I read this week the White House is baffled the CIA did not report up the chain of command that the people they had turned in Berlin were about to be detained. In a phone call, Merkel didn’t raise the issue, and Obama didn’t know about it! Does the White House conveniently pretend it doesn’t know how our dual system of government works? We have a permanent national security state, and an elected government that turns over every two, four, or six years, depending on the office. The White House is baffled?
Suppose the officials in the elected portion of government had to acknowledge publicly that they’re sort of like hallowed pipsqueaks compared to the people in the national security state. Each part of government thinks it matters, but both parts know which matters more. When the German government discovers that Washington has recruited a couple of double agents, the national security state doesn’t even bother to tell the president. The president says, “I read about it online!” I guess if he wants to patch things up with Angela Merkel with an amicable phone call, some plausible deniability isn’t so bad. He looks weak, though. He looks weak all the time.
The division between a permanent national security state and a relatively weak democracy has existed in our republic for a long time now. Ask yourself why Dwight Eisenhower found it necessary to warn us about the national security state in his farewell address. By our Constitution, the president and congress are masters of our national security institutions. Why would an outgoing president need to warn us about their strength? Could he not corral these institutions himself? For an answer, consider what happened shortly after Ike left office. JFK tried to corral the CIA and the Pentagon after they set him up for the Bay of Pigs disaster, and everyone could easily observe what happened to him. Every president after JFK knows what happened to him. You don’t cross those guys across the river. They know how to protect their power. Politics is for keeps.
People have said for generations now, “Don’t think it can’t happen here.” A lot of things happen in politics that we believe happen only in other countries: assassinations, state crimes against democracy, secret surveillance, betrayals, setups, civil wars, torture, propaganda, intimidation, disinformation, and every manner of self-serving corruption you can imagine. All of these things happen here as well as abroad. The odd thing is that we don’t want to acknowledge that it happens here. It’s not consistent with our self-image. We cannot believe that we are like other people in these respects. Worst of all these political ills is violent civil conflict. If we don’t change the course we are on, it is coming. I hope it does not happen while I am alive. Everyone wants it to occur way in the future, because we all long for peace.
One group does not long for peace, people who have power to protect. Right now, as we look over the rest of the world, we can imagine conflict here at home coming sooner than we might wish.