Tuesday, January 06, 2009

What happened to consultation?

We might have suspected that Obama's pledges to consult with Republicans might fall by the wayside. But what about consulting with his own party members? Why wouldn't he have run his nomination of Leon Panetta by the incoming chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Senator Feinstein, which must approve that nomination?
The incoming and outgoing chairs of the Senate Select Intelligence Committee signaled concerns about President-elect Barack Obama's choice of Leon E. Panetta to head the CIA, primarily because of Panetta's thin intelligence resume.

"I was not informed about the selection of Leon Panetta. . . . I know nothing about this, other than what I've read," said Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., who will chair the committee in the 111th Congress, in an e-mailed statement. "My position has consistently been that I believe the agency is best-served by having an intelligence professional in charge at this time."
Senator Rockefeller, the outgoing Democratic chairman of that committee is also sounding lukewarm on the nomination.
Added an aide to John D. Rockefeller IV, D-W.Va., who served as chairman of the committee in the 110th Congress: "I think, based on press reporting if it proves correct, Sen. Rockefeller has some concerns about his selection. Not because he has any concerns about Panetta, whom he thinks very highly of, but because he has no intelligence experience and because he has believed this has always been a position that should be outside of the political realm."
It sounds as candidates with more experience in intelligence were rejected by those who objected to any connection with approving intelligence policies under President Bush.
Aides have said Mr. Obama had originally hoped to select a C.I.A. head with extensive field experience, especially in combating terrorist networks. But his first choice for the job, John O. Brennan, had to withdraw his name amidst criticism over his role in the formation of the C.I.A’s detention and interrogation program after the Sept. 11 attacks.

Members of Mr. Obama’s transition also raised concerns about other candidates, even some Democratic lawmakers with intelligence experience. Representative Jane Harman of California, formerly the senior Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, was considered for the job, but she was ruled out as a candidate in part because of her early support for some Bush administration programs like the domestic eavesdropping program.
Probably the reason that Jan Harman was nixed is that she didn't speak out against the interrogation procedures that the Bush administration adopted in the fight against terrorism. The Wall Street Journal has an informative article reminding us that top Democrats, including Nancy Pelosi by the way, were fully briefed on the Bush administration's interrogation policies.
Beginning in 2002, Nancy Pelosi and other key Democrats (as well as Republicans) on the House and Senate Intelligence Committees were thoroughly, and repeatedly, briefed on the CIA's covert antiterror interrogation programs. They did nothing to stop such activities, when they weren't fully sanctioning them. If they now decide the tactics they heard about then amount to abuse, then by their own logic they themselves are complicit. Let's review the history the political class would prefer to forget.

According to our sources and media reports we've corroborated, the classified briefings began in the spring of 2002 and dealt with the interrogation of Abu Zubaydah, a high-value al Qaeda operative captured in Pakistan. In succeeding months and years, more than 30 Congressional sessions were specifically devoted to the interrogation program and its methods, including waterboarding and other aggressive techniques designed to squeeze intelligence out of hardened detainees like Zubaydah.

The briefings were first available to the Chairmen and ranking Members of the Intelligence Committees. From 2003 through 2006, that gang of four included Democrats Bob Graham and John D. Rockefeller in the Senate and Jane Harman in the House, as well as Republicans Porter Goss, Peter Hoekstra, Richard Shelby and Pat Roberts. Senior staffers were sometimes present. After September 2006, when President Bush publicly acknowledged the program, the interrogation briefings were opened to the full committees.
It's interesting that, in a time when we're confronted with terrorist threats around the world, Obama would opt for Panetta's managerial experience rather than hold out for someone with experience in intelligence and fighting terrorism. And I wonder how all those people who thought that John McCain was too old to be president feel about a man who will turn 71 in June taking on a very tough and time-consuming job in an entirely new field. I guess 70 really is the new 60!

I suspect that Senator Feinstein was quite miffed about not being consulted which is why she made such a public negative statement that was sure to be quoted in just about every story about the Panetta nomination. The interesting question is why the Obama transition team didn't consult her. Was it because they didn't want to hear her reaction?

I also suspect that, after some tough questioning in his confirmation hearings, the Senate Democrats will vote overwhelmingly to confirm Panetta's nomination. But they'll be sure that President Obama knows that they want him to do a better job of consulting them. Senators are nothing if not firmly protective of their own prerogatives.