The Silly Conservative Attacks on John Brennan

The conservative case against Obama's CIA nominee seems to be that the man is somehow soft on terrorism.

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Joshua Roberts / Bloomberg via Getty Images

U.S. President Barack Obama, left, listens as his nominee for director of the Central Intelligence Agency, John Brennan, White House chief counterterrorism adviser, speaks during an announcement in the East Room of the White House in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Jan. 7, 2013.

When President Obama nominated John Brennan to run the CIA earlier this week, the most interesting reaction to the choice seemed likely to come from the left. Liberals had previously shot down Obama’s first plan to install the grim-faced Brennan at Langley, back in late 2008, on the grounds that Brennan, as a Bush-era CIA official, had been complicit in the nastiest anti-terror detention and interrogation policies of the past decade. (The evidence for this remains murky and circumstantial, and Brennan has long stated clearly his opposition to torture.) That led Obama to name Brennan as his White House counter-terrorism advisor, ironically a position in which Brennan came to have more power and influence than either of the two men who have run The Agency under Obama.

The civil-liberties left doesn’t intend to give Brennan a free pass–not only for his Bush-era record, but also for his central role in shaping Obama’s aggressive campaign of drone strikes against suspected terrorists and pro-Taliban fighters. But at the moment there’s no evidence that a significant number of Senate Democrats, if any, will oppose his nomination.

Less expected is the bitter criticism of Brennan now emerging from the right. It’s true that Brennan came under Republican fire early in Obama’s presidency, after conservatives complained about the handling of the would-be Christmas Day 2009 bomber. Brennan fired back with a tart USA Today op-ed that some conservatives have not forgotten, which perhaps injudiciously argued that some critics of the administration’s counter-terror policies were “serving the goals of al Qaeda.”

But no one’s even arguing that should disqualify Brennan from running the CIA. Instead, the conservative case against him seems to be that this man, who has overseen a White House “kill list” which has led to the deaths of scores of suspected Islamic radicals, is somehow soft on terrorism.

The case largely revolves around a 2009 speech in which Brennan argued that America needed to reframe the way it thinks and talks about the terrorist threat. One argument Brennan made is that the U.S. should drop broad declarations of a war on terror–which describes a tactic, not an enemy–and a “global war”–which suggests America is fighting the world–for a “clear, more precise definition of this challenge.” Specifically, Brennan advocated talking more specifically about a war on al Qaeda and its extremist allies.

Some right-wing outlets are now revisiting and spinning the speech to suggest that Brennan had called for an end to the fight against Islamic radicals–waving a white flag of surrender, if you will. This line of attack runs into a bit of trouble, however, in the form of Osama bin Laden himself. In diaries retrieved from his compound in Abbottabad after his killing (which Brennan helped to plan), bin Laden fretted that his terror network had developed a branding problem in part thanks to Washington’s rhetorical shift:

Bin Laden’s biggest concern was al-Qaeda’s media image among Muslims. He worried that it was so tarnished that, in a draft letter probably intended for Atiyah, he argued that the organization should find a new name.

The al-Qaeda brand had become a problem, bin Laden explained, because Obama administration officials “have largely stopped using the phrase ‘the war on terror’ in the context of not wanting to provoke Muslims,” and instead promoted a war against al-Qaeda. The organization’s full name was “Qaeda al-Jihad,” bin Laden noted, but in its shorthand version, “this name reduces the feeling of Muslims that we belong to them.” He proposed 10 alternatives “that would not easily be shortened to a word that does not represent us.” His first recommendation was “Taifat al-tawhid wal-jihad,” or Monotheism and Jihad Group.

It’s hard to imagine a more effective way of refuting the complaint than that.

A related critique is based on the same speech, and targets the fact that Brennan warned against referring to “jihadists” as violent enemies of America. “Describing terrorists in this way—using a legitimate term, ‘jihad,’ meaning to purify oneself or to wage a holy struggle for a moral goal—risks giving these murderers the religious legitimacy they desperately seek but in no way deserve. Worse, it risks reinforcing the idea that the United States is somehow at war with Islam itself.”

Some conservatives say it’s appalling to describe jihad this way. “When the person in charge of counter-terrorism at the White House starts describing jihad as something we need to understand, a legitimate tenet of Islam, I start to worry a little bit about it,” the American Enterprise Institute’s Danielle Pletka scoffed on NPR this week. But the word jihad really can does have a nonviolent meaning. And whereas Pletka simply denounces such talk as “claptrap,” some right-wing agitators are now proclaiming Brennan to be “pro-jihad,” as though the architect of Obama’s drone war is actually some kind of terrorist mole. That might make for a great episode of Homeland, but it’s an embarrassment to the people making the argument.

