Longtime Foe of U.S. Intervention in Iraq Now Has Obama’s Ear

Rand Beers, a top White House adviser on homeland security, left the Bush administration when the war began in 2003.

Under Secretary for the National Protection and Programs Directorate (NPPD) at the U.S. Department of Homeland Rand Beers testifies during a hearing before the Homeland Security Subcommittee of the Senate Appropriations Committee June 8, 2011 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. The hearing was to review emergency management in the US. 
National Journal
Christopher Snow Hopkins
Christopher Snow Hopkins
June 23, 2014, 5:30 p.m.

On March 19, 2003, co­ali­tion forces in­vaded Ir­aq. Five days later, Rand Beers resigned from the Na­tion­al Se­cur­ity Coun­cil.

Beers, an un­as­sum­ing coun­terter­ror­ism ex­pert, had served on the Na­tion­al Se­cur­ity Coun­cil staff un­der three pres­id­ents — two Re­pub­lic­an and one Demo­crat­ic. He re­garded his work as apolit­ic­al, col­leagues say, and ad­hered to the motto, “There’s no lim­it to how much you can get done if you’re will­ing to let someone else take the cred­it.”

But after two years as a spe­cial as­sist­ant to Pres­id­ent Bush, Beers dis­creetly va­cated his post.

“I did not agree with [Bush’s] de­cision to go in­to Ir­aq,” Beers says. “I thought that it was a dis­trac­tion, a wrong turn, from the prin­cip­al post-9/11 mis­sion.”¦ There wasn’t a ter­ror­ism threat em­an­at­ing from Ir­aq. The in­tel­li­gence was thin and ul­ti­mately turned out to be nonex­ist­ent. I felt that I couldn’t ask people to come to work every day when I didn’t feel like I could give the pres­id­ent my full sup­port. And I thought the pres­id­ent de­served some­body in the job who was pre­pared to do that, so I left.”

Ul­ti­mately, Beers’s op­pos­i­tion to the Ir­aq War com­pelled him to align him­self with Bush’s chief polit­ic­al rival. One year after leav­ing the White House, Beers be­came an ad­viser to then-Sen. John Kerry’s 2004 pres­id­en­tial cam­paign.

Today, with Ir­aq in chaos, Beers is do­ing what he wanted to do all along, but for a dif­fer­ent ad­min­is­tra­tion. Earli­er this year, Beers joined the Obama White House as deputy as­sist­ant to the pres­id­ent for home­land se­cur­ity. He was pre­vi­ously the act­ing sec­ret­ary of the Home­land Se­cur­ity De­part­ment, a post he took over when Janet Na­pol­it­ano re­tired from gov­ern­ment ser­vice to lead the Uni­versity of Cali­for­nia sys­tem.

With a con­ser­vat­ive hair­cut and an un­der­stated man­ner, the 71-year-old pos­sesses the en­ergy of a man three dec­ades his ju­ni­or. A former Mar­ine who led a rifle com­pany in com­bat dur­ing the Vi­et­nam War, Beers is re­garded by his col­leagues as earn­est, re­spect­ful, and pro­act­ive.

“Not only is he kind of a Renais­sance man of se­cur­ity, but he has some­how avoided the over­dose of cyn­icism that oc­curs in gov­ern­ment ser­vice over a length of time,” Na­pol­it­ano said. “He be­comes a source of en­ergy about what it is we can do, as op­posed to what we can­not do.”

Not­with­stand­ing his low-key de­mean­or, Beers boasts an en­cyc­lo­ped­ic know­ledge of al-Qaida and its af­fil­i­ates. Shortly after the 2009 case of the “un­der­wear bomber” — in which a Ni­geri­an na­tion­al with ties to the ter­ror­ist net­work stashed plastic ex­plos­ives in his un­der­wear on a flight from Am­s­ter­dam to De­troit — Na­pol­it­ano and Beers were cruis­ing above North Africa on a flight to the United Ar­ab Emir­ates. “The plane was low enough to see nomads cross­ing the desert,” Na­pol­it­ano re­called. “Rand gave us a tu­tori­al on the his­tory of the area.”

Beers is also ad­ept at serving as an in­ter­me­di­ary between mil­it­ary brass and politi­cians. Dur­ing the 2004 pres­id­en­tial cam­paign, some of Kerry’s aides were con­cerned that ex-mil­it­ary of­ficers who had en­dorsed the can­did­ate would be irked by Kerry’s state­ments about the Ir­aq War. “Beers handled the gen­er­als per­fectly,” said Robert M. Shrum, a seni­or ad­viser to the cam­paign. “He treats people with enorm­ous re­spect and that makes him very ef­fect­ive.”¦ You don’t al­ways get that in cam­paigns.”

Al­though Beers has voted only once for a Re­pub­lic­an — Spiro Ag­new, who ran for gov­ernor of Mary­land in 1966 — his first White House ap­point­ment came un­der Pres­id­ent George H.W. Bush. Later, as as­sist­ant sec­ret­ary of State from 1998 to 2002, Beers was an ar­chi­tect of Plan Colom­bia, an abort­ive at­tempt to erad­ic­ate the Colom­bi­an drug trade.

After Kerry lost in 2004, Beers and a hand­ful of cam­paign aides es­tab­lished the Na­tion­al Se­cur­ity Net­work, which has since be­come an in­cub­at­or for Demo­crat­ic na­tion­al se­cur­ity ex­perts. Ini­tially, the policy group was noth­ing more than Beers and two young as­sist­ants work­ing out of his base­ment. (Those as­sist­ants, Moira Whelan and Il­an Golden­berg, are now serving in the State De­part­ment and the Pentagon, re­spect­ively.) The Na­tion­al Se­cur­ity Net­work’s credo was an ex­pli­cit re­buke to Pres­id­ent Bush’s for­eign policy.

“We re­ject the Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion’s reck­less, in­com­pet­ent, and short­sighted policies that have em­boldened our en­emies, tar­nished our mor­al stand­ing, over­stretched our mil­it­ary, and en­dangered our people,” reads a state­ment of prin­ciples on the group’s web­site. “It’s time to get back to ba­sics — to com­bine a strong mil­it­ary with shrewd dip­lomacy, ef­fect­ive al­li­ances, and com­mit­ment to our bed­rock val­ues.”

Dur­ing the 2008 cam­paign, Beers served as an in­form­al ad­viser to Hil­lary Clin­ton and then Barack Obama, and he made head­lines in June of that year when he ques­tioned wheth­er Sen. John Mc­Cain’s ser­vice dur­ing the Vi­et­nam War — he was a POW in Hanoi from 1967 to 1973 — en­hanced his abil­ity to make na­tion­al se­cur­ity de­cisions if elec­ted pres­id­ent.

“We’re all more politi­cized than we were 10 years ago,” said Heath­er Hurl­burt, ex­ec­ut­ive dir­ect­or of the Na­tion­al Se­cur­ity Net­work. “It used to be that, in the na­tion­al se­cur­ity arena, it was not at all un­usu­al for someone to work for a mod­er­ate Re­pub­lic­an, then a Demo­crat, then a mod­er­ate Re­pub­lic­an. It wasn’t re­garded with the same de­gree of shock and dis­trust. After 9/11, everything changed.”

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