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With John Brennan, Obama doubles down on drone strikes (+video)

President Obama wants John Brennan to head the CIA. In the confirmation process, he could face questions from the left and right about his past at the CIA and his vision for the war on terror.

By Staff writer / January 7, 2013

White House counterterrorism adviser John Brennan (r.) listens as President Obama announces his nomination as the new CIA director at the White House in Washington Monday.

Jason Reed/Reuters



President Obama’s nomination Monday of John Brennan, the architect of his drone war, to head the CIA suggests the deadly but controversial counterterrorism approach will not just continue but perhaps even expand.

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Mr. Brennan, a former CIA officer who has served as Mr. Obama’s counterterrorism adviser for four years, has overseen a broad expansion of the use of drones to carry out targeted killings in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia. In fact, it was Brennan who first publicly acknowledged the Obama administration’s drone war, calling the strikes “legal, ethical, and wise” as a means of deterring terrorist attacks.

Under Obama, more than 300 drone strikes have reportedly killed more than 2,500 people – many of them Al Qaeda leaders or other dangerous terrorists, according to the US government. But critics of the program say the attacks breed deeper resentment against the US, target uncharged suspects, and are unethical because they often result in civilian casualties – a claim Brennan has refuted.

Speaking at the White House Monday afternoon, Obama also announced the nomination of former Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel to replace Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta.

The Hagel-Brennan nominations, along with the nomination of Democratic Sen. John Kerry as secretary of State, suggest the continuation of a pragmatic and cautious foreign and national-security policy. Instead of boots-on-the-ground interventions, Obama would seem to want to expand the use of both remote strikes and Special Forces operations in the fight against Islamist terrorism.

In Washington, the Hagel nomination is seen as the most controversial of the three, with some Republicans accusing the former Nebraska senator of weaknesses – in his commitment to Israel and in his stance toward Iran and its advancing nuclear program. But Brennan’s Senate confirmation is likely to encounter a few bumps of its own.

“The great paradox here is that Hagel will face his opposition from the right, while Brennan’s will largely come from the left,” says Lawrence Korb, a defense policy expert at the Center for American Progress in Washington, who served in the Pentagon under the Reagan administration.


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