Obama reloading for second term
The big news over President Obama's nomination of John Brennan to head the CIA is the uproar that won't happen.
President Barack Obama kicked off an old-fashioned Senate confirmation fight — one of those battles both politicos and news reporters like best — when he nominated Chuck Hagel, a Republican former U.S. senator from Nebraska, to become this nation's next secretary of defense.
There have been rumblings of complaint for weeks about Hagel's impending nomination, with reports of opposition coming both from Republicans in the Senate and Democrats as well. But Obama surely is sufficiently astute in reading the tea leaves that he expects majority Democrats to fall in line behind his man.
Hagel is considered a controversial nominee, mostly because of his past opposition to imposing economic sanctions to slow down Iran's nuclear programs, his support for cuts in the defense budget and his striking lack of enthusiasm for Israel in a town where support for Israel is strong.
But there also is no denying that Hagel and Obama are mostly simpatico, not just personal friends from their days together in the Senate, but on the same wavelength in terms of policy. During Obama's first term, Hagel was the chairman of Obama's Foreign Policy Advisory Board, and he obviously performed well enough to merit a substantial promotion.
Rather than back down from attacks on Hagel, Obama expects his Democratic allies in the Senate to flex their muscle and confirm Hagel.
That, however, is not the big news surrounding Obama's nominations on Monday.
The president also recommended John Brennan, a lifetime employee of the CIA, for confirmation by the Senate to fill the vacancy created by the resignation of David Petraeus, the revered former Army general who resigned following disclosures of involvement in an extramarital affair.
The nomination of Brennan shows that the more things change the more they stay the same in Washington, D.C. Or — to put it another way — it's one thing to second-guess from the sidelines and quite another to be responsible for making serious decisions on national security issues.
Brennan had hoped to be recommended for the top CIA job in 2009, following Obama's election to his first term. But Brennan ultimately withdrew from consideration because of his involvement in the hugely controversial enhanced interrogation — aka torture — program involving CIA operatives and terrorism suspects.
But times and attitudes have changed, and the gulf between the Bush administration policy and Obama campaign rhetoric has shrunk considerably.
Indeed, it's fair to say that there's not much difference on terrorism issues. Republicans prefer the hands-on approach of waterboarding terrorists while Democrats opt for the more antiseptic tactic of blowing them up with rockets fired by pilotless drones.
Civil libertarians remain apoplectic about both. But the same Democrats who expressed outrage over waterboarding are quiet as church mice — maybe even quietly proud — of the drone attacks. There is a similar lack of outrage over Guantanamo Bay, renditions, the Patriot Act and many of the other tough tactics used by the Bush administration and continued by the Obama administration.
There's no question that policies on Iraq and Afghanistan differ markedly from what Obama inherited when he took office in January 2009. But while war policy has changed, the aggressive approach taken toward those who mean to do America harm remains largely the same. If it had not, Brennan, the CIA's director-in-waiting, wouldn't be submitting to the confirmation hearing in 2013 that he avoided in 2009.