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Sunday, July 31, 2005

How We CIA

Arthur has a must read post up dissecting Highpockets' tribalism and the meaning of plaid pants and cultural paranoia. (If you aren't checking in with his blog frequently you are missing some of the most consistently amazing cultural and political analysis in the blogosphere.) I'll leave that fascinating topic to him for now, but he does mention one thing in passing that I'd like to expound on a bit; the wingnuts and the CIA.

I've been thinking a lot about how the Plame affair has brought up an interesting political contradiction: the right is now openly contemptuous of the CIA while the left is a vocal supporter. I think it's probably a good idea to clarify that bit so we don't get confused. The fact is that both sides have always been simultaneously vocal supporters and openly contemptuous of the CIA, but for entirely different reasons.

I usually don't speak for "the left" but for the purpose of this discussion I will use my views as a proxy for the lefty argument. I'm not generally a big fan of secretive government departments with no accountability. I always worry that they are up to things not sanctioned by the people and it has often turned out that they are. I have long been skeptical of the CIA because of the CIA's history of bad acts around the world that were not sanctioned or even known by more than a few people and were often, in hindsight, wrong --- like rendition, for instance. I don't believe that we should have a secret foreign policy operation that doesn't answer to the people. They tend to do bad shit that leaves the people holding the bag.

But I didn't just fall out of the back of Arnold's hummer, so I understand that a nation needs intelligence to protect itself and understand the world. I also understand that the way we obtain that information must be kept secret in order to protect the lives of those who are involved in getting it. I have never objected to the idea that we have spies around the world gathering information about what our enemies are up to. I also think that intelligence should, as much as possible, be objective and apolitical. Otherwise, we cannot accurately assess real threats. If the CIA (and the other intelligence agencies) only make objective analyses, the buck will stop at the president, where it always properly should.

Therefore, I see this Plame affair -- and the larger matter of the pre-war WMD threat assessment -- as a matter of compromised intelligence and an extension of the 30 year war the right has waged against what it thinks is the CIA's tepid threat analysis. Never mind that the right's hysterical analyses have always turned out to have been completely wrong.

But then accuracy was never the point because the right takes the opposite approach to the CIA's proper role. They have always been entirely in favor of the CIA working on behalf of any president who wanted to topple a left wing dictator or stage a coup without congressional knowledge. This is, in their view, the proper role of the CIA --- to covertly advance foreign policy on behalf of an executive (of whom they approve) and basically do illegal and immoral dirty work. But they have never valued the intelligence and analysis the CIA produced since it often challenged their preconcieved beliefs and as a result didn't validate their knee jerk impulse to invade, bomb, obliterate, topple somebody for reasons of ideology or geopolitical power. The CIA's intelligence often backed up the success of the containment policy that kept us from a major bloody hot war with the commies --- and for that they will never be trusted.(See Team B, and the Committee on the Present Danger parts I and II.)

Therefore, the right sees the Plame affair as another example of an inappropriately "independent" CIA refusing to accede to its boss's wishes. They believe that the CIA exists to provide the president with the documentation he needs to advance his foreign policy goals --- and if that includes lying to precipitate a war he feels is needed, then their job is to acquiesce. When you cut away the verbiage, what the right really believes is that the US is justified in invading and occupying any country it likes --- it's just some sissified, cowardly rule 'o law that prevents us from doing it. The CIA's job is to smooth the way for the president to do what he wants by keeping the citizen rubes and the allies in line with phony proof that we are following international and domestic laws. (This would be the Straussian method of governance --- too bad the wise ones who are running the world while keeping the rest of us entertained with religion and bread and circuses are so fucking lame.)

Back in the day, they used to just admit that they were engaging in Realpolitik, and as disgusting as that is, at least it was more honest than the current crop of neocons who insist that they are righteous and good by advancing democracy and vanquishing evil using undemocratic, illegal means. It makes me miss Kissinger. At least he didn't sing kumbaya while he was fucking over the wogs.

I have no idea where people who don't pay much attention to the political scene would come down on this. It may be that they think the government should have a branch that does illegal dirty work. But I suspect they would also think that the president should not be allowed to run a secret foreign policy or stage wars for inscrutable reasons. Indeed, I think most people would find it repugnant if they knew that there are people in government who think the president of the United States has a right to lie to them in order to commit their blood and treasure to a cause or plan that has nothing to do with the one that is stated.

Of course, that's exactly what happened with Iraq. The right's greatest challenge now is to get the public to believe that they were lied to for their own good.