Is John Brennan Confessing His (Petraeus’) Covert Ops in Syria Backfired?

Both Michah Zenko and Jon Schwarz noted John Brennan making a remarkable admission on Face the Nation back on May 31: that sometimes US involvement in events exacerbates things.

But both seem to interpret Brennan’s comment as a general comment on US’s big foot stepping in shit around the world (my description, not theirs). Zenko reads this as “an unprecedented recognition by a senior official about how U.S. counterterrorism activities can increase direct threats to the United States and its ‘national security interests.'” And Schwarz interprets Brennan to be “acknowledg[ing] that U.S. foreign policy might sometimes cause terrorism.”

It may well be such a generalized admission.

But I wonder whether it’s not something more: a specific admission that the US fostered the rise of ISIS with its covert role in Syria in 2012 — a topic that has discussed of late because of documents released via a Judicial Watch FOIA on briefings to Congress about Benghazi (here’s the post I did on the documents).

Here’s the full exchange between Bob Schieffer and Brennan.

SCHIEFFER: Another question I asked Jeb Bush, some of the critics of this administration and some of them are within the government. The ones in the government are not saying these things publicly but saying that the president seems to be just trying to buy time here, that he’s not ready to make a full commitment here in this war on terrorism and basically is just trying to keep things together well enough that he can leave it to the next president to resolve it.

Do you see that?

BRENNAN: I don’t see anything like that. I’ve been involved in this administration in different capacities for the last six and a half years and there has been a full court effort to try to keep this country safe.

Dealing with some of these problems in the Middle East, whether you’re talking about Iraq, Iran, Syria, Yemen, Libya, others, these are some of the most complex and complicated issues that I’ve seen in my 35 years, working on national security issues. So there are no easy solutions.

I think the president has tried to make sure that we’re able to push the envelope when we can to protect this country. But we have to recognize that sometimes our engagement and direct involvement will stimulate and spur additional threats to our national security interests.

Brennan’s response comes — as Schieffer made clear — after Schieffer had already posed the question to Jeb!, and in that context, it specifically addressed ISIS.

SCHIEFFER: Some of the administration’s critics, even some people in the Pentagon, are saying privately that the administration is sort of just buying time and is trying to leave this for the next president to deal with.

BUSH: It looks that way, because you don’t have a clear strategy.

And I think the strategy is both military, as well as political. We need to make sure that Iraq is stable for the region and to create — narrowing the influence of ISIS not just in Iraq, but in Syria. So, it doesn’t appear that they have a strategy.

Then they put — every time that they talk about a strategy, they put conditions on that strategy to make it harder to actually implement it. So, I think the first thing you need to do is take advice of military leaders that know a lot about this than folks in the White House. Take their input. Create a strategy. Express what the strategy is.

And the strategy ought to be take out ISIS in coordinated way and do it over the long haul. This is not something that is going to happen overnight.

And while Brennan mentions two other places — Yemen and Iran — that may not (but they actually might!) be part of the covert operations in which CIA tried to arm “moderates” to oppose Syria but instead helped their buddies energize ISIS, the others were all part of the plan to deal Libyan weapons to the “moderate” liver-eaters in Syria.

The administration is still carefully protecting the details about what they did in Syria in 2012, even from Congress. But they have, in fact, been doing a lot in the Middle East, only most of it has been making things worse.

Dick’s “Presidential-Level” Torture Decision

 I’m just now catching up to Dick’s appearance on CBS yesterday. And I gotta say, I’m not sure who comes off as more obtuse in this exchange, Cheney or Bob Schieffer. When Cheney talked about "the volume" of intelligence reports gotten through torture, Schieffer didn’t ask the obvious follow-up about the quality of those huge numbers of reports. When PapaDick repeated the same claim his BabyDick made–that two out of three terrorists surveyed started talking after waterboarding–Shieffer doesn’t ask what happened to Rahim al-Nashiri, and what it means that Dick doesn’t assert waterboarding was effective with Nashiri. When Cheney trotted out the "we used these techniques on our own men and women," Schieffer mentioned neither the evidence that Bush Administration torture went far beyond what went on in SERE, nor the fact that SERE is premised on the fact that these techniques produce false confessions, not real intelligence torture produces unreliable intelligence [corrected per Jeff Kaye].

