Another battle between politics and common sense
© Greg Nash

Here we go again.

Less than a month after politics threatened to derail Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoSaudis say journalist killed in ‘fight’ at consulate; 18 detained Pompeo asks Mexico to help tackle migration ‘crisis’ Trump: 'FAKE NEWS' that Pompeo heard tape of Saudi journalist's death MORE’s nomination to be secretary of State, the same obstacle course is forming for the woman President TrumpDonald John TrumpDemocrats slide in battle for Senate Trump believes Kushner relationship with Saudi crown prince a liability: report Christine Blasey Ford to be honored by Palo Alto City Council MORE has chosen for Pompeo’s old job at the CIA. Policymakers may have legitimate qualms about Trump’s nominee, but many are once again putting political theater above the country’s interests. Washington needs to be better and do better.


Gina Haspel appears eminently qualified to lead the CIA, having served for more than three decades as an intelligence officer and station chief in various countries throughout the world. Maybe more important, people who have worked with her—CIA directors who have served both Republican and Democratic presidents, not to mention a wide range of CIA officers—have expressed their strong support for her nomination. That list includes Leon Panetta, John BrennanJohn Owen BrennanBrennan: Saudi denials of involvement in Khashoggi's disappearance 'ring hollow' Clinton's security clearance withdrawn at her request Mr. President, tear down the wall hiding those FISA abuses MORE and James ClapperJames Robert ClapperWrong for Democrats to call for more Kavanaugh investigations The Hill's Morning Report — Where the Kavanaugh nomination stands Hillicon Valley: 50M affected by Facebook hack | Google CEO to testify on Capitol Hill | Tesla shares slump after SEC sues | House Intel votes to release Russia probe transcripts | Dem holds up passage of key intel bill MORE, all of whom were appointed by President Obama.

But this week, many Senate Intelligence Committee members seemed more focused on staging viral YouTube clips than on exploring issues of real substance during Haspel’s confirmation hearing. Haspel’s record does demand serious scrutiny. During a complicated time in our nation’s history, Haspel, like many of her colleagues at the CIA, participated in efforts to fight al-Qaeda that raise legitimate moral questions. But those concerns need to be weighed against her broader record and competence, which includes distinguished service in former Soviet client states in the 80s, running Russia operations in central Eurasia during the 90s and leading the CIA’s counterterrorism center in the early 2000s.[1] That seems like the kind of experience that would be useful atop the CIA and helpful in keeping the country safe.

At the same time that Haspel’s nomination was being politicized, the current administration was being actively undermined by a leader from the last one.

One of the most cherished principles of our democracy is that America has one president at a time. And yet former Secretary of State John KerryJohn Forbes KerryNikki Haley powerfully rebuts Trump Khashoggi prompts Trump to reconsider human rights in foreign policy Biden: ‘Totally legitimate’ to question age if he runs in 2020 MORE spent the last few weeks working explicitly against the foreign policy goals of the Trump administration.

Under President Obama, Kerry of course led the American delegation negotiating the international agreement designed to curtail Iran’s nuclear weapons program. But President Trump ran a campaign explicitly opposed to the deal—and won. Now, his agenda is American policy. Shouldn’t he have the opportunity to execute it without having to worry about former government officials conducting shadow diplomacy against him?

We’ve seen this movie before. In 2015, members of the Obama administration were justifiably outraged when a group of Republican senators bypassed the White House to undercut the Iran deal, writing a letter to Iran’s leadership saying, “President Obama will leave office in January 2017, while most of us will remain in office well beyond then—perhaps decades.” It was an explicit effort by members of the legislative branch to undercut a sitting president amid negotiations with a foreign power. It was wrong then, most Democrats said as much, and they were right to do so. But how is what Secretary Kerry did—which included him being in direct touch with the Iranian foreign minister and other foreign diplomats—any different?

Sen. Arthur Vandenberg (R-Mich.) once famously said that politics should stop “at the water’s edge.” It’s a bit of wisdom many in Washington have clearly forgotten.

Unfortunately, these breaches of protocol aren’t isolated incidents; they’re reflections of a broader trend. The impulse to politicize everything—to use every nomination and negotiation as an opportunity to drive a political agenda—is precisely why the public is so disgusted with politics. Americans want their leaders to immerse themselves in problem solving, not political gamesmanship. The United States has dangerous enemies around the world but some in Washington act as if our greatest enemy is other Americans across the aisle.

Congress has an appointed role to play in foreign policy, the president has an administration to run, and private citizens have ample opportunities to voice their ideas. But if we’re going to rebuild faith in Washington, we need people to stay in their lanes. Gina Haspel should get fair consideration. John Kerry should leave the diplomacy to our current diplomats. And our elected leaders needs to act like they understand who our real enemies are.

Ryan Clancy is chief strategist for No Labels.