Exceptional news: John Brennan won’t be CIA Director or DNI

Obama's top intelligence adviser removes himself from consideration for a top post, citing the "firestorm in liberal blogs" over his support for Bush's detention and interrogation policies.

Topics: Washington, D.C.,

(updated below – Update II – Update III – Update IV)

This is really exceptional news on multiple levels — the best political news I’ve heard since the election:

Brennan out of running for top intel post

John Brennan, President-elect Barack Obama’s top adviser on intelligence, has taken his name out of the running for any intelligence position in the new administration.

Brennan wrote in a Nov. 25 letter to Obama that he did not want to be a distraction.  His potential appointment has raised a firestorm in liberal blogs who associate him with the Bush administration’s interrogation, detention and rendition policies.

“The fact that I was not involved in the decision-making process for any of these controversial policies and actions has been ignored,” he wrote, in a letter obtained by The Associated Press. . .

Obama’s advisers had grown increasingly concerned in recent days over online blogs that accused Brennan of condoning harsh interrogation tactics on terror suspects, including waterboarding, which critics call torture.

Brennan’s self-defense here is quite disingenuous.  Whether he “was involved in the decision-making process for any of these controversial policies” is not and never was the issue.  Rather, as I documented at length when I first wrote about Brennan, he was an ardent supporter of those policies, including “enhanced interrogation techniques” and rendition, both of which he said he was intimately familiar with as a result of his CIA position.  As virtually everyone who opposed his nomination made clear — Andrew Sullivan, Digby, Cenk Uygur, Big Tent Democrat and others — that is why he was so unacceptable.

I think Obama is entitled to a lot of leeway on appointments and is entitled not to be condemned — or praised — other than for things he actually does.  And while I have found some of his appointments questionable, Brennan was the only prospective appointment that, speaking only for myself, was completely unacceptable.  Advocacy of Bush’s interrogation and rendition programs should exclude anyone from consideration for any important position, let alone CIA Director or Director of National Intelligence.  

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Reports had repeatedly indicated that Brennan — who served all year as Obama’s top adviser for intelligence matters — was the leading candidate for either of those positions, especially CIA Director.  It’s unclear if it was Obama or Brennan who was the catalyst for this decision, but either way, it’s to be celebrated.  And as Big Tent Democrat wrote today:  “In case people were wondering, THIS is why you do not wait to express your ‘concern’ about issues and personnel.”

This is an important victory.  It’s absolutely vital that these bright lines be re-established.  Brennan’s being denied a top intelligence positions due to his past advocacy of these abuses is a big step towards achieving that, particularly since it was due to pressure from those who insist that these political values not be de-prioritized or ignored.

 

UPDATE:  Andrew Sullivan has Brennan’s withdrawal letter here, and Brennan’s self-defense relies on pure strawmen.  Contrary to his protestations, it was noted from the start that Brennan opposed waterboarding (as I wrote:  ”In fairness, Brennan, over the last couple of years, as he’s become more attached to Obama’s campaign, has several times said that waterboarding specifically is wrong”).  Despite that, his lengthy, emphatic statements made clear that he defended “enhanced interrogation tactics” and rendition — grounds enough for making him unacceptable for any top intelligence post — to say nothing of his strident advocacy for warrantless eavesdropping and telecom amnesty.   

In light of his clear record and statements, a high-level appointment for Brennan would have signaled ambivalence and ambiguity in exactly the areas where unequivocal clarity is most urgently needed.

 

UPDATE II:  I was invited to discuss Brennan’s withdrawal on tonight’s Rachel Maddow Show, but logistics made that impossible.  Instead, Jane Hamsher — who I’m certain will do her typically excellent job — will be on to talk about it.  Those interested should be certain to watch Rachel’s show tonight.

 

UPDATE III:  It’s certainly happened before that blogs have played a leading role in events like this — the defeat of Bush’s Social Security plan, the temporary defeat by the House of FISA and telecom immunity, the publicizing of the DOJ prosecutors scandal — but it’s very rare for the central role of blogs in such episodes to be so explicitly acknowledged by everyone, including the principal actors and the establishment media:

 

 

And from The New York Times‘ Mark Mazzetti:  

The letter came as a surprise to many intelligence experts and even some lawmakers, and some questioned whether Mr. Brennan had been forced to withdraw his name by senior members of Mr. Obama’s transition team who were concerned about Mr. Brennan’s association with Bush administration policies.

The opposition to Mr. Brennan had been largely confined to liberal blogs, and there was not an expectation he would face a particularly difficult confirmation process. Still, the episode shows that the C.I.A.’s secret detention program remains a particularly incendiary issue for the Democratic base, making it difficult for Mr. Obama to select someone for a top intelligence post who has played any role in the agency’s campaign against Al Qaeda since the Sept. 11 attacks.

It’s a good thing that “the C.I.A.’s secret detention program remains a particularly incendiary issue” and that anyone associated with it — let alone someone who defended it — will have a difficult time being appointed to a position of high authority.  And, as a general proposition, it’s always positive when those in the Washington establishment are influenced by citizens who aren’t.

 

UPDATE IV:  For those who missed it, here is Jane Hamsher with Rachel Maddow last night, discussing Brennan’s withdrawal, as well as the news that Robert Gates will remain as Defense Secretary for at least a year:

 

Glenn Greenwald

Follow Glenn Greenwald on Twitter: @ggreenwald.

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