One reason Brennan thinks in these terms is because he speaks Arabic and has spent extensive time living in the Arab world. To some conservatives this, too, makes him suspect. I don’t know whether these same people trashed George W. Bush’s efforts to communicate with the Muslim world, and to make clear that America is not waging war against it. But their critique of Brennan seems exceedingly unlikely to win any converts not inclined to despise automatically anyone associated with Obama.

“The fact that John speaks some Arabic, cares about the culture and the people of the Middle East, has spent years living in the region–it’s stunning that that would somehow be seen as a negative,” says White House spokesman Tommy Vietor. “Caring about and understanding an important part of the world seems like a net benefit for someone in his position.” You would think.

74 comments
Fla4Me
Fla4Me

As conservative it is our mission to ensure that Obama is a one term president........ok, ok, lets go with....it is our mission to ensure that President Obama gets none on his cabinet choices confirmed.

ndelange74
ndelange74

The true irony here is that those conservative critics of Brennan never expressed any objections to Bush the Second's attempt to establish an American colonial empire-in-all-but-name in the Middle East. After all, in the eyes of American conservatives NO ONE who doesn't look like themselves, act like themselves, speak like themselves, worship like themselves or love like themselves are truly human, & therefore it is perfectly okay to disregard their (conservatives') avowed belief in the sanctity of life & liberty. 

HughWilson
HughWilson

Here's an <a href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZqlI2waloCU">interesting statement</a> from Brennan about Hezbollah:.

"Hezbollah started out as purely a terrorist organization back in the early ’80s and has evolved significantly over time. And now it has members of parliament, in the cabinet. There are lawyers, doctors, others who are part of the Hezbollah organization... And so, quite frankly, I’m pleased to see that a lot of Hezbollah individuals are in fact renouncing that type of terrorism and violence and are trying to participate in the political process [in Lebanon] in a very legitimate fashion. " Link - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZqlI2waloCU

"Legitimate fashion", lol!

Oh, Michael, stop your nonsense already, you're going off the Liberal, left-wing deep end. Lol.

forgottenlord
forgottenlord

"But the word jihad really can does have a nonviolent meaning."

This surprised me.  It amazes me that this is the first time I've ever heard that idea.  Even more surprising is how nobody seemed to know this until Brennan pointed it out.  We've been hyperfocused on the Islamic world for a decade and reporters have been everywhere in the Middle East and not one of them learnt in that time that the concept of Jihad over there is quite different from our interpretation?

shepherdwong
shepherdwong

"Less expected is the bitter criticism of Brennan now emerging from the right."


Buy a clue already. The Republican Party is an opposition party. That's all they are.

MrObvious
MrObvious

The silly conservative attack on X.


Lets make it general. Sane/true/real conservative attacks are so far removed from the regular noise that in these times they're as mythological as unicorns.

grape_crush
grape_crush

> The civil-liberties left doesn’t intend to give Brennan a free pass..

a) Thanks for making a distinction there, Crowley. Not every lefty has a huge issue with Brennan's nomination.

b) Once again, legitimate concerns/arguments coming from the left while "silly attacks" are flying in from the right. What's interesting is, while Crowley has done a good job pushing back on these conservative* smear attempts, the criticisms coming from Obama's left are either  being ignored or at the most are just alluded to as existing.

(*a word that no longer means what it used to mean, say, under Reagan or Bush the Elder)


kbanginmotown
kbanginmotown

The "Ministry of Silly Conservatives" is what Washington's GOP are becoming...

superlogi
superlogi

Brennan is a great example of an hypocritical politically motivated hack.  He's one of those people who agreed with enhanced interrogations and rendition before he didn't.  But then, that is the story of a progressive toady who's primary motivation is his own personal condition.  Oh, and it would also be interesting to find out just who let the cat out of the back with regard to the bin Laden killing.

SurfnDano49
SurfnDano49

Look it's as simple as this...the President shapes/makes policy on everything...his cabinet is there to exexute that.  The GOP would throw Regean under the bus given how they are nowdays.  

Dachman
Dachman

So what is everyones thoughts here, do you support Brennan's appointment?

DonQuixotic
DonQuixotic

@Fla4Me 

Well if their mission is to block all of his appointees, they've been doing a hell of a job of it for the past four years.  Many Government offices have been virtually crippled because of it.

reallife
reallife

@sacredh  hahahahaha  you guys have to get out of that "Washington, Facebook, twitter" bubble you live in, really... 

get out, talk to "real people" once in a while... you know the ones "clinging to their guns and their religion", you might surprise yourselves...

kbanginmotown
kbanginmotown

@sacredh The petitioners failed at marketing the Death Star. 

They should have sold it as a drone. A really, REALLY, f*cking big drone.

POTUS and the Pentagon would have been all over it... 

outsider
outsider

@HughWilson 


I'm not sure i understand. Trying to be productive members of society isn't trying to participate in the political process in a legitimate fashion?


