John Brennan, the Architect of Drone Strikes and Torture, is What Obama Needs to End the War On Terror


With a 25 year track record of work in intelligence and skills in counter-terrorism, John Brennan’s appointment to the top job as director at the CIA should not have raised many eyebrows, but it has. Many senators and civil liberty groups have opposed it. Brennan’s legacy as the architect of the drone program and his use of rendition, torture, and targeted killings in the Global War on Terror (GWOT) have made him infamous. As he prepares to take up the top job, he is also dogged by high-level security leaks. While the senators and civil rights opposing Brennan are right to do so, their fears are overstated.

Senator Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) is among those who are opposed to targeted killings, though he has not questioned Brennan’s nomination on these grounds, as this New York Times article points out. The leaks that took place in President Obama’s first term are of particular concern to many of the senators. The key concern is not over the blemish from his recent role with the Obama administration, but his past from the Bush era.

His earlier appointment by President Obama to the National Security Council was done in a pragmatic manner, ensuring that his past role with the Bush administration did not have a hugely negative impact. His recent success with the operation which lead to the death of Osama bin Laden firmed his credentials as a tough leader who is capable of delivering results.  

Not only have senators shown disapproval for his appointment, but two of the nation’s largest civil liberties groups — the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) — have shown dismay with this decision. The political director of CREDO, a grassroots advocacy group, Becky Bond has called Brennan the “Assassination Czar,” considering he was one of the key architects of the drone program and also targeted killing in the AfPak region.

While violation of civil liberties have been cited as the key reason for this disapproval, one must also remember that Brennan is the one who put an end to enhanced interrogation techniques under the Obama administration as the president’s national security advisor. The administration is different, and the war on terror is winding down. Given these two factors, it may well be that Brennan is the best man to get closure on the GWOT in the most effective manner.

While it may sound naïve or even foolish, Brennan may not be the worst man for the job. From a pragmatist's perspective, he may be the ideal candidate to do what needs to be done to end the GWOT, the key issue which has caused the torture, killings and drone attacks.

One can hope that this issue is not about him, individually, but about the collective decisions of the security establishment and the president. Once the GWOT ends, hopefully there will be no need for the technologies that were used during Brenna's time. The changing nature of GWOT may bring about a new paradigm, which may require a different kind of leadership — one based less on aggression and more on diplomacy and dialogue.