By Barry Rubin
If the Obama Administration would listen more to Secretary of State Hilary Clinton and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates it might salvage its foreign policy. But it has a penchant for picking--and listening to--people who are incompetent, ideologically wacky or totally out of their depth.
James Clapper, head of intelligence, is a remarkable example of their non-ideological problem. Everyone has heard about his calling the Muslim Brotherhood a secular and moderate group. But every time Clapper testifies before Congress he makes a fool of himself. He isn't doctrinaire, he's just not very good.
It isn't only the Brotherhood statement but also his remarks on Russia and China being the biggest current threat to America. I know he explained it by responding that the question was which countries are the largest threat on a national level, but even in an administration obsessed with--at least in its own conception--keeping Muslims happy Clapper could have said the word "Iran." Even the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff has done so.
And in this amnesiac society no one seems to remember that last December, Clapper made a fool of himself when, in an interview with Diane Sawyer of ABC News, he was obviously unaware of that day's biggest story: that the British government had arrested a dozen terrorists, something the U.S. intelligence chief might consider to be rather important, right?
It isn't just a matter of the specific assessments being made either. Clapper clearly has received a briefing, doesn't understand it, tries to reword it, and gets it wrong. In discussing Libya--and I'm not speaking about his policy positions but his explanation--Clapper shows he has no comprehension of military affairs. The way he speaks in terms of wording shows a politician--I've seen this first-hand--parroting a briefing from his staff without grasping it.
Clapper has a resume that looks very impressive on paper but I suspect that the big secret is that he's always been an administrator rather than an analyst, so he just doesn't know very much about actual issues and countries.
I'm willing to bet (though admittedly without any evidence) that the word around the CIA is that this guy is a fool and an embarassment and that his staff trembles every time he open his mouth. The administration needs to get rid of this guy fast, not only for the good of America and what should once again be called the "free world" but from the standpoint of the Obama Administration's own interests.
Barry Rubin is Director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His books include Islamic Fundamentalists in Egyptian Politics and The Muslim Brotherhood (Palgrave-Macmillan); and The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East, a study of Arab reform movements (Wiley). GLORIA Center site: http://www.gloria-center.org His blog, Rubin Reports, http://www.rubinreports.blogspot.com.