Monday, May 08, 2006

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy

President Bush has been tinkering with the U.S. intelligence services ever since it became clear that potential problems/failures within them might have helped lead up to the September 11 attacks. One of those moves was to appoint Porter Goss as a kind of tailor to repair the rips in the CIA's image. After Goss's surprise immediate departure last Friday, Bush has now decided to take a soldier, Air Force General Michael Hayden, and turn him into the country's top spy.

That choice has already met with skepticism and even outright criticism. One obvious reason is Expand...that Bush is weak politically at the moment and thus open to easy disparagement. Another reason is that many fear still one more Bush loyalist in a top job. Not only did Hayden formerly oversee the start of Bush's then secret domestic wiretapping/terrorist surveillance program at the NSA; he was one of its strongest defenders once it was made public.

Congressional Democrats are largely adopting a wait-and-see attitude regarding Hayden. That is partly because word on the street is that Bush is hoping for a fight over Hayden and wiretapping as an opportunity for him to re-paint Dems as weak on national security. However, some Republicans have already expressed dissatisfaction with Hayden for what might seem a surprising reason.

Republican Representative Peter Hoekstra of Michigan, who is chairman of the House Intelligence Committee and a respected voice on national security matters, told FOX News Sunday he worries having a general in charge of the CIA will create the impression among agents around the world that the agency is under Pentagon control. Hoekstra sees that as a real minus at a time when the Defense Department and CIA have been perceived as in a power struggle.

"I do believe he's the wrong person, in the wrong place, at the wrong time," Hoekstra said. "We should not have a military person leading a civilian agency at this time."

Several Democratic lawmakers have suggested that Hayden should immediately resign from the Air Force if confirmed. However, Republican Representative Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, who also calls Hayden's military background a "major problem," feels that would not be enough. "Just resigning commission and moving on, putting on a pinstriped suit versus an Air Force uniform, I don't think makes much difference," Chambliss said on ABC's This Week.

That some within the GOP would attack the President on his choice is equally unsurprising, given a recent Associated Press–Ipsos poll that shows forty-five percent of self-described conservatives now disapproving of the job that Bush is doing. I have counseled caution to Democrats about jumping onto anti-Bush bandwagons started by disaffected Republicans out of the danger of being branded as indistinguishable from the rival Party. However, I think they would do well to oppose Hayden – for his military background rather than his previous wiretapping role.

This may seem far the less of his evils to many. Yet it is not one of Hayden's GOP detractors but rather a supporter, Republican Senator John McCain of Arizona, who underscores why is it so important. McCain, of course, is rushing to embrace almost anything Bush does these days in order to curry favor with the Republican core for his own anticipated Presidential bid. While appearing on CBS News' Face the Nation, McCain was asked about Hayden and immediately laid out three key points – albeit unwittingly – in the argument against him.

"I think that we should . . . remember that there had been other former military people who have been directors of the CIA," he told interviewer Bob Schieffer.

That is absolutely true but it is also misleading. Many CIA Directors have had previous military experience. In fact, in the agency's early years under Presidents Truman, Eisenhower, and Kennedy, it was not unusual for Directors to move into the job straight from active military duty. That is not surprising since overseas intelligence had been strictly a military function up to that point. Indeed, many high ranking CIA officials remain military officers, perhaps for that very reason.

For example, the number two man at the CIA under Gross has been Vice Admiral Albert Calland III. NBC News Senior Correspondent Andrea Mitchell reports that a move is likely afoot to oust him in an attempt to fight the perception of a military takeover of the CIA with Hayden's elevation.

Yet the fact remains that four decades have passed since a military officer on active duty moved immediately into the CIA Director's chair.

"In all due respect to my colleagues . . . General Hayden is really more of an intelligence person than he is an Air Force officer," McCain also told Schieffer.

That such types must, of necessity, exist within the military is understood. Yet one on the hazy line between soldier and spy seems a particularly poor choice for the top spot at CIA. Some may see no issue here, since as head of the CIA, Hayden's boss is the President and as an Air Force General, he also reports to Bush as Commander in Chief. I think this all-too-easy solution is where the potential danger lies.

McCain's very first point on Face the Nation was to call for a quick confirmation of Hayden, saying, "[He] is a very highly qualified individual. He is the President's selection, and so I hope we can move forward with it, Bob, because we are in a war."

Yes, we are. If we were referring to the active hostilities in Iraq or ongoing operations along Afghanistan's borders, then the issue is less troublesome. Although long-lasting, these conflicts are still finite, with measurable levels of current enemy hostility. But both the President and Vice-President have insisted since September 11 that America is engaged in a larger war – a hazily-defined war with no single enemy or any end in sight. A war they keep warning us is unlike any other war this country has ever fought. I mean, of course, the war on terror.

Civilian control of the military has long been an important means to keep unprecedented power out of the hands of non-elected leaders within our nation. Yet this Administration has repeatedly claimed unprecedented powers for the Executive Branch as the result of the exigencies of war. Under such circumstances, I would prefer for them to push ever harder away from the military, not begin to interweave the two ever closer together.

I cannot say that I am sorry to see Porter Goss leave. His imperious style is said to have driven away many experienced senior agents. But if we allow the President – deliberately or otherwise – to continue consolidating power in this manner, then whoever wins the Presidency in 2008, be they Republican or Democrat, will need to have a true Cincinnatian nature to beat the sword Bush will have handed him or her back into a plowshare of civilian focus and non-ambition.

Likewise, I am sure that General Hayden is an honorable and sincere man. When the outcry over the domestic wiretapping program first broke, he chose to defend it vociferously during a speech he was scheduled to make at the National Press Club. "Let me make one thing very clear," he said at that time. "As challenging as this morning might be, this is the speech I want to give."

I guess I would just like to make sure that any person in this country can make the speech they want to give in the future as well. This appointment does not seem a good idea to me in general along those lines. If Bush and Cheney want to insist we are perpetually at war with terrorism, then in general let them use generals to fight that war and not for other purposes.

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