by Joseph Palermo —
Forty-eight years ago, President-Elect John F. Kennedy thought it would be a good idea to show “bipartisanship” and continuity by keeping on Allen Dulles from the previous administration as Director of Central Intelligence. He found out after the Bay of Pigs fiasco of April 1961 that he had made a big mistake. Kennedy suffered a major political embarrassment early in his presidency and ended up firing Dulles along with his deputy, Richard Bissell, who oversaw the Bay of Pigs operation.
Dulles and Bissell had lied to Kennedy about the level of direct American involvement in the operation and exaggerated the intelligence that claimed an uprising on the island would break out that would help the CIA-backed Cuban exiles overthrow Fidel Castro. Had Kennedy begun his presidency by wiping the “national security” personnel slate clean and filling key positions with new blood he might have avoided the botched CIA operation altogether.
The Bay of Pigs episode might give President-Elect Barack Obama pause in keeping on people associated with the “national security” establishment from the previous administration. There are rumors that he is considering retaining Defense Secretary Robert Gates. If Gates is kept on hopefully it will be only for a “decent interval” (a few months perhaps) to give him time to prepare to resign to “spend more time with his family.” Back when the Soviet Union was teetering on collapse Gates was President George H.W. Bush’s CIA Director and he insisted the Communist regime was as strong as ever. He muffed the most important intelligence story of the day. He might have been CIA Director four years earlier but he withdrew his nomination after it became clear the Senate would not confirm him because of his role in the Iran-Contra scandal. He is very close to the Bush Family.
John “Mike” McConnell, the Director or National Intelligence, serves in a new position that has only existed under the presidency of George W. Bush. In his capacity as “intelligence czar” McConnell has promoted privatizing vital services within the intelligence community that have made fortunes for connected corporations. His model for the intelligence services mirrors the KBR-Halliburton model for the occupation of Iraq. He played a role in withholding from Congress information about the National Security Agency’s domestic spy operations. He, like Gates, is very close to the Bushes. He needs to “spend more time with his family.”
The Director of Central Intelligence, Michael Hayden, also withheld information from Congress about the NSA’s domestic wiretap program. It was exposed in 2006 that while he was the Director of the NSA he greatly expanded the agency’s capabilities to spy on Americans without obtaining warrants from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) court, which had almost never denied such requests. In testimony to Congress Hayden seemed to understand neither the Constitutional basis nor the meaning of the Fourth Amendment against unlawful searches and seizures. Hayden too needs “to spend more time with his family.”
Before keeping on anyone from the “Power Ministries” as holdovers from the Bush Administration we must consider the nature of the government within which these men rose through the ranks. Are we to trust George W. Bush’s judgment? He was their benefactor and champion. He recognized their “talents” and “abilities” and promoted them to prominent positions where state secrets are kept. Dick Cheney must have approved. Keeping any of these people on is dangerous for Obama politically. The corporate media are waiting for the chance to strip him of his shine and glow. Obama cannot afford to have his own Bay of Pigs early in his presidency. I would not be surprised if Bush holdovers in the intelligence and defense sectors, like the holdovers in the Kennedy Administration, want to give him one.
We have just suffered through two terms of the worst presidential administration in U.S. history. The people who served in the top echelons of the Bush Administration owe us an apology for putting the nation through this prolonged nightmare. They do not deserve to keep their positions; on the contrary, I would think many of them should be facing some kind of tribunal for what they have done. The only decent thing for them to do at this point is to own up to their failures, as Colin Powell has done, and ask the American people for forgiveness.
President-Elect Obama might be able to co-opt some of the more competent “realist” and moderate elements within the Republican establishment and it would be magnanimous of him to try, but not from the Bush Administration. It would be wise to exclude people who kept Bush Family secrets and played prominent roles in the administration.
The people Obama has appointed so far are experienced and skilled at the particular tasks at hand. He has already peppered in people on the White House staff who know how to deal with Capitol Hill and know how the presidency is supposed to work with Congress. Like his campaign, his White House looks poised to operate like a well-oiled machine. He seems determined not to make the same mistakes Bill Clinton did back in 1992 when he grossly underestimated the egos and power centers of the Congress, (even among members of his own party). Obama’s experiences as an Illinois State legislator and U.S. Senator, as well as being a gifted lawyer and Constitutional law professor, will serve him well. He can follow Lincoln’s lead and appoint a “team of rivals” and it will be an amazing assemblage of talent if he does. But I believe the Bush appointments must go — all of them.
What I’ve hated the most about the last eight years is the authoritarianism emanating from Bush appointees and the questioning of the patriotism of anyone who disagreed with them. People who moved up the ranks in the Bush Administration are duplicitous in one way or another in the incompetence and misrule of the past eight years and do not deserve to be rewarded by retaining their posts. It’s time for all of them “to spend more time with their families.”
If President Obama cannot deliver he’ll be a lame duck quicker than you can imagine.
by Joseph Palermo
Joseph Palermo is Associate Professor of American History at CSU, Sacramento. He’s the author of two books on Robert F. Kennedy: In His Own Right (2001) and RFK (2008).
Reprinted with permission from the author.
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