November 14, 2006

Hawk or Crook?

My colleagues at The New Republic are appalled by the fact that Nancy Pelosi plans to elevate Alcee Hastings (right) over Jane Harman to head the House Intelligence Committee. Hastings, recall, is a former judge who was impeached because he took a bribe from mobsters in 1981. Harman, on the other hand, was just under investigation by the FBI for, it seems, illegally enlisting AIPAC's help to lobby for the job (in return, she allegedly promised to help ease the pressure on two former AIPAC officials arrested for espionage). Now I'm not sure why a 20-year-old scandal makes Hastings vastly dirtier than Harman, who may have been breaking the law as recently as last year, but that's the standard line.

Okay, that's misleading. What Hastings did was wrong, and there's apparently more dirt on him than just that one incident—he's come under scrutiny by all sorts of bodies for various improprieties. Then again, corruption comes in all shapes. One might be concerned, for instance, that Harman is in the pocket of all the major defense contractors, having raked in over $500,000 in defense money since 1989. Hastings, for his part, has taken... virtually nothing, and is mostly beholden to labor groups. I guess much depends on whether one thinks the head of intelligence oversight should be tight with military contractors or not. I tend to think not.

More substantively, Harman knows a lot about intelligence. She's very experienced. Very smart. But she's also very hawkish. She strongly supported the war in Iraq, although she's since made some pointed criticisms of both the occupation and the administration's warrantless spy program. But hawkishness is the main theme. Hastings, on the other hand, is a dedicated war opponent, and has accused the White House of both fabricating intelligence in the run-up to the Iraq invasion and ignoring federal law in its surveillance program. Both are pro-Israel, but Harman has much closer ties with AIPAC, which, in addition to the espionage business, has, I tend to think, a pernicious influence on American foreign policy.

Many people think that Pelosi only chose Hastings so as to placate black Democrats and settle a personal score with Harman. Maybe so. On the other hand, if people want an aggressive intelligence committee that will hound the White House at every turn—and, most critically, push back on whatever intelligence the administration tries to peddle to justify an attack on Iran—Hastings might actually be a better fit. He's more left-wing on foreign policy, a good deal more confrontational, and he doesn't have to answer to hawkish constituents like Harman does. But... at the end of the day, there's still the corruption. Republicans will have a field day with Hastings. A third option would be nice, but it's not clear that there even is one.
-- Brad Plumer 10:19 PM || ||