As Joe Biden continues to flesh out his cabinet and White House staff, I’m seriously beginning to wonder if anyone is actually advising him on these picks. We already discussed his curious choice of Gina Raimondo for Commerce, and now he’s made an even stranger selection. For some reason, Uncle Joe has tapped former Deputy Secretary of State William Burns to take charge at the CIA. The 64-year-old Burns certainly has plenty of experience in the swamp, having served under multiple administrations, but he’s a career diplomat. There is virtually nothing in his record to suggest that he has any experience in the intelligence community, and that’s only the beginning of his shortcomings. (Associated Press)
President-elect Joe Biden announced Monday he has chosen veteran diplomat William Burns to be his CIA director.
A former ambassador to Russia and Jordan, Burns, 64, had a 33-year career at the State Department under both Republican and Democratic presidents. He rose through the ranks of the diplomatic corps to become deputy secretary of state before retiring in 2014 to run the Carnegie Endowment of International Peace.
Amid tumult in the State Department after Donald Trump took office in 2017, Burns held his tongue until last year when he began writing highly critical pieces of the Trump administration’s policies in Foreign Affairs and other publications.
You might be tempted to say that someone doesn’t have to have been one of our spooks to run the Central Intelligence Agency, and you’d at least be partly correct. After all, we pick non-veterans to run the various branches of the military. But there’s a key difference that shoots holes in that analogy. By constitutional design, the civilian government is always supposed to be above the military, with the latter always deferring to the former. That provides some insulation against a military junta and a loss of control of the government to the generals.
The intelligence community is obviously different. It’s comprised entirely of civilian agents and directors. Even then, we might not rule out Burns for this position were it not for the fact that the entirety of his professional resume dwells in a world that’s diametrically opposed to what the CIA does. Burns is a diplomat. He spent his life traveling the world and trying to smooth over relations with other nations, building bridges and establishing relationships with the people who play very public roles on the global stage.
The CIA pretty much exists for the precise opposite reason. They keep an eye on both bad actors from foreign countries as well as our own citizens who lurk in dark corners and seek to do harm. Secrecy is paramount and for many agents, the only relationships that count for anything are never discussed. Where diplomats seek to establish trust, our intelligence agents actively work to undermine or even eliminate those who are covertly maneuvering to do damage to America’s interests, both at home and abroad.
In that regard, Burns not only has the wrong experience for the job but precisely the opposite of what one would expect or require. So how did he get this position? You can get a glimpse of the reason from the op-eds that he’s published since 2017. William Burns is a fervent NeverTrumper who has written numerous pieces slamming the President and his administration from the sidelines. His willingness to castigate Donald Trump and his administration, combined with his favored position inside the Obama-Biden administration clearly put him on Uncle Joe’s radar.
If Burns had been picked for Secretary of State (and most reports indicate he was on the shortlist), that would have at least been understandable. He’s arguably better prepared for that sort of role than Anthony Blinken. But running the CIA? Biden himself gave a clue to his priorities in making this selection, saying that “intelligence must be apolitical.” While our intelligence agencies certainly shouldn’t be partisan in terms of the Republicans versus the Democrats (though that’s sadly not the case these days), in the global sense, the work of the CIA is completely political. They quietly handle a lot of the work that’s required to support the west against our adversaries who may have infiltrated our nation.
William Burns hasn’t had to deal with anything along those lines. This smells like yet another political appointment handed out as a gift to a favored survivor of the last Democrat administration.