- By Joshua Keating
Joshua Keating was an associate editor at Foreign Policy
Having done some reading on John Brennan yesterday, I’m not surprised to see criticism from the left of his appointment as CIA director. After all, back in 2008, the former Bush-era CIA official was forced to withdraw his name from consideration for the job because of concerns from the president’s base over his defense of the agency’s right to "take the gloves off in some areas" while interrogating terrorism suspects.
But there also seems to be an emerging case against Brennan building on right-wing blogs. Apparently, the waterboard-defending drone champion is too soft on radical Islam.
The Weekly Standard‘s Daniel Halper jumps on the fact that the Brennan once used the Arabic name for Jerusalem — al Quds — in a speech in New York. Breitbart’s Kerry Picket dings him for calling "jihad" a legitimate tenet of Islam. (It is.) Powerline’s Paul Mirengoff calls Brennan an "Arabist," noting that he has referred to "Palestine" and described the "beauty and goodness of Islam."
Yes, Brennan is an "Arabist" in the sense that he speaks Arabic, clearly has a strong interest in the culture, and spent years living in the region (as a CIA agent and station chief, it should be noted, not a Peace Corps volunteer). Regional experts tend not to despise the people they study. But perhaps it’s only acceptable to study Arabic and Islam if you do it from a perspective of cool hostility.
Brennan should by no means be exempt from criticism or scrutiny — and not just over the obvious issues of drones and torture. The highly inaccurate press briefing he gave after the bin Laden raid, for instance, irritated many in the Pentagon and seems to me to be more problematic than the post-Benghazi comments that scuttled Susan Rice’s nomination, since Brennan was actually involved in the events he was describing.
But seriously, the guy who, according to David Sanger, makes "the final call on authorizing specific drone strikes from his cramped office in the basement of the West Wing" is too sympathetic to Islamist radicals? Ask Anwar al-Awlaki about that.