John Brennan, the Deputy National Security Adviser for Counterterrorism, is profiled by Eli Lake, one of the most enterprising reporters in contemporary journalism, in Sunday's Washington Times. I expressed concerns about Brennan's views on Iran in a January 7 posting here, but I have no quarrel with Lake's depiction of him as an excellent adviser on terrorism networks. However, Lake reports that Brennan's influence may go beyond terror issues. "Denis McDonough, deputy national security adviser for strategic communication, said Mr. Obama meets with Mr. Brennan before any major intelligence briefing." If Brennan's influence extends to Iran policy, it is a matter for concern.
Brennan published a long article on Iran in July 2008, expressing a benign view of the Islamic Republic and harsh criticism of U.S. policies that he believes have driven Iran in the wrong direction. Excerpts follow: "Notwithstanding the fiery rhetoric coming from Iranian officials such as President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Iranian theocracy has made much more limited use of terrorism over the past decade than it did in the first twenty years of its reign....Although it would represent a significant act of domestic political courage, U.S. national security would be best served if Washington publicly acknowledged and explored the roots of this shift in Iranian state support for terrorist activities....While it may serve some narrow political agendas to lump together a wide variety of Iranian policies and actions that are antithetical to U.S. policy aims under the rubric of state-sponsored terrorism, U.S. strategic interests require a more nuanced analysis of and less absolutist approach to this problem....Instead of pursuing a nuanced strategy that could have allowed flexibility in U.S. policy, the Bush administration regrettably opted to conduct its activities under the overarching banner of "The Global War on Terrorism" and declared it would make no distinction between terrorist operatives and their state sponsors....Despite a December 2007 National Intelligence Estimate that assessed "in fall 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program," the administration indicated no interest in easing the pressure on Iran (National Intelligence Council 2007)....The bellicose volleys coming from the chief spokesmen of both the American and Iranian governments have served to widen the rift that exists between the two countries and to make constructive engagement virtually impossible in the current climate...An improvement in U.S.-Iranian relations will not take place overnight, and the new U.S. administration must be willing to exercise strategic patience....It would not be foolhardy, however, for the United States to tolerate, and even to encourage, greater assimilation of Hezbollah into Lebanon's political system, a process that is subject to Iranian influence....The best hope for maintaining this trend and for reducing the influence of violent extremists within the organizationas well as the influence of extremist Iranian officials who view Hezbollah primarily as a pawn of Tehranis to increase Hezbollah's stake in Lebanon's struggling democratic processes."
From: "The Conundrum of Iran: Strengthening Moderates without Acquiescing to Belligerence," by John Brennan, The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, Vol. 618, No. 1, 168-179 (2008) http://ann.sagepub.com/cgi/reprint/618/1/168
Eli Lake cited an earlier interview with Brennan, in a February 26 article: "John O. Brennan, Mr. Obama's top adviser on counterterrorism and homeland security, told Bill Gertz of The Washington Times in October that preventing Iran from making a nuclear weapon could only be achieved through persuasion.'Iran's nuclear program is something we have to make sure we get ahead of; we cannot allow Iran to have a nuclear weapon,' Mr. Brennan said. 'But intimidation is not going to convince the Iranians to give it up. We have to outmaneuver our adversaries and outwit them.'"