Hagel Climbing the Ladder in Obama White House

By Al Kamen
Friday, August 14, 2009

Former Nebraska senator Chuck Hagel (R), a senior administration official-in-waiting either later this term or in President Obama's second term (if there is one), is taking another step into Obama's national security team. We're hearing Hagel is in line to co-chair the important President's Intelligence Advisory Board (formerly known as the President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board).

Hagel, who is a longtime pal of Vice President Biden and who toured Iraq and Afghanistan with Obama during the campaign, already has been named to replace former House speaker Newt Gingrich on the Defense Policy Board, run by former deputy secretary of Defense John Hamre. The 16 members of the nonpartisan intelligence board, all unpaid, resigned during the transition so a new board could be appointed by Obama.

The board, which usually acts in secrecy, is given access to key intelligence information and is charged with giving the president an objective analysis of the quality of that information. Prior chairmen have been folks such as former Bush I national security advisor Brent Scowcroft, former New Hampshire senator Warren Rudman, former House speaker Tom Foley, Gen. Maxwell Taylor and former Johnson administration secretary of defense Clark Clifford.

Quote of the Week

Speaking of foreign policy matters, Richard Holbrooke, special representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan, wins the Loop quote-of-the-week award. Speaking to reporters Wednesday as he rolled out the team of heavy hitters that is working with him, a team that's decidedly different from the group of rookies depicted in our colleague Rajiv Chandrasekaran's 2006 book "Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Iraq's Green Zone," Holbrooke talked about how the United States will know that it's won in Afghanistan.

Holbrooke said he preferred to use the word 'succeed' rather than 'win.' So what's success?

"It's really hard for me to address [the question] in specific terms," he said, "but I would say this about defining success in Afghanistan and Pakistan. In the simplest sense, the Supreme Court test for another issue: We'll know it when we see it."

That, of course, was a reference to the late Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart's famous remark in -- Quick Quiz! What Supreme Court case? Ah, you guessed it, Jacobellis v. Ohio in 1964, where Stewart briefly noted it was hard to define precisely what constituted pornography and concluded, "I know it when I see it."

Surprising Guest

After nearly eight years of quiet battle with the Bush administration over the treatment of detainees, especially those in secret CIA custody, the Washington office of the International Committee of the Red Cross finally had a reason to celebrate this week: the 60th anniversary of the Geneva Conventions -- those nearly universally embraced humanitarian protections that President George W. Bush thought did not apply to suspected al-Qaeda prisoners.

No surprise that the Red Cross celebration at the Newseum was populated with human rights lawyers, Obama administration officials and rule-of-law types. But a number of Loop fans were stunned to see John Rizzo, the outgoing general counsel of the CIA.

Rizzo was the attorney who asked the Justice Department for legal guidance for the CIA's interrogation and prison programs, and who battled the Red Cross's efforts to get access to detainees and answers about the fate of those still missing.

"Is The Washington Post going to report that the CIA was at the celebration of the Geneva Conventions?" he asked our colleague Julie Tate.


It's Nothing Global

Back in March, when we wrote that the Obama administration had decided to stop using the Bush term "Global War on Terror," some administration officials -- we won't repeat names here -- were spinning faster than our reversible Craftsman drill. They slowed down a few days later when Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who's now winding up an endless Africa trip, said the administration stopped using the phrase, a move that "speaks for itself, obviously."

Well, sort of obviously. Last week, John Brennan, Obama's top advisor on terrorism, made more obvious the reasoning behind the move to drop the GWOT. "[D]escribing our efforts as a 'global war' only plays into the warped narrative that al-Qaeda propagates," Brennan said a speech at a think tank here on the eighth anniversary of the CIA's "Bin Laden Determined to Strike" memo. "It plays into the misleading and dangerous notion that the U.S. is somehow in conflict with the rest of the world," he said.

Yeah, but it was a catchy phrase, great acronym.

Iraq, Anyone?

Also on the foreign policy front, deputy national security adviser Douglas E. Lute moved off the Iraq portfolio recently to focus exclusively on Afghanistan and Pakistan. Dennis Ross, who'd been handling Iraq at the State Department, moved over to the White House. But Ross is senior director for the Central Region. This has apparently caused some confusion about precisely who's the point person for Iraq. Ross? Foreign policy advisor Denis McDonough? National Security Council chief of staff Mark Lippert? Biden also has taken on a leading role in Iraq matters.

Well, any of them will probably do.

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