Gina Haspel, nominated to head the CIA, turned Democrats on the Senate Intelligence Committee every which way as she deftly answered one ridiculous question after another.
The Democratic game plan was so obvious as to be laughable: Get her to admit that enhanced intelligence techniques (e.g. waterboarding) used to obtain information to prevent more devastating terrorist attacks after 9-11 were “immoral.” “Answer yes or no!”
She answered the question honestly and subtly the way any question dealing with morality needs to be answered. To paraphrase, she said employing those techniques now would not comply with neither the law or America’s quest to follow the highest moral standards.
Oh no, that’s not the answer we want, chirped the Dems, mostly Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif), following some political advisor’s playbook to keep returning to the question, demanding a simple yes or no.
Haspel dove into the complicated and nuanced thinking that went into the decision made 17 years ago as best she could for an audience that didn’t want to know the real answer because it had already made up its mind that President Donald Trump’s CIA nominee had to be axed for political reasons. The techniques, she explained had been thoroughly vetted, had been determined to be legal and were approved by the president. She detailed how America was still in the grip of the 9-11 trauma and the biggest worry was another massive attack. Not to put words into her mouth, but there was a different aspect of morality back then that, for example, led many progressives such as Hillary Clinton to vote for the Iraq War.
In effect, she used a standard progressive trope against her critics: situational ethics. If the liberal questioners had followed their own mindset about how moral questions are situational, they would not have criticized Haspel for trying to explain her answer beyond a simple yes or no. For them, there is no such thing as objective truth. Everything is nuanced. But not in this case. A simple yes or nor to a complicated moral question was demanded.
This interrogation in a way reminded me of the post-Vietnam War years. Many of the war’s critics condemned the war as “immoral,” something above and beyond the usual objections that it couldn’t be won or that we should not be involved in foreign wars. The question of the morality of the Vietnam War still can be debated, but I don’t recall any nominees to high office being closely questioned about whether 17 years ago they thought the war was immoral. Or, more importantly, whether the nominee’s confirmation would hinge on basically that question.
Actually, most of the senators from both sides blew an opportunity to elicit some important information from Haspel. (Most Republicans were forced by the Democrat attack to defended Haspel.) For example: With conflicting intelligence about whether Iran is violating the deal to pause its quest for nuclear weapons, what could Haspel add to our understanding of the disagreement? What about the true intentions of the North Korea? Just how badly is China stealing our proprietary technology? Or this blockbuster: What does the CIA know about alleged Trump collusion with Russia and the Clinton handling of the Benghazi attack. I suspect Haspel would demure on some such questions, but why the hell weren’t they asked in the first place?
Anyone watching the hearing this morning in honesty would have to acknowledge that she answered the questions well and that there was absolutely nothing that established that her nomination should not be confirmed. After hearing all the bitching that Trump sent the Senate a nominee to head the Veterans Administration who didn’t have the requisite management experience, how confounding it is now to see the frenzied opposition to someone who has worked in the CIA for decades and knows it intimately. Someone who has aptly demonstrated her competence and who has won the enthusiastic bi-partisan support from former CIA directors and members of the intelligence community.
This circus proved only the desperate state of the Democrat strategy.