Friday, April 24, 2009

President Obama is surrendering national security with a radical appointment at the Defense Department. Rosa Brooks, this month made adviser to Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Michelle Flournoy, will be in a position to do significant damage to U.S. security.

This position is unknown to most outside the Beltway but is at the critical locus of defense policymaking. The undersecretary for policy’s office is the nerve center producing most of the Defense Department’s strategic documents and governing policies. According to a George W. Bush-era occupant of that office: “If she wanted to write her wacky ideas into policy controlling the entire defense establishment, that would be the place to do it.”

A review of Ms. Brooks’ published work reveals her hard-left, rabidly ideological positions on defense matters. She regularly referred to Mr. Bush as a war criminal, and argues that Bush-era policies on terrorism - which prevented any major attacks on U.S. soil since Sept. 11, 2001 - made America less secure. Referring to Mr. Bush and former Vice President Richard Cheney, she wrote, “They should be treated like psychotics who need treatment.” She has called al Qaeda “little more than an obscure group of extremist thugs” and wrongly predicted that the surge in Iraq was “a feckless plan” that would prove “too little, too late.” Putting her in the policy shop “is like Lyndon Johnson making Jane Fonda a senior adviser on Vietnam,” the former Pentagon adviser says. She frequently criticizes what she sees as a pro-Israel bias in U.S. policy.

The immediate worry is the influence Ms. Brooks can have on the upcoming Quadrennial Defense Review. The review sets strategic priorities for the department. Strategic documents frequently start as consensus documents in which various components independently submit their take on a given issue, then the differences are ironed out. Who holds the pen is critical at the latter stages of this process. Subtle changes in the language - a word changed here or there, a sentence added or deleted - can have dramatic impact.

We saw this with the 2007 National Intelligence Estimate on Iranian nuclear capabilities. A few sentences in the summary of that document spun it in a way that suggested Iran was not seeking a nuclear capability, when a closer detailed reading revealed that the intelligence community believed Iran could have a nuclear weapon as early as 2010. But the damage was done, and 2010 is coming soon.

Ms. Brooks may be called on to shape strategies and policies, draft major public statements and undertake special research projects, all of which she will approach with her strong ideological prejudices.

She is unlikely to be popular with the uniformed military. The iron colonels who get most of the work done in the Pentagon have finely tuned baloney detectors, and there surely will be a lot of eye rolling when she talks at meetings. The less work she can get done at Defense the better.

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