Obama’s National Security Nominations: Nothing to See Here
January 8, 2013 2 Comments
By I. ALLEN and J. FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
The deluge of reports that are flooding the news media about the national security nominations of United States President Barack Obama is both natural and understandable. The Departments of State and Defense, as well as the Central Intelligence Agency, are among the critical components of the American government, especially in matters of foreign policy. Yet much of the commentary on the nominations of John Kerry for State, Chuck Hagel for the Pentagon, and John Brennan for the CIA, is unduly over-dramatizing what is essentially a routine story. To begin with, it is clear that, in selecting Kerry, Hagel and Brennan for the nominations, the President’s priority was to surround himself with people he knows and trusts. Knowledgeable observers point out that all three nominees come from Obama’s most trusted circle of friends and —if appointed— will allow the President to stay well “within his comfort zone” as he begins his second term in office. In this sense, Obama selected the three candidates, not with some major policy shift in mind, but in order to ensure continuity and permanence in his foreign policy.
Take John Brennan, for instance: an Arabic-speaking career officer in the CIA, who has served the Agency in various positions for over 25 years. It is undeniable that, since 2008, Brennan has been instrumental in shaping the thinking behind the Obama administration’s targeted killings program using unmanned drones. According to some analysts, he has been the White House’s “most important adviser for shaping the campaign of drone strikes”. As intelNews explained recently, Washington’s unmanned drone program will continue and most likely expand, but this has little to do with Brennan. As an excellent analysis of Brennan’s nomination (by the Council on Foreign Relations’ Micah Zenko) points out, the CIA’s targeted killing program “has become institutionalized” with a momentum of its own, which ensures its sustainability, “making it far bigger than any one person —even John Brennan”.
Another example in point is the nomination of Chuck Hagel for Secretary of Defense. A lot has been made of his allegedly “antagonistic stance” on Israel. One supposed example is his call in for an immediate end to the 2006 Israel-Lebanon war. The Republican Senator said at the time that “the sickening slaughter on both sides must end and it must end now” and called on then-President George W. Bush to work “for an immediate cease-fire [because] this madness must stop”. He also opined that, although America’s “relationship with Israel is special and historic […] it need not and cannot be at the expense of our Arab and Muslim relationships”. Two years later, Hagel told an interviewer that he respected the activities of the pro-Israel lobby in the US, but that he was obligated to vote in Congress in accordance to America’s national interest, since “I’m not an Israeli Senator. I am a United States Senator”.
Putting aside the issue of why these comments should be considered anti-Israeli, rather than pro-American, the question is what do Hagel’s comments have to do with American foreign policy? Even if we were to accept that Hagel is somehow “anti-Israel”, anyone who thinks that nearly seven decades of American policy on Israel are about to change because Hagel is suspicious of the Israeli lobby in the US, grossly misunderstands the institutional character of American foreign policy. The latter does not change in radical shifts; it evolves over long periods as a result of varying national or economic interests, changing conditions or the ground, or popular pressure. There is no question that Hagel, like Obama himself, is skeptical about military intervention abroad; but this fact points to continuity, not a radical shift in the administration’s policy. If Hagel’s nomination is approved by Congress, his views on Israel, or for that matter any other country or group of countries, will form but one element in a multitude of competing interests that help shape American foreign policy.
President Obama’s national security nominations are certainly noteworthy. But there is little here that is earth shattering. For the most part, the President sought individuals who will help him sustain the foreign policy of his first term in office, not radically alter it. Anyone looking for drama in these nominations will sooner or later be thoroughly disappointed.