The lassitude of John Brennan

This past August Assistant to the President and Deputy National Security Advisor for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism John Brennan gave a speech outlining the administration’s deep thoughts on combating terrorism. The speech — “A New Approach for Safeguarding Americans” — “conveniently outlined the administration’s present and future policy mistakes,” in the words of Daniel Pipes.
If you seek a handy compilation of the shibboleths that now guide our approach to the phenomenon formerly known as Islamist terrorism, Brennan’s speech is must reading. To take one example cited by Pipes, Brennan rejects any connection between “violent extremism” and Islam: “Using the legitimate term jihad, which means to purify oneself or to wage a holy struggle for a moral goal, risks giving these murderers the religious legitimacy they desperately seek but in no way deserve.” Any connection between Islam and Islamist terrorism is purely coincidental. While Brennan’s take on jihad may be a big hit in Obama’s White House, it is not exactly authoritative.
Pipes also captured the tone of Obama worship in which the speech is pitched: “Disturbingly, Brennan ascribes virtually every thought or policy in his speech to the wisdom of the One. This cringe-inducing lecture reminds one of a North Korean functionary paying homage to the Dear Leader.” You might say that Obama and Brennan worship at the same shrine.
Pipes concluded with a reasonable prediction: “Implementation of the inept policies outlined by Brennan spells danger for Americans, American interests, and American allies. The bitter consequences of these mistakes soon enough will become apparent.”
Some of the consequences became apparent in the administration’s handling of Christmas Day bomber Umar Abdulmutallab. After an interrogation lasting some 50 minutes, Abdulmutallab was provided with Miranda warnings and a lawyer, after which Abdulmutallab clammed up. According to Eric Holder, all was well. The administration was following hallowed procedures.
Last week the administration let it be known that all that was well was now even better. Abdulmutallab was talking again. Did he waive his “rights”? The administration has not seen fit to apprise us of all the circumstances leading to Abdulmutallab’s widening his circle of love beyond his lawyer.
In January the administration sent Brennan out to defend it on FOX News Sunday. Before his appearance, the Washington Post had reported that “the normally reclusive Brennan is scheduled to appear on several Sunday TV talk shows.” Following his appearance, Paul Mirengoff wrote, we now have a pretty good idea of why Brennan is “normally reclusive.”
By departing from his norm, Paul observed, Brennan showed himself to be a hack who undermined any lingering confidence that the Obama administration had a clue about how to fight terrorism. Paul was particularly impressed with Brennan’s statement, in response to a question about what the downside might be to treating Abdulmutallab as an enemy combatant, that “there are no downsides or upsides in particular cases.”
Having established his willingness to say anything on behalf of the administration, Brennan qualified himself to make a return appearance on one of the Sunday shows this week. Appearing on Meet the Press, Brennan reported that he spoke with senior congressional Republicans regarding Abdulmutallab’s apprehension on Christmas day:

I explained to them that [Abdulmutallab] was in FBI custody, that Mr. Abdulmutallab was, in fact, talking, that he was cooperating at that point. They knew that “in FBI custody” means that there’s a process then you follow as far as Mirandizing and presenting him in front of a magistrate. None of those individuals raised any concerns with me at that point. They didn’t say, “Is he going into military custody?” “Is he going to be Mirandized?” They were very appreciative of the information, we told them we’d keep them informed, and that’s what we did. So there’s been a–quite a bit of an outcry after the fact where, again, I’m just very concerned on the behalf of the counterterrorism professionals throughout our government that politicians continue to make this a political football and are using it for whatever political or partisan purposes, whether they be Democrats or Republicans.

Brennan implied that his Republican interlocutors should have concluded from his statement that Abdulmutallab was in custody and was cooperating that he would be given a Miranda warning and a lawyer. A reasonable person would not draw any such conclusion, however, and in fact Brennan’s interlocutors did not.
Brennan angrily asserted that he was “tiring of politicians using national security issues such as terrorism as a political football. They are going out there, they’re, they’re unknowing of the facts, and they’re making charges and allegations that are not anchored in reality.” If Brennan is tired, his lassitude must derive from his own exertions in political football.
Indeed, Brennan must be exhausted. He has now converted his MTP talking points into a USA Today column. Brennan shows how an Obamian philospher king deals with these serious matters, as Byron York notes in “People who criticize us are helping al Qaeda” and as Ed Morrissey notes in “Our critics are helping al Qaeda.”
Brennan rests his straw men in part on then-Attorney General Michael Mukasey’s September 2008 Guidelines for Domestic FBI Operations. Mukasey, however, begs to differ. As one might infer from the title of the guidelines, Mukasey explains that the decision to provide Miranda warnings to the Christmas Day bomber and classify him as a criminal defendant do not follow from them.
Mukasey told Bill McGurn: “First, the guidelines Mr. Brennan refers to involve intelligence gathering. They do not deal with whether someone in custody is to be treated as a criminal defendant or as an intelligence asset. Second, as for gathering intelligence, it begs the whole question about whether he [Abdulmutallab] should have been designated a criminal suspect. And there is nothing–zero, zilch, nada–in those guidelines that makes that choice. It is a decision that ought to be made at the highest level, and the heads of our security agencies have testified that it was made without consulting them.”
One more timely column addresses Brennan’s remarkable performance as a spin merchant on behalf of the Obama administration. In “Miranda wrongs,” Ralph Peters locates the source of Brennan’s lassitude in the same place I do.

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