WSJ: Obama may retain Bush interrogation policies, Gates as SecDef

Not so Changey.

President-elect Barack Obama is unlikely to radically overhaul controversial Bush administration intelligence policies, advisers say, an approach that is almost certain to create tension within the Democratic Party…

“He’s going to take a very centrist approach to these issues,” said Roger Cressey, a former counterterrorism official in the Clinton and Bush administrations. “Whenever an administration swings too far on the spectrum left or right, we end up getting ourselves in big trouble.”…

[H]e more recently voted for a White House-backed law to expand eavesdropping powers for the National Security Agency. Mr. Obama said he opposed providing legal immunity to telecommunications companies that aided warrantless surveillance, but ultimately voted for the bill, which included an immunity provision.

The new president could take a similar approach to revising the rules for CIA interrogations, said one current government official familiar with the transition. Upon review, Mr. Obama may decide he wants to keep the road open in certain cases for the CIA to use techniques not approved by the military, but with much greater oversight

Advisers caution that few decisions will be made until the team gets a better picture of how the Bush administration actually goes about gathering intelligence, including covert programs, and there could be a greater shift after a full review.

He and Dubya do have a lot in common, the Wash Times wryly observes. Actually, though, the boldface part most closely reflects the thinking of yet another president — namely, Clinton, who famously (or, rather, not famously) endorsed coercive interrogation two years ago in ticking bomb scenarios provided there’s some oversight mechanism like FISA review. Alan Dershowitz had the same idea, going so far as to propose “torture warrants” for exceptional cases. If The One does in fact load up his cabinet with old Clinton hands like Emanuel and Lawrence Summers at Treasury, and if it’s true that he’s made taking out Bin Laden a top priority, some variation on the Billy Jeff plan would be an obvious way to let him maneuver in extracting info from “difficult” subjects on Osama’s whereabouts or other pressing matters.

That said, does anyone seriously believe he’s going to pick a fight with the left on this, of all subjects? Dubya’s intel policies lie at the core of the nutroots’s Bushitler derangement; The One’s de facto ratification of warrantless wiretapping in his vote for telecom immunity was the one sin for which they really hammered him during the campaign. He needs his base early on, especially if things get hairy with the economy and/or Iran, and this would be the surest way to alienate them. I think Gabe’s right, that we’ll soon be told it’s a case of an “overzealous” aide having spoken “inartfully” about Obama’s plans and that he fully intends to make the CIA a waterboard-free zone — which it’s been since 2003, you may recall, and which it was before 2003 except in three cases.

Elsewhere in the Journal, rumor has it that The One is thinking of keeping Gates on for at least another year. A fine idea, no matter which way he’s leaning on Iraq. But then, you already knew that too.