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The Spook Spoke


I remember a long-forgotten professor saying to his class that “if you cannot argue both sides of an issue, then you don’t really understand that issue.”

Last night, I had the pleasure of listening to John Brennan, the former head of the CIA, as he spoke to the Norfolk Forum.  Having served six presidents (three Republican and three Democrat), he discussed his conscientious effort to remain independent of partisanship.  After all, it is critically important that the president receive unbiased advice, and I suspect Brennan did the best possible job.  While he made clear that bellicose behavior was definitely the wrong strategy for handling the North Korea behavior, he didn’t really attack or defend other Trump issues.  (Without mentioning Trump’s name, he did comment that inexperienced leaders tend toward authoritarian regimes, to huge applause from the audience.)

The most interesting observation was that, due to their demographic problems of an aging population and their economic dependence on energy exports, Russia thinks tactically, while China thinks strategically.  Short-term tactics such as election interference suits Russia, whereas China is better suited to long-term thinking, such as building islands in the South China Sea.  Interesting . . .

The most heartfelt comments concerned Trump’s continuing criticism of the U.S. intelligence services and Department of Justice.  Good and decent people are impacted by this, Brennan said, as well as hampering their ability to recruit future “spooks” or secret agents, especially among those addicted to one particular news universe.  I doubt even Brennan is dispassionate enough to argue both sides of this issue, and that’s OK!

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