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Hullabaloo


Sunday, January 05, 2014

 
"A president's personal pop stand"

by digby

In a scorching critique of ex-CIA agent John Rizzo's apparently ardent and reverential new CIA "memoir", Fred Kaplan throws out this little anecdote:
Occasionally, he’ll share an insight. “Every one of the seven presidents I served came to turn to and depend on the C.I.A.,” he writes, because it was a “unique asset — it can move quickly . . . in secret,” and it has “no other client,” it’s “a president’s personal pop stand. . . . None of them is going to give that up.” This helps explain, among other things, President Obama’s accession to intelligence operations (C.I.A. drone strikes, N.S.A. surveillance) that Senator Obama or Professor Obama would probably have protested.
Presidents are lately portrayed as being powerless figureheads but they actually do have quite a bit of power and this is certainly where a big part of it lies. They control a secret government, basically. And in President Obama's case, I've long thought that was one of the functions of being president that he particularly appreciated. It's not just from observing his obvious irritation at being questioned about it or analyses like this. It's easy to believe it because his control reflex stems from one of his own close political intimates' major boasts:
The bustling Obama headquarters on North Michigan Avenue invites comparisons to a start-up, teeming with young people in jeans clutching BlackBerrys as they walk through the halls. Yet in Democratic circles, another, potentially less welcome, parallel is being made: to the tight-knit and tight-lipped organization eight years ago of George W. Bush.

Decisions are guarded with extreme secrecy, none more so than the upcoming vice presidential selection, and that has occasionally irked members of Congress. In recent days, as Republicans publicly accused Sen. Barack Obama of appearing presumptuous during his presidential-style trip to Europe, Democrats privately expressed concerns that Obama has become too Chicago-centric, relying on his inner circle rather than a broader group that encourages input from Washington and elsewhere.

"One of the great strengths of this campaign from the very beginning has been the cohesion, the sense of camaraderie, and the lack of drama," said David Axelrod, a leader of the no-drama movement with his casual wardrobe and low-key demeanor.

"That is highly unusual in national campaigns," Axelrod added. "And one of the challenges moving forward is to expand and bring in more talent, people from other campaigns and other places, and still maintain that culture we began with. I think it's happening. But it's a process, and it fights the normal physics of national politics...

"There are a whole series of games candidates play," said Dan Pfeiffer, an Obama veteran who was recently promoted to communications director. Obama, he said, "brooks none of that" and has "specifically sought out people who are going to play by those rules."

Pfeiffer took exception to the comparison to the 2000 Bush campaign, which was located in Austin and was driven by Karl Rove, Karen Hughes and Joe Allbaugh. Those three Bush devotees devised their own game plan, kept iron discipline and largely rejected advice from Washington. Still, Pfeiffer made no apologies for his own airtight shop.

"I don't know that we'd get T-shirts made that say it, but we take pride in not leaking, we take pride in not being a typical campaign," Pfeiffer said. The difference between the Obama discipline and the kind that Bush loyalists displayed in 2000, he said, is that "when all the layers got peeled back, they were actually leaking" and did not really get along -- Rove and Hughes, most notably, ended their terms in Washington barely on speaking terms. When it came to discipline, Pfeiffer said, "they were just being tactical about it."
That's a whole of arrogance on display there. It's obvious that from the beginning, secrecy and control was very highly valued. Not all organizations are like that.

All presidents undoubtedly eventually turn to the secret government agencies at some point, it's part of their job. But I suspect some like it more than others. Taking the Obama insiders at their word leads one to the inevitable conclusion that this president is one of those who would like it. The secret agencies were the one area they could truly insist on "no drama." Unfortunately for them, that's now become one of the most dramatic dramas of the presidents tenure.

There's no such thing as control and secrets are always vulnerable to exposure.  History shows that overweening protection of them always gets presidents into trouble. And anyway, they are undemocratic.

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