Analysis by Reporting San Diego
Jan 11, 2017 (San Diego) During the press conference president-elect Donald Trump said that the release from CNN and Buzzfeed was fake news. He also denied that he was controlled by the Russians. Also, he accused both news outlets and the left in general of attacking his legitimacy. There are reasons for what is happening. They range from what the intelligence community is doing, to Trump. Moreover, they do have a precedent in American history, though the last time we had a president going to war with both the intelligence community and the media, he already had been sworn in.That was Richard, Milhaus Nixon, and the scandal was Watergate.
At the height of the scandal the Nixon administration, and especially John Halderman, started to charge the media as being biased against him. Instead of using the much older appellation of Lugenpresse, lying press, which we saw during the campaign, or fake news, like we saw this morning, Halderman coined the term “liberal press.” To many Americans born well after that period, liberal press might seem a normal thing, but it was not. It was an attack on the veracity of the media, and on the first amendment. So this is the first layer of this war. Trump has declared war on the media and is in the process of delegitimizing any outlet that will cover anything negative. This includes the release from the intelligence agencies that he might be under Russian control. This is just the outer layer of this onion and one that will be popular with Trump supporters who do indeed believe the press is against Republicans in general and Trump in particular.
The Deep State
Then we get into something a tad more complex that usually is limited to the inner corridors of power in Washington. Most people are not even aware of it’s existence. It started to take shape in the 1950s with the rise of the National Security State. In fact, the date of origin is actually 1947 when the National Security Act was signed by President Harry Truman. This is the Deep State, formed by members of the intelligence and military establishment that serve multiple administrations and are part of the civil service. They are the ones that ensure the continuity of foreign policy from one administration to the next, regardless as to what promises were made by presidential candidates. Michale J Glennon writes in the preface to National Security and Double Government the following:
The Obama administration, beyond ending torture, has changed “virtually none” of the Bush administration’s Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) programs and operations, except that in continuing targeted killings, the Obama administration has increased the number of covert drone strikes in Pakistan to six times the number launched during the Bush administration. The Obama administration has declined to prosecute those who committed torture (after the President himself concluded that waterboarding is torture); approved the targeted killing of American citizens (Anwar al-Awlaqi and a compatriot) without judicial warrant; rejected efforts by the press and Congress to release legal opinions justifying those killings or describing the breadth of the claimed power; and opposed legislative proposals to expand intelligence oversight notification requirements. His administration has increased the role of covert special operations, continuing each of the covert action programs that President Bush handed down. The Obama administration has continued the Bush administration’s cyberwar against Iran (code-named “Olympic Games”) and sought to block lawsuits challenging the legality of other national security measures, often claiming the state secrets privilege.
This is not unusual and reveals a continuation of policy from administration to administration. It is the voter who believes that any new president can deliver and that voter is solely misguided. There are certain things that are sacred to the other half of the government. This is the other half that none of us usually speaks about. They are not elected. Yet, they hold enormous power.
What is strange is that Trump has written in the past that he has a lot of respect for the intelligence professionals that right now he has gone to war with. Perhaps he believes that a change in the top layers will give him what he wants to hear. Given that one of his surprising confidants is Dick Cheney, who got exactly what he wanted before the Iraq war, perhaps he is crazy like a fox. But he has gone to war with the agencies. The rank and file intel professionals who produced the material stating that he might be compromised by the Russians are not the top layer of the agencies. They are, however, part of the deep state. Their political appointees come and go. So unless Trump intends to fire every last one of these civil service servants, this war will just intensify.
The release of the material, through not just a leak to the media, but also to Senator John McCain from Arizona is but a peek into these very dark shadows. It is a war, one that perhaps the president-elect does not realize is hard to win for elected officials. Every president enters the White House under the illusion that they will be able to change Washington. Yet, this president is ill prepared for the deep dark palace intrigue, and we are getting to see it. What the intelligence community is doing is seed doubts to his legitimacy. Never mind that he did not win the popular vote so that alone does it in the minds of many Americans. But why? What is at stake for the alphabet soup agencies that the intrigue is now visible?
The intelligence community relies on a continuation of funding for projects. They have been pushing slowly, but surely, for the continuation of conflict. It is not just the Russians. The chessboard is global. They also are aware that this is not just about conflict, but alliances and Trump is threatening to undo a global order that they have relied upon for over half a century. These agreements include treaties like the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, (NATO) that took form first in the heat of World War Two. But also the continuation of many other instruments of economic policy such as opening of trade across borders. This economic order, in their view, has mostly kept the peace since 1945. They do not want to be bothered with the brush wars of the Cold War. Those were necessary to keep that order going and to keep the Soviets at bay.
This has become a bette noir for both Trump and Democrats. Trump rightly or wrongly sees it as an attack on his legitimacy as president. Democrats are using it as an excuse not to look into their own failures. It makes a convenient foil to blame all but themselves. The hacking happened. The Russians did run an influence campaign as well, though Russia Today and Sputnik News, not unlike the United States does with Voice of America. They did interfere in the election, not unlike the United States has done in Latin America. If anything, a tool we have used for decades has come home to roost. Many, starting with the president-elect, are having trouble coping with the matter since the US is seldom the target of such an open effort.
The Russians are pursuing empire and see the United States as a country that is in decline, not unlike the Soviet Union was in the 1980s. They see this as a chance to re-establish control over Eastern Europe and other areas of the world. Nor do they believe liberal democracy is good or helpful. So them taking sides and supporting what was objectively the weaker adversary in that global scale was not illogical. We also do this across the world. It is time for Americans to realize that them hacking the Democratic National Committee, and it turns out the Republican National Committee, is not unlike what we regularly do in places like Mexico, or Brazil, or for that matter Ukraine.
However, the reaction to this information by Trump betrays weakness on his part, or an ego even larger than we suspected. It also betrays an inability by multiple leaders in the Democratic Party to deal with the corruption revealed by the hack, or the fact that they have had a major collapse in lower elected levels over the last 8 years. Both matter in the sense that how we deal with this information will be important, not just for elected officials, but also for the future of the country.
By the way, the Russians denying any role in this is not unlike a five-year-old telling mother that they did not take any cookie from the cookie jar. This is standard, regardless of which nation state does it. We would never admit to trying to influence Mexican elections either, for example.