Defending The Company

by digby

There's been quite a bit of chatter about the Brennan withdrawal suggesting that CIA veterans and long time professionals are really angry with "the left" for saying that someone who was a high echelon member of the agency and who had knowledge of the torture regime should not get the job of agency head. Apparently, they don't think the rest of the world cares if Obama fails to deliver on his promise to end that practice once and for all and can't see the foreign policy necessity of starting with a clean slate at the top. They would be wrong.

But more irritating is this complaining that's evidently bubbling up from Langley that the left is hostile to the CIA and are trying to tie their hands, etc. The fact is that the left has been the CIAs staunchest defender during the Bush years, never blaming them for the bad decisions of the political bosses and standing behind them when the right tried to crucify them for the failure of 9/11 and WMD. Once again, no good deed goes unpunished. Meanwhile, for the past 30 years, the right has consistently characterized the CIA as a bunch of hapless, if not unpatriotic, fools, writing things like like this, as recently as a year ago, and yet is never seen as an enemy.

Back when we were embroiled in the Valerie Plame scandal, and "the left" was defending her and other analysts at the CIA who were being used as punching bags by the Bush defenders, I wrote a post about the CIA's relationship with both the left and the right over the years that I think is worth reprising at this moment:

I've been thinking a lot about how the Plame affair has brought up an interesting political contradiction: the right is 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 preconceived 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.

They obviously didn't meet that challenge.

The larger point is this. Brennan's pals at CIA are bellyaching about "ill-informed liberal bloggers" and in doing so are obviously trying to create solidarity with the right wing and are doing so during a period of liberal ascension. It's perverse. The right loathes them far more passionately than the left, and would prefer that the whole agency be replaced with something far more political and quasi military than it already is. The left just wants them not to perpetrate illegal acts that inevitably make America less safe when they are found out --- as is more and more likely in this globally sophisticated media world. This isn't all about morality, although it's certainly the foundation of the argument. It's also practical: torture, rendition, toppling foreign governments with secret coups, all that dirty work, has ended up hurting America's standing in the world.

The left and right obviously have different reasons for both mistrusting and supporting the CIA. But the rationale for those differences is stark and I find it very telling that the CIA tends to keep quiet when they are being publicly brutalized by the right but go into high dudgeon when the left rather mildly suggests that someone closely associated with the Bush torture regime (who failed to speak out forcefully, by all accounts) would be an inappropriate choice to head the agency. According to the practices of the village, this is how they expect to get back in the good graces of the "center-right" political establishment. You just can't go wrong by disparaging the left --- even when they defended you against character assassination and derision for eight long years. Indeed, beating them up is all the more impressive because of it.