John Brennan grew up in New Jersey, the son of an Irish immigrant named Owen.
Brennan, who this week was dubbed President Obama’s “public face for counter terrorism policy,” was educated by the Jesuits, in high school as well as at Fordham University. Brennan has said a sense of public service was instilled in him, at home and at school, and thus he traveled widely and, after college, began a 30-year career at the CIA, working closely with Obama, as well as Presidents Bush and Clinton.
Despite this impressive resume -- Obama seriously considered naming Brennan CIA director following the presidential election -- it was not until the so-called underwear bombing of Christmas Day that the spotlight turned to Brennan.
The Obama administration -- and Brennan -- faced heat after 23 year-old Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab attempted to blow up Northwest Airlines Flight 253. The administration had to ‘fess up that it had failed to connect the many dots which might have helped avoid the attempted bombing in the first place.
Just after New Year’s Day, Brennan was on all of the Sunday morning political talk shows defending the Obama administration’s terror policy, which was also slammed in the fall when Army psychiatrist Major Nidal Hasan was charged with going on a rampage which left 13 people dead at Fort Hood, Texas.
The interesting thing about the heat facing Brennan is that it is coming from both sides of the political aisle.
The Republican-leaning Fox News crowd sees Obama and Brennan as soft. This charge was articulated controversially by former Vice President Dick Cheney, who emerged from his bunker recently to charge that the Democrats in general are flunking when it comes to national security.
“I'm very disappointed in the vice president's comments," Brennan himself declared on NBC's Meet the Press on January 3. "Either the vice president is willfully mischaracterizing this president's position -- both in terms of language he uses, and the actions he's taken -- or he's ignorant of the facts.
“In either case, it doesn't speak well of what the vice president's doing."
But even to some Obama fans, Brennan is viewed as a holdover who, a few years back, worked closely with former President George W. Bush.
Last Sunday’s cover story in The New York Times Magazine by Peter Baker, entitled “Stopping the Next One: Obama’s War Over Terror,” includes a lengthy analysis of Brennan’s career. The article said that in the wake of the Christmas Day terror attack, Brennan “has emerged … as the administration’s public face for counterterrorism policy,” and also explained how key figures in the Obama administration also fought the war on terror under President Bush.
“For all of his talk of change,” Baker writes, “Obama has kept a lot of veterans of the Bush administration in place.”
Several of these key figures have another thing in common -- they are Irish American. The article also cites Chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen.
Last Friday, a critical report about the Fort Hood Massacre was released, forcing Mullen to acknowledge that he was concerned about “self-radicalization” in the military. He added, “There is clearly more and more of that going on, and how much of it we have in the military is something that we ought to really understand.”
Joining Mullen in taking a very close look at the Fort Hood report is Army Secretary John McHugh, another Irish American, as well as a former Republican congressman from upstate New York.
Finally, there is Denis McDonough, a Minnesota native and National Security Council chief of staff. Another member of Obama’s inner circle on counterterrorism, McDonough has been out front in recent days talking about the tragedy in Haiti.
This, of course, is how the news cycle works. A crisis is only a crisis until another one comes along.
The Times article opens with a scene featuring McDonough and Brennan briefing Obama about a “major terrorist plot to attack his inauguration.”
That plot, obviously, never materialized. But for Irish Americans such as McDonough and Brennan and McHugh and Mullen, there will surely always be another crisis around the corner.