This past week the PWB mailroom, which does extra duty as the foosball arena and beer locker, has been inundated with letters from our readers who reside on the left side of the teeter-totter. It appears that our recent columns on the new administration have irritated some who think we are fixating on President-elect Obama. Many, in language unprintable and at times not entirely well spelt, seem to think that the PWB is being churlish, harbors a grudge over the election results and should, in the words of one fellow, “… get over it.”
Frankly, I think these surly members of the liberal world have missed the nuanced approach we try to take here. If you’ll flip through the PWB archives held at the National Library of Congress, you’ll see that I didn’t have a dog in this hunt. Neither side blew my skirt up and once again there wasn’t a viable third-party candidate.
However, while I didn’t vote for him, I’m actually rooting for Obama and his administration to do well. A successful, efficient and well managed government is what we should all want. But wishing them well and hoping for the best doesn’t require us to not disagree or to not express differences.
After all, the PWB was established back in the spring of 1927 with one overriding purpose … to raise our hand or ask “huh?” anytime the crap-o-meter goes off. And if memory serves me correct, the left side of the liberal bench took eight years to “get over” Bush. During that time, if I’m not mistaken, there was constant criticism, whining and churlishness. So telling me I’m being churlish four weeks after the election does seem a bit hypocritical.
It is interesting to note that the nastiest mail we receive, on a regular basis, is from what I suppose we could call “hardcore liberals”. Look, you won, congratulations. Now tone down the rhetoric, not to mention the unimaginative really foul language, and, in the words of one of your own, “get over it.” Enjoy the moment. Soon you’ll be wondering how the administration ended up governing from the center.
The center. As in, the middle ground. That appears to be where the new administration is headed based on recent pronouncements and some of the cabinet selections. This selection process is our best opportunity to date to get a look at Obama’s management style. After all, the campaign season didn’t exactly give us a detailed picture of the man.
Someday I’d like to get to the point where the candidates have to announce their cabinet selections before the election. Not only does it give you better insight into who would be running your government, it says a lot about the presidential candidates.
I know some on the far right who were fully expecting to see folks like Charles Schumer, Barney Frank and Keith Olberman appointed to cabinet positions in the new administration. There were dire predictions of the government taking a hard left turn, maybe with Al Franken as Information Minister and Chris Matthews as Director of Media Compliance.
Given those expectations, surely conservative Republicans, while not being happy, can at least admit that the likes of Robert Gates, James Jones and even Hillary Clinton are solid, pragmatic individuals. While Gates' selection is likely more about providing cover and won’t be a long-term pick, it’s better than yanking him out and installing new leadership during a critical time.
In the political world, it’s much better to keep him around. If Iraq and/or Afghanistan worsens, Gates can always be tossed overboard as the party faithful scream “he’s a Bush guy, it’s all their fault.” They might even throw in a Palin joke while they’re at it. Keeping a sacrificial scapegoat on hand is just good strategy.
All in all, I was feeling pretty safe and sound with the national security selections. Right up until Eric Holder got the nod for Attorney General. By all accounts smart and certainly experienced, the concern is over his ability to be a realist rather than an idealist when dealing with some of the very tough issues affecting our national security.
Hopefully he’ll find the center when dealing with interrogation questions, intelligence collection matters, Guantanamo and the like. After all, it’s easy to take the high road when you’re not the person responsible for making the decisions. Sometimes the high road looks less attractive, not to mention less secure, once you get the full picture.
And we’re waiting to hear who might be named to run the Central Intelligence Agency, currently under the steady leadership of Michael Hayden. Here’s a thought… keep Hayden. If he doesn’t want to stay on, how about we select someone based on criteria other than “are they acceptable to CIA bashing liberals?”
Recently there was talk of naming John Brennan, a former senior agency officer, a smart and good man. That possibility was derailed when some liberal critics of the CIA cried that Brennan was connected to the agency’s detention and interrogation efforts. What a load of crap.
He, like everyone else at the agency, is against torture. Apparently his transgression was stating the obvious: that enhanced interrogation techniques can be effective and important in select cases. For this, the liberals deemed him unsuitable.
According to the logic used by these critics, anyone at the CIA during the past several years shouldn’t be considered for the director’s role. Did I already say what a load of crap? We’ve discussed this issue before, and it’s a topic that inevitably makes me smash the glass on the emergency bourbon cabinet.
Liberals frame the argument in a clever way … essentially saying that anything other than talking to a detainee is torture. They claim there are no enhanced techniques (such as stress positions, temperature variations, sleep disruption) … it’s either chatting or its torture. Now, that’s a fine debating technique if you’re in a debate on a leafy campus surrounded by lofty thoughts of world peace, unicorns and fuzzy warm puppies.
Unfortunately, the real world is a crappier place and sometimes involves violent jihadists and terrorists who would like to blow up as many innocent men, women and children as possible. If you think this is just a typical Republican scare tactic, review last week’s events in Mumbai. And that’s after Obama won the election. Apparently the terrorists involved in that attack didn’t get the memo that we can all get along now.
The point being, in carefully selected cases, there are times when the allowable interrogation techniques of the Army Field Manual aren’t going to get the job done. That doesn’t mean the next stop on the express is torture. Despite the carefully framed argument of the left, we don’t torture.
Between chatting and torture lies a small window of opportunity for enhanced interrogation techniques. They aren’t used often -- you’d be surprised how infrequently they have been used in the past -- but you better have them in your tool bag.
Here’s hoping the choice for CIA director, as well as for director of national intelligence, reflects the pragmatic, center-leaning approach taken with nominees such as Gates, Jones and Clinton. These positions are critical to our national security. Play politics with other positions if you want … I’m OK with a far-left secretary of transportation.
But fill the CIA and DNI slots with strong persons who have relevant experience in the world of intelligence and operations.
And frankly, if you don’t agree with me, get over it.
As always, we look forward to your comments, thoughts and insight. Send your emails to email@example.com
Till next week, stay safe.
Mike Baker served for more than 15 years as a covert field operations officer for the Central Intelligence Agency, specializing in counterterrorism, counternarcotics and counterinsurgency operations around the globe. Since leaving government service, he has been a principal in building and running several companies in the private intelligence, security and risk management sector, including most recently Prescience LLC, a global intelligence and strategy firm. He appears frequently in the media as an expert on such issues. Baker is also a partner in Classified Trash, a film and television production company. Baker serves as a script consultant, writer and technical adviser within the entertainment industry, lending his expertise to such programs as the BBC's popular spy series "Spooks," as well as major motion pictures.