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May 9, 2006
Smoother Landing For Hayden?

The New York Sun reports that although the nomination of General Michael Hayden to be director of the CIA has aroused some complaints, few Democrats have openly and directly opposed his appointment. David Donadio writes that a retirement from the Air Force might be enough to get a relatively painless confirmation:

Although committee members were hesitant about expressing their support for General Hayden yesterday, few Democrats offered serious reservations to his nomination, and several Republicans expressed wholehearted support. There was a widespread feeling, however, that General Hayden might smooth his passage through the committee if he were to resign from the military.

"General Hayden is more than qualified for the position of CIA director," Senator Bond, a Republican of Missouri, said. "The job of CIA director is to track down and stop terrorists. That's exactly what General Hayden has been doing. His exemplary military background and his recent assignment running America's 'early warning' terrorist surveillance system are clear strengths that only highlight the critical intelligence experience that [he] brings to the CIA. I look forward to the confirmation process, but see no evidence that General Hayden is anything but highly qualified for the position." ...

But Ms. Feinstein also expressed her admiration for the nominee. "We need a respected, competent intelligence professional who can command respect and manage this growing agency," she said. "Based on what I know so far, General Michael Hayden appears to fit that bill."

Senator Mikulski, a Democrat of Maryland, echoed the concerns of her Democratic colleagues, but added that she has "enormous respect for [Hayden] ... He is competent, candid, and has a spirit of reform," a remark that summarizes Senate opinion of him.

So far, it appears that if the administration was spoiling for a fight over the NSA surveillance program with Hayden's nomination, the White House may find itself disappointed. Only Russ Feingold and, oddly, Arlen Specter have made it an issue over the past few days, and they appear to be in the minority. Feingold may have hoped to rally his caucus behind his threat to combat the general on terrorist surveillance, but so far his colleagues have only mentioned it in passing before lauding Hayden's qualities to the press.

All of this could be a feint, of course, designed to lull the White House and the media into a false sense of peace and bipartisanship. However, it appears that two different dynamics are in play, at least for everyone but Feingold and Specter. First, the popularity of the NSA program has finally dawned on the politicos, and they appear to have lost the stomach for another round of Orwellian hysteria over a program that has helped keep the nation safe since 9/11. They also know that George Bush wants nothing more than to go another round with Democrats, forcing them into the position of demanding that the country honor the civil rights of foreigners suspected of terrorist activity. Going into a midterm election, the last problem the Democrats need is another beating on national security.

Second, and more significant in the long run, is a general agreement among those who know the intel community that Hayden is the right man for the job. While the press paints Hayden's military connections as a potential Trojan Horse for Donald Rumsfeld to control the CIA, knowledgeable people on the inside know that the opposite is true: Hayden represents an effort for the kind of reform envisaged by the 9/11 Commission when they demanded the creation of the Directorate of National Intelligence. That has its own issues, but Defense control of the CIA isn't among them. Hayden will probably acquiesce to the condition that he take his retirement from the Air Force before assuming the new position, defusing even that concern.

All of this hinges on the confirmation hearings, and its structure benefits Feingold. He can ask anything he wants in his time allotted, and we can expect him to attempt to push Hayden into a corner, especially on the NSA program. The other Democrats on the panel will watch closely. If Feingold can draw blood, they will sense it like sharks and attempt to move in for the kill. If Feingold comes up empty -- like he and his colleagues did against Samuel Alito and especially John Roberts -- they will hastily call it a day and move Hayden forward with little resistance. The Democrats can't afford the hat trick on committee stupidity in one election cycle. They've already given the GOP enough material for several campaign commercials from the Judiciary Committee.

We may have stumbled into a position where Congress takes the right action for the right reasons. If the confirmation hearings go smoothly -- and Hayden has always performed impressively with Congress -- he should move into Langley by the first of next month.

Sphere It Digg! View blog reactions
Posted by Ed Morrissey at May 9, 2006 6:21 AM

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