Source: Consortium News
CIA Director John Brennan.
(image by Consortium News)
When historians set off to write the story of Barack Obama's administration, they will have to struggle with why the 44th President chose not to hold his predecessor accountable for grave crimes of state and why he failed to take control of his own foreign policy.
This failure, which began with Obama's early decision to "look forward, not backward" and to retain much of George W. Bush's national security bureaucracy, has now led Obama into a scandal over the CIA's resistance to the Senate Intelligence Committee drafting of a long-delayed report on the Bush-era policy of torturing "war on terror" detainees.
But the biggest mystery may be why the Obama White House has been so solicitous of the CIA's desire to keep secret the history of a torture program authorized by President George W. Bush and overseen by Vice President Dick Cheney. As Commander in Chief, President Obama has the ultimate say over what stays classified and what gets declassified.
Yet, as the CIA has dragged its feet about declassifying what are now historical records -- by claiming factual inaccuracies -- the Obama White House has adopted a posture of powerless supplicant. "We've made clear that we want to see the report's findings declassified," said White House spokesman Jay Carney, as if the President has no power over this process.
Obama could simply issue a declassification order that would allow the release of both the Senate's 6,300-page report and an internal CIA review (with whatever redactions would be appropriate). If the CIA wishes to dispute some of the Senate's findings, it could issue a rebuttal, which is how such disputes have been handled throughout U.S. history.
If every government report required that the party being criticized agree to every detail of the allegations, no report would ever be issued. This idea that secretive CIA officials, who have already obstructed the investigation by destroying videotape of the torture sessions, should now have the right to block the report's release indefinitely grants the spy agency what amounts to blanket immunity for whatever it does.
So, the question is why. Why does President Obama continue letting holdovers from the Bush administration, including current CIA Director John Brennan, control U.S. national security policies more than five years after President Bush and Vice President Cheney left office?
The Ukraine Crisis
A similar question arises over the Ukraine crisis in which neoconservative holdovers, such as Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs Victoria Nuland, and the U.S.-funded National Endowment for Democracy were allowed to spur on the violent coup that overthrew democratically elected President Viktor Yanukovych and precipitated a dangerous confrontation with Russia.
This Ukraine "regime change" served neocon interests by driving a wedge between President Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin, disrupting their behind-the-scenes relationship that has proved useful in averting U.S. wars in Syria and Iran, conflicts that the neocons have long wanted as part of their grand plan for remaking the Middle East.
Nuland's husband, former Reagan administration official Robert Kagan, was a co-founder of the Project for the New American Century, which in 1998 called for the first step in this "regime change" strategy by seeking a U.S. invasion of Iraq. After the neocons gained control of U.S. foreign policy under President Bush, the Iraq invasion went ahead in 2003, but the occupation proved disastrous and put off the next stages, "regime change" in Syria and Iran.
Barack Obama's election in 2008 was, in part, driven by public revulsion over the bloody conflict in Iraq and revelations about the torture of detainees and other crimes that surrounded Bush's post-9/11 "war on terror." Yet, after winning the White House, Obama shied away from a clean break from Bush's policies.
Obama was persuaded to staff much of his national security team with "a team of rivals," which meant retaining Bush's Defense Secretary Robert Gates (something no previous president had ever done), appointing hawkish Sen. Hillary Clinton to be Secretary of State, and ordering no shake-up of Bush's military high command, including media-favorite Gen. David Petraeus.
Longtime CIA apparatchik Brennan, who was implicated in some of Bush's most controversial actions, was named Obama's White House counterterrorism adviser. As former CIA analyst Ray McGovern wrote, Brennan was "a senior CIA official during President George W. Bush's 'dark side' days of waterboarding detainees, renditioning suspects to Mideast torture centers and making up intelligence to invade Iraq."
Part of the reason for Obama's timidity may have been his lack of experience and his fear that any missteps would be seized on by his opponents to question his fitness for the job. By surrounding himself with Bush's advisers and Democratic adversaries, he may have thought that he was keeping them safely inside his tent.
The Democratic Party also has a very thin bench of national security experts. Official Washington has been so dominated by foreign policy "tough-guy-ism" for decades -- at least since Ronald Reagan crushed Jimmy Carter in 1980 -- that most Democrats who could survive a congressional confirmation hearing have had to bow to this prevailing sentiment.