Or do you prefer them being terrorists? 


Oh i get it, the US should just nuke the bunch, right?

S_Deemer
S_Deemer

@forgottenlord Lots of people pointed this out before Brennan, but we weren't listening. The Islamophobes such as Danielle Pletke can be expected to ignore evidence that doesn't fit their world view, but for the rest of the population, it's just part of the same popular ignorance that conflates Iranians and Arabs, thinks that Muslims believe in a different god than Christians and Jews, and cannot find a single middle eastern country on a map.

bobell
bobell

There is indeed a semantic problem with the word "jihad," because it indeed is not always understood by all native speakrs of Arabic to mean exclusively killing the infidels.  So it is possible that Arabic speakers will misunderstand some English statement or other that uses the word, particularly if they're seeing or hearing a translation of it into Arabkc.  What Brennan said on this point may seem trivial, but that doesn't make it wrong -- rather, it makes it trivial.  This is just another instance of the right seizing on whatever they can find to argue against what Obama wants to do.

If a Londoner encouraged you to walk on the pavement, would you suspect him of wanting you out in traffic?  Check your dictionary first.  Same thing here.

jmac
jmac

@shepherdwong Liz Cheney (at Red State Gathering):  "The purpose of diplomacy is not to be liked."   Silly.  Yes.  The core of the current Republican mantra.  Yes.    Just ask Ted  Cruz.  Ask Rand Paul.  Ask the Tea Party Senator from Utah who replaced a conservative Republican senator from Utah.   We're talking Senators here - not Representatives.  Who will replace the Democratic Rockefeller in West Virginia?  Ask LaPierre.   Reporters still cling to the concept that the  Republican party is sane.  Sanity is DOA.  

MrObvious
MrObvious

@sacredh 


Righties are good at confusing historical quotations and events. Just look at Bachmann and the VEEPEE that never was. Knowing shit is so boring.

mantisdragon91
mantisdragon91

@superlogi You are a great example of a right wing hack. If Obama appointed Mother Theresa you would complain she wasn't charitable enough.

jason024
jason024


@superlogi   "Brennan is a great example of an hypocritical politically motivated hack."    Welcome to America superlogi This is how ALL of our politicians (GOP and Dem) operate. Why does this surprise you? This is hardy a reason to disqulify him....

Tero
Tero

@superlogi 

Stop pretending like you have reasonable nuanced reasons for your positions. You just oppose anything and everything that Obama endorses. I wonder what your motives are for such extreme and mindless opposition? Hmmm, I wonder....

outsider
outsider

@superlogi 


I thought he was against torture all along. 

Do you have a link where he endorsed it?

notsacredh
notsacredh

I'm a bit of a liberal and I think it's a good pick. I'm in support of the drone strikes.

bobell
bobell

I can't speak for everyone, and I'm not sure I'd make Brennan my first choice if the choice were mine, but he's the first choice of the president, and the president is who makes the appointment, and there seems to be no legitimate objection to him. So, answering the question you should have asked, I think the Senate should confirm him.

DonQuixotic
DonQuixotic

@reallife @sacredh 

You might be surprised how quickly those "real people" are becoming a marginalized voting block, particularly when people like you try to pretend like the rest of us aren't "real people".

notsacredh
notsacredh

reallife, I live in one of those areas where people cling to their guns and religion. I talk to them almost every day. The only thing that surprises me is how misinformed they are.  I took a pile of cash from them in November because they were so sure that Mitt would beat Obama that they made bets they had no chance of winning.  Everyone is a real person. The big difference is that the right thinks that everyone thinks like they do. I would suggest that the election is evidence that they don't.

shepherdwong
shepherdwong

@jmac @shepherdwong Well they've only been campaigning as the anti-government party since Reagan, why should journalists understand?

superlogi
superlogi

@Tero @superlogi I've never been nuanced unless you think my calling your emperor a communist is nuanced.

Dachman
Dachman

In November, 2007, Brennan — in an interview with CBS News’ Harry Smith — issued a ringing endorsement for so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques” short of waterboarding:

SMITH: You know, this all becomes such a giant issue because the president has gone on record so many times saying the United States does not torture. If we acknowledge that this kind of activity goes on, you know, what does that mean, exactly, I guess?

Mr. BRENNAN: Well, the CIA has acknowledged that it has detained about 100 terrorists since 9/11, and about a third of them have been subjected to what the CIA refers to as enhanced interrogation tactics, and only a small proportion of those have in fact been subjected to the most serious types of enhanced procedures.

SMITH: Right. And you say some of this has born fruit.

