While Republicans are stepping over each other to bash President Obama’s secretary of defense nominee Chuck Hagel for being “anti-Israel,” the president’s pick for director of the CIA is slipping through with little to no political dissent. But this isn’t John Brennan’s first rodeo, and time seems to have changed American values. In 2004, Brennan’s name was thrown in the hat for the same position, but he was forced to withdraw it when a tide of liberal opposition shed an unflattering spotlight on his ties to the Bush administration’s torture and rendition programs.
What has changed in four years that Americans are ready to accept what was formerly an unacceptable option?
In 2008, Americans had had their fill of torture, illegal warfare, and rendition. Not only was Bush unpopular with human-rights radicals like the ACLU, mainstream liberals and Democrats despised him too. Even many of his former supporters began to question the morality of their “pro-life” leader.
When Barack Obama was elected to the presidency in November 2008, Americans expected an end to the secrecy and human rights abuses that had come to define the last eight years. So when the newly-elected president was considering John Brennan to head the CIA, liberals were quick to reject the former CIA official and Director of the Terrorist Threat Interrogation Center under the Bush administration — and for good reason.
Brennan was both a fan of rendition to torturing countries and what he called “enhanced interrogation” techniques, though he later spoke out against the Bush administration’s use of the controversial waterboarding tactic. In a letter to the newly-elected president, approximately 200 psychologists pressed Obama to reconsider his potential pick, telling him that, “[America] needs a clear and decisive repudiation of the “dark side.” To them, and many other liberals back then, Brennan represented that “dark side.” They were hoping their new president would return transparency and the rule of law to the White House as promised.
But not much has changed in four years; Brennan, if anything, has become even darker.
As President Obama’s chief counterterrorism adviser, Brennan has personally crafted the infamous “kill list,” instructing the president on who should be killed and where, American citizens included. And Brennan is a huge proponent of the administration’s ever-expanding drone warfare now being used in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia. According to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, drone strikes in Pakistan alone have killed 2,600 – 3,400 people. Of those, the Bureau reports that between 282 and 535 were civilians, including more than 60 children.
But Brennan is less than apologetic. In a speech at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington in April, Brennan advocated expanding drone warfare “beyond hot battlefields like Afghanistan.” He’s also pushed for the CIA to have even greater killing capacity using “signature strikes,” also known as “crowd killing.” Signature strikes target “groups of men who bear certain signatures, or defining characteristics associated with terrorist activity, but whose identities aren’t known.”
The White House has been tight-lipped on what sort of “evidence” qualifies one for such an attack, or what gets one on the “kill list” in the first place. In October of 2011, a 16-year-old Pakistani boy, Tariq Aziz, and his 12-year-old cousin were targeted and killed by a U.S. drone. Aziz was learning photography to help document the drone killings that were taking place near his home. Evidently, he made the list.
It’s deaths like these that have anti-American sentiment at an all-time high in Pakistan. A recent Pew Research Center poll shows 88% of Pakistanis harbor a negative view of the United States.
But back home, John Brennan is being considered for CIA director with little to no objection. Unlike the receivers of the strikes, Americans favor drone warfare, with 62% supporting it, including most Republicans (74%) and Democrats (58%).
But it’s America’s liberals that seem to have political amnesia at best, and fickle partisan values at worst. What happened to the anti-war protests numbering in the tens of thousands? What happened to the cries to stop torture and end indefinite detention? What happened to the opposition to men such as John Brennan? The American left appears to have lowered its expectations and lost its moral compass with the re-election of President Obama.
As Salon political writer and Guardian columnist Glenn Greenwald puts it, "The country has decided to ignore the fact that it committed grievous crimes as part of the ‘War on Terror.’ Obama's Orwellian decree that we must ‘look forward, not backward’ has convinced huge numbers of citizens to sweep this all under the rug and pretend it never happened."
Perhaps liberals are afraid to face the fact that the man they put all their hopes and dreams in, the man they campaigned and voted for not once but twice, is looking more and more like his loathed predecessor. Perhaps that’s why they are silent on John Brennan. To criticize him now would be to criticize President Obama. But John Brennan is President Obama.