President Obama’s choices of John Kerry, Chuck Hagel, and John Brennan to lead respectively the State Department, Pentagon, and Central Intelligence Agency confirm that Obama wishes to position his legacy somewhat to the left even of Jimmy Carter. There has been a lot of attention to Chuck Hagel’s record over the last couple of weeks, but John Brennan has benefited from flying under the radar, if only because of the controversy surrounding Hagel.
It’s worth recalling, however, Brennan’s comments in 2010 upon returning from a visit to Lebanon. From a Reuters report at the time:
The Obama administration is looking for ways to build up “moderate elements” within the Lebanese Hezbollah guerrilla movement and to diminish the influence of hard-liners, a top White House official said on Tuesday. John Brennan, assistant to the president for homeland security and counterterrorism, met with Lebanese leaders during a recent visit. “Hezbollah is a very interesting organization,” Brennan told a Washington conference, citing its evolution from “purely a terrorist organization” to a militia to an organization that now has members within the parliament and the cabinet. “There is certainly the elements of Hezbollah that are truly a concern to us what they’re doing. And what we need to do is to find ways to diminish their influence within the organization and to try to build up the more moderate elements,” Brennan said.
I have added the emphasis regarding Brennan’s suggestion that U.S. policy should be to build up “moderate” Hezbollah elements rather than seek that group’s destruction. The question should be especially important now, because Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s fall could starve Hezbollah of the oxygen it needs; never has Hezbollah’s future been so tenuous.
While back in 2010, I took a tongue-in-cheek approach to figuring out what a Hezbollah moderate might be, the questions senators should ask first would be whether a second term Obama administration will outstretch its hands not only to adversarial regimes, but also to terrorist groups, and second, what Brennan’s instincts would mean for a CIA under his leadership.