Obama announced his choices for key national security posts this past week,
and there has been both celebration and gnashing of teeth in Washington and
around the country. There is widespread belief that either or both of these
nominees will have an immediate and profound effect on US policy. However,
this belief is really just a mistaken over-emphasis on personnel over policy.
We should not forget that cabinet secretaries serve the president, and not
the other way around.
object to our continued foreign policy of endless war and empire overseas
feel encouraged by Obama's choice of Senator Hagel to head the Defense Department. Hagel has shown some admirable willingness to
advise caution overseas. He is seen as unenthusiastic over the prospects of a
US war on Iran, which is certainly to be welcomed. But let us not forget that
he did vote for the war against Iraq, he has expressed support for
multi-lateral sanctions on Iran, and last year he wrote in the Washington
Post that, on Iran, he supports "keeping all options on the table,
including the use of military force."
because he does represent a more moderate voice in foreign policy than the
neo-conservatives can tolerate, they are dragging his name through the mud.
In choosing Hagel, then, we can hope the president is signaling that he will
pursue a less aggressive foreign policy in his second term. But we cannot
count on it.
At the same
time, the president has chosen John Brennan as Central Intelligence Agency
director -- a man who is considered the author of Obama's destructive drone
warfare policy, and who as such has been in charge of the president's secret
"kill list" that has already claimed the lives of three American
citizens. He claimed in 2011 that there were no collateral deaths from the US
drone attacks on Pakistan, which is simply not believable. We also should not
forget that as then-CIA director George Tenet's right hand man during the
Bush presidency, Brennan was certainly involved in the manufactured
intelligence and lies that led the US to attack Iraq.
problem is in placing too much emphasis on the person the president hires to
carry out his foreign and defense policy, as it ignores that policy itself.
If the president has decided to continue or even expand US military action
overseas through more covert warfare and use of special operations forces,
which seems to be the case, it will matter little who he chooses to carry out
those policies. If the president decides to continue to provide support to
rebels in Syria who have dubious ties to Islamic extremists, to continue to
meddle in the internal affairs of countless countries overseas, to continue
to refuse to even talk with Iran without preconditions, and so on, we will
not see a return to foreign policy sanity no matter who occupies what
position in the president's cabinet.
So we should
be optimistic that the president may see the wisdom in pursuing a foreign
policy that is truly in our national interest, but we should always keep an
eye on the policies over the personnel.