Ex-CIA agents' views on Obama's challenges

November 7, 2008 7:11:20 PM PST
He is a man who, having already made history will soon be in a position to shape it. President-elect Barack Obama has already promised big work on his campaign issues, but his intelligence briefings will come in handy because, if history is any guide, new presidents always seem to get more than they bargained for.

"I think every president is tested," California Senator Dianne Feinstein said. "This president will be tested, too, just like every other president."

Kennedy had the Russians, Clinton had the first World Trade Center bombing, George W. Bush, September 11. So how might Obama avoid his test?

"On the 21st of January, you send a representative to Iran, secretly, with a secret agenda, and find out how we work together," Robert Baer said.

Baer spent more than 20 years as a CIA operative in the Middle East. He was the basis for George Clooney's character in the movie Syriana. Baer is one of the many members in the intelligence community who believe the so-called "problem" with Iran also provides an opportunity, no matter what the Bush administration has said.

"The group the president and vice president have around them now is a self-licking ice cream cone. They don't think the same and they're afraid to say anything out of the ordinary for fear the vice president will have their head," Ray McGovern said.

McGovern, a former CIA senior analyst, once challenged Donald Rumsfeld one-on-one about weapons of mass destruction. He also used to brief presidents three times per week.

"Iraq is not a threat to us," McGovern said.

"Look, we were as tooled in the Middle East as we were with the sub-prime," Baer said.

According to both men, Americans still think of Iran as they did on the 1979 Hostage Crisis; they hear only the anti-American rhetoric. But Americans would see a completely different Iran if they spoke to an average person on the street.

"We had a great relationship for fifty years. Why can't we go back to that?" Iranian-born Homayoun Shivaie said.

Shivaie grew up in Iran, the son of a general. Today he is a physical trainer in Marin County.

The typical Iranian, according to Shivaie, is a moderate Shia Muslim who views America as having helped neutralize Iraq and Afghanistan.

"You put Iran in such a great position. These two enemies on both sides are gone," Shivaie said.

So with Iran, at least, Obama inherits what some describe as an international misunderstanding.

"They're helping us in Afghanistan, they're helping us in Iraq. They want to be talked to, not as an equal, but reflecting the power they are," Baer said.

In the case of Iran, maybe that presidential test will have more to do with diplomacy than force.


Load Comments