But Schieffer did, slightly, redeem himself by eliciting this weird response from Cheney on Bush’s role in approving torture (at 5:00 in the YouTube above).

SCHIEFFER: How much did President Bush know specifically about the methods that were being used? We know that you– and you have said– that you approved this…

CHENEY: Right.

SCHIEFFER: … somewhere down the line. Did President Bush know everything you knew?

CHENEY: I certainly, yes, have every reason to believe he knew — he knew a great deal about the program. He basically authorized it. I mean, this was a presidential-level decision. And the decision went to the president. He signed off on it.

Pardon me, but what the fuck does it mean when a President "basically authorizes" torture?!?!? And what’s the difference between a "presidential-level decision" and a "presidential decision," particularly when a number of key "presidential-level decisions" (such as the shoot down order on 9/11) during the Bush Administration got made by the Vice President?

I understand that some think this exchange constituted Cheney throwing Bush under the bus and it may be that. 

But it reads to me instead like the groundwork for launching the same defense that Cheney was preparing in the Plame outing, that Bush "signed off on" the declassification of a bunch of things to rebut Joe Wilson, without necessarily signing off on the exposure of a CIA spy. 

This is Cheney reveling in the gutting of our Constitution. And he’s not even sure who gets credit for gutting it. And of course, Schieffer doesn’t press Read more

Debate Prediction: Schieffer Raises Ayers

picture-46.pngIn tonight’s debate, will McCain have to choose to retain his manhood (by raising Bill Ayers, as he has promised to do), or his honor (by pretending to be above the vile insinuations his campaign has resorted to)? I predict, with Bob Schieffer’s help, he won’t have to make that choice.

I predict Bob Schieffer will direct Obama to speak about Bill Ayers, thereby resolving McCain’s dilemma of whether or not he should raise it himself.

You see, in spite of the right wing worries that Gwen Ifill would throw the debate to make sure her new book sold tons, and in spite of real concerns that the guy who was NBC’s special liaison to the McCain campaign was moderating a debate, the moderator with the real objectivity problem is Bob Schieffer.

Schieffer loves McCain. More specifically, Schieffer is in love with–and still propagates–the myth that McCain is a man of honor above the fray of Washington politics.

Schieffer has consistently bought McCain’s most outrageous baloney–most recently his claim that he had suspended his campaign, for example, or that Sarah Palin had opposed the Bridge to Nowhere.

But the most instructive example, I think, is the way Schieffer let McCain off the hook for having had two of his convention speakers attack Obama for serving as a community organizer, even while setting up McCain to talk about what an exceptional man he is.

SCHIEFFER: We heard Rudy Giuliani talk about Barack Obama being a community organizer, and he sort of did it in a sort of denigrating way.

Sen. McCAIN: Mm-hmm.

SCHIEFFER: And the audience sort of giggled when he said that. And then we heard Governor Palin talk about being a mayor, and she said, "That’s being a community organizer with responsibilities." You know, I know a lot of people who think being a community organizer’s a pretty good thing to do. I know in your speech, at the end, one of the parts that I liked most was when you called on Americans, "If you want to make things better, enlist in the military, teach, help somebody that’s hungry." Why would they use that term in that way?

Sen. McCAIN: I think, Bob, first of all, I meant every word of my speech, that people who serve causes greater than themselves are the happiest in the world. And you and I have known some very wealthy people that aren’t very happy.


Sen. McCAIN: And we’ve known some people who are out there every day helping others who are the happiest. So I admire and respect all public service. I think what happened was it was a reaction to the Obama campaign saying and denigrating the fact that she had been mayor of a small town. Now, that was an attack that immediately was launched against her, which I–obviously, the fact that she’s most popular governor and knows more about energy than anyone else in America at that level, in my view. But, so I think it was a reaction to the denigration of her role as mayor. Read more