Mr. BRENNAN: There have been a lot of information that has come out from these interrogation procedures that the agency has in fact used against the real hard-core terrorists. It has saved lives. And let’s not forget, these are hardened terrorists who have been responsible for 9/11, who have shown no remorse at all for the deaths of 3,000 innocents.

outsider
outsider

@sacredh 

drone strikes keep soldiers from getting hurt. I think it's a good idea too. And the president did win the election, so he should be able to make his choice. 

notsacredh
notsacredh

They got voted off the island and think they won.

forgottenlord
forgottenlord

@sacredh It's gone now...but when I originally posted, NPR's logo was sitting at the bottom of my post

notsacredh
notsacredh

Perry, my sister, both brothers and mother all voted for Obama in the last two elections. My wife sat out the last two elections and the MIL thinks he's the anti-Christ. The inlaws are uniformly republicans and very conservative. To them, I'm like a "cutter". When we talk about politics, it's civil, but liberal and communist are the same things to them. They just don't understand how I could vote for a democrat. 

PerryWhite1
PerryWhite1

@sacredh Listening to my brother-in-law talk is exactly like listening to Faux News. He just repeats what he hears on what he calls "the news" (which includes Hannity, O'Reilly, etc.). I'm tempted to ask him for Frank Luntz's phone number, so I can call him directly and cut out the middleman.

notsacredh
notsacredh

Thinking leads to knowledge. Knowledge leads to thought. It's so much easier to watch Fox and have an entertainer tell you what to think. Cut out the middle man.

superlogi
superlogi

@mantisdragon91 I am averse to incompetent, treacherous phonies whether they're a President or people who work for one.  It's as simple as that.

notsacredh
notsacredh

"This is a dangerous precedent and you would do well to consider it's use in the hands of a President with whom you don't agree."

.

It wouldn't have mattered to me if Cheney was President and ordered the drone strike. I would have still supported and cheered the strike. I also wouldn't have risked troops in trying to capture him. His videos weren't just disageeing with the troops, he wanted them to be attacked and killed. I also don't agree that my second definition of a battlefield is absurdly broad in scope. Suicide bombers will strike in any place and in any circumstances. I believe that makes the virtually the whole country a battlefield. While I wouldn't condone a drone strike in the market place acceptable, I would consider most other places as fair game.

.

We'll just have to agree to disagree on this.

Diecash1
Diecash1

@sacredh Your first definition of a battlefield is closer to the truth, while the second is absurdly broad in scope.  

I agree that it is difficult to define a battlefield but my concern is that it is currently defined as loosely as 'enemy combatant' which means whatever those in charge say it does.  Regardless, the targeting and the subsequent killing of an American citizen is something that I cannot support.  If he was so important that he needed to be targeted (with the agreement of the POTUS), they could have set out to capture or kill him, like OBL.  This is a dangerous precedent and you would do well to consider it's use in the hands of a President with whom you don't agree.

For me, it's much like the expanded executive powers under W.  I didn't agree with it when W expanded the authority of the executive branch and I don't like it any better now that Obama is utilizing the same powers.  I think that a line must be drawn here.


notsacredh
notsacredh

Diecash1, I disagree. What is a battlefield? Is it an actual and limited area where fighting is taking place or is it the entire theater of operations which can encompass an entire region or country? It's the splitting of hairs and interpretations that even the courts can't decide upon. Is it a case where a remote drone spots a target and logistics make it next to impossible to stage an arrest?

Diecash1
Diecash1

@sacredh I get that but there's no such thing as "latitude" when it comes to the rule of law, war time or not.  Had he been killed by a soldier, bomb, or drone strike on a battlefield, so be it but this was an illegal action with an agreeable outcome.  Regardless, I can't support the tactic.

notsacredh
notsacredh

Diecash!, he was making videos calling for attacks on American troops. I'd rather see 100 of his ilk taken out by a drone strike than lose a single one of our soldiers. I'm a cynic and think many of our laws (especially in regard to principles we only pay lip service to) give us the latitude in wartime to bend the rules a bit. I actually prefer your principles to mine but I'm a vengeful god. Small g. I have some modesty.



Diecash1
Diecash1

@sacredh I have mixed feelings regarding the drone strikes.  They do reduce military casualties but at what cost?  What about the innocent civilians that are sometimes killed in such strikes?  To be fair, civilians are sometimes killed in military operations.  I'd welcome a comparison of the casualties resulting from each type of operation.

Regarding the killing of an American citizen via drone strike, I can't support that.  Though he was a verifiable scumbag, he was an American citizen and, as such, he had rights.  Were he killed on a battlefield, so be it but ordering his death with a drone strike is not in accordance with our laws and I cannot support such a breach of our principles and laws.

Tero
Tero

@sacredh 

That one strike was the only one that kind of bothered me. However, the "slippery slope" argument is usually hallow.

notsacredh
notsacredh

The drone strikes have been a huge success and very effective. I also supported 100% the strike on that American traitor.