Gregory Johnsen, an author who’s just finished a book on the U.S.’s war on al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, has an op-ed in the Times today with some harsh words for the policies and statements of John Brennan, President Obama’s chief counterterrorism adviser and a possible candidate for the CIA directorship. He explains:
For all of the Obama administration’s foreign policy successes — from ending the war in Iraq to killing Osama bin Laden — the most enduring policy legacy of the past four years may well turn out to be an approach to counterterrorism that American officials call the “Yemen model,” a mixture of drone strikes and Special Forces raids targeting Al Qaeda leaders.
Mr. Brennan is the president’s chief counterterrorism adviser and the architect of this model. In a recent speech, he claimed that there was “little evidence that these actions are generating widespread anti-American sentiment or recruits for A.Q.A.P.,” referring to Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.
Mr. Brennan’s assertion was either shockingly naïve or deliberately misleading. Testimonies from Qaeda fighters and interviews I and local journalists have conducted across Yemen attest to the centrality of civilian casualties in explaining Al Qaeda’s rapid growth there. The United States is killing women, children and members of key tribes. “Each time they kill a tribesman, they create more fighters for Al Qaeda,” one Yemeni explained to me over tea in Sana, the capital, last month. Another told CNN, after a failed strike, “I would not be surprised if a hundred tribesmen joined Al Qaeda as a result of the latest drone mistake.”
Johnsen’s not as much of a fan of Brennan as other members of the media have been, reflected in a New York Times Magazine piece on the president’s kill list, Brennan’s domain, and a Washington Post profile of his role at the CIA. The Post fawned over Brennan’s “deep knowledge of the Middle East, Islam and the CIA, and the critical thinking forged during a classic Jesuit education,” and his “nearly priest-like presence . . . with a moral depth leavened by a dry Irish wit.”
Johnsen suggests that Brennan’s strategy for the CIA (ramping up the drone program and neglecting human intelligence) is precisely the opposite of what the agency needs right now, and he stridently opposes the possible nomination of him to replace David Petraeus as director. He is apparently not as impressed as the NYT Magazine was by what they called Brennan and Obama’s “attempt to apply the ‘just war’ theories of Christian philosophers to a brutal modern conflict.” Amazingly, not everyone thinks it was so wise for the president and Brennan to replace COIN with Cliffs’ Notes Aquinas.