someone’s support for the Iraq War — the most consequential political issue of the last decade, at least — a negative reflection on that person’s judgment, competence and expertise, just as someone’s opposition to that war is a positive reflection on those attributes? How can selecting only pro-war Cabinet members and advisers be justified on the grounds of "competence" — as though one’s support for the War has nothing to do with competence?

If you want to competently re-focus US foreign policy away from the interventionist model, you have to appoint people at the very top who buy into your new approach. Just because Gates has appeared relatively rational when compared with his predecessor, Don Rumsfeld, does not mean that he represents a shift in strategic thinking. If he did, we would have seen a drawdown of our presence in Iraq, and far less reliance on reckless, immoral, and counterproductive aerial bombing in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

Leave it to the careerists to provide the continuity—the folks at the top need a vision. We want something more than technocrats; the moment calls for something more than technocrats.

Additionally, since the Truman Administration, we’ve only had three Secretaries of Defense that were Democrats. Democratic Presidents need to promote the idea that there is a liberal point of view on military engagement. If we keep promoting Republicans to this post, we are going to keep getting advice shaped by their worldview.

The left—or even the center-left—should do a better job of promoting their military minds. Perhaps this community needs to produce more leading voices, but there are certainly enough liberal thinkers in this field to provide more than enough potential staff for top jobs at the Pentagon.

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Gregg Levine

Gregg Levine

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