Donald Trump is not known as a champion of women, but he thinks he should be. The President wants the deputy director of CIA, Gina Haspel, to succeed Mike Pompeo in the top job, and the Democrats are raging against her appointment. Predictably enough, Trump is enjoying the irony, tweeting on Monday morning:
“My highly respected nominee for CIA Director, Gina Haspel, has come under fire because she was too tough on Terrorists. Think of that, in these very dangerous times, we have the most qualified person, a woman, who Democrats want OUT because she is too tough on terror. Win Gina!”
Needless to say, it isn’t quite the fact that Haspel is a woman which is bothering the Democrats about her appointment. Haspel has her fingerprints over some of the most controversial practices of the Bush regime. She is accused of overseeing extraordinary rendition and waterboarding and other torture at a CIA black site in Thailand in 2002. She also directed the destruction of CIA tapes that showed such torture. Her nomination has raised many hackles, and Haspel even said she could step aside.
Yet there is something naïve about the Democrats’ opposition to Haspel. Her hands may be dirty, but then who could the President appoint to the job of CIA director whose hands are clean? The CIA isn’t nice, and never has been. That is the whole point of the CIA – it has licence to use methods, such as torture and assassination, which are indefensible under the normal rules of a democratic, human rights-abiding government. The Weekly Standard, a pro-torture publication, nonetheless had a point when it said of Senator Rand Paul “to whom we suspect no CIA director would be acceptable who didn’t oppose the CIA’s existence.”
Whether the CIA is necessary is debatable, but if you are going to support its existence it is hard to single out Haspel as someone unfit to lead it. The only thing you can say about her is that she was willing personally to oversee the brutality which many in the Bush administration were telling us was necessary to beat the terrorists – and that she drafted orders to destroy evidence of techniques used.
Perhaps what really irks Democrats about Haspel’s appointment is that she reminds them of what they were weak on during the Bush years: opposing Bush’s overseas adventures, and attacking his many legal justifications for an inhumane practice that doesn’t even yield good intelligence. Or maybe it just reminds them that the dearly-missed Obama practiced presidential tradition and let the whole torture thing go unpunished, because America had to move forward.
They are unlikely to win the battle against Haspel’s appointment. However well they might argue that she is unfit to be rewarded with the top job at the CIA, Donald Trump is clearly enjoying the fight for her appointment. And there are enough members of Congress misty-eyed about the good old days of George W to ensure that he gets his way.