Having written before in this space about venturesome Americans and their actions on the international stage, I am moved to return to the subject. Some new books—Karen Paget’s Patriotic Betrayal: The Inside Story of the CIA’s Secret Campaign to Enroll American Students in the Crusade Against Communism, Gregg Herken’s The Georgetown Set: Friends and Rivals in Cold War Washington, and Richard Norton Smith’s new biography of Nelson Rockefeller—yield insight into the “global meliorism” that has defined American policy for a long time and the American character for even longer. What they also do is offer a picture of the genesis of the national security establishment that we know today.
At the height of the Iran Contra scandal in Washington, “Saturday Night Live” had a funny skit about Ronald Reagan. It showed the President’s folksy, out-to-lunch personality to be a façade. Behind closed doors, he was a worker bee, driving younger staff members to exhaustion. Liberals could only entertain such a possibility fictionally. To them, Reagan was a lazy leader, “sleepwalking through history.”
Liberal avoidance of such a possibility tracked back to Dwight David Eisenhower’s 1953-1961 administration. To the liberals of that era, he was a disconnected President, more interested in his golf game than in leading the nation. Worse, he lacked political courage, specifically with regard to halting a rampaging Joe McCarthy.
I used to think I wanted the job security of the tenured professor but now I think what I really want is to run the CIA. Nothing, but nothing, gets those guys fired. John Brennan, for one, has retained his position after presiding over a formal, frontal assault on a coordinate branch of government. He has kept it after further mocking the principle of the separation of powers by redacting a Senate report on CIA interrogation practices so thoroughly that even already public material is blotted out.
The easy shot against Glenn Greenwald’s No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA and the U.S. Surveillance State would be to dismiss its warnings as immoderate and overwrought. “Converting the Internet into a system of surveillance,” he declares nearly off the bat (6), turns it “into a tool of repression, threatening to produce the most extreme and oppressive weapon of state intrusion human history has ever seen.” Similarly, “[t]he US government had built a system that has as its goal the complete elimination of electronic privacy worldwide.” (94) These are bold claims on which to deliver. And yet, piling evidence atop evidence, Greenwald does.
Recently, Senator Dianne Feinstein objected to CIA surveillance of Senate committee staffers who were looking through classifed documents relating to the agency's previous interrogation and detention practices. Feinstein, who has generally been supportive of NSA monitoring, has been criticized on the ground that she only objected to government surveillance when it affected her. Feinstein has now opened herself up to more criticism of this sort. In an interview with CBS’s “60 Minutes” that aired on Sunday night, the California Democrat said a drone spied into the window of her home during a protest outside her house, and that privacy concerns for the…
Yes, the irony of the CIA intruding on the computers of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence—whose chairwoman has defended the right of the NSA to intrude on the computers of millions of Americans—is delicious. Yes, there is probably hypocrisy involved in the indignation. Yes, it hurts to say this: Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), who is outraged, is still right.
A New Year’s wake-up call from the International Business Times: “In their annual End of Year poll, researchers for WIN and Gallup International surveyed more than 66,000 people across 65 nations and found that 24 percent of all respondents answered that the United States “is the greatest threat to peace in the world today.” Pakistan and China fell significantly behind the United States on the poll, with 8 and 6 percent, respectively. Afghanistan, Iran, Israel and North Korea all tied for fourth place with 4 percent.”
This confirms what international travelers sense: whereas not so long ago foreigners saw Americans as the embodiment of peace and freedom, a plurality now see us as a source of trouble for themselves. For more people than not, being on America’s side now means being on the side of trouble. Why? And what is that to us?
Last week, US special forces captured one Abu Anas Al-Libi, suspected of having taken part in the 1998 bombing of US embassies in Africa that killed 224 and injured some four thousand. Good. But the US government treated the event much as The New York
Times and especially The Wall Street Journal described it, “a major victory” especially for US intelligence in the “war against al Qaeda.” The Journal went on to describe Al-Libi as “an intelligence gold mine” who can tell us “the ways that al Qaeda is decentralizing and expanding in Africa,” and to urge the government to get this war-winning information out of him by…well, you know… This is fantasy.
The impressive capacity of drone aircraft armed with Hellfire missiles to destroy anyone unprotected by serious air defenses has led the US government (and the think-tank community) to overlook the first-order questions regarding their use, indeed regarding the use of any military force. To wit: Are we targeting those we really want to kill? Who are the people whose deaths would relieve us of our problems? The first is a classic question of intelligence. The second is the classic questions of strategy. But our national security Establishment has accustomed itself to substituting tactics for both intelligence and strategy.