In his testimony John Brennan was seemingly as concise, informed, and fluent as Chuck Hagel was vague, uninformed and rambling. Brennan’s delivery was as impressive as Hagel’s was painful to watch. And whereas one sensed from Hagel that there were vast areas about both the job and his own background about which he either could not or would not wish to inform, in Brennan’s case there is mostly just one, though a big, problem. It is not just that he was a political contortionist adjusting to the particular administration in power, but that he was so political that he went from being a Bush-Cheney anti-terrorism zealot to a pro-Obama harsh critic of the very policies that he had once praised and indeed been instrumental in carrying out—a problem maybe not for a political appointment, but certainly one for the director of the CIA.
The more Brennan talked about the absolute importance of remaining disinterested in Washington politics, the more one only had to compare his erstwhile praise of his former employers versus his later castigation of them. And the result is that we have no idea about what Brennan felt about enhanced interrogation, drones, or the nation’s entire anti-terrorism protocols, simply because Brennan apparently had no idea about them either, other than to support, condemn, or hedge on the agenda that the particular president in power advanced, when it was politically advantageous to do so.
For the last four years, the chief paradox in our War on Terror is the disconnect between the country tearing itself apart over the waterboarding of three terrorists who had confessed to a role in the planning of 9/11 and the near silence about a vast expansion of the targeted assassination program (of suspected terrorists) whose body count probably increased tenfold since 2009. And at the very heart of that contradiction are the paradoxical career and statements of John Brennan—a tenure now analogous to that of Harold Koh who once dubbed Bush “torturer-in-chief” only to become the legal go-to person to sanction the vastly expanded drone program (and its targeting of an American citizen).
The administration has assumed that the Left would never imperil the Obama agenda by reassuming its loud (partisan) critique of anti-terrorism protocols as it had between 2002 and 2008, and that the Right is so relieved that a Nobel Laureate proved to be Predator Rex that it would likewise stay mum. The result is, to use an overused word, Orwellian.