In today’s Washington Post (Mar. 27) Greg Miller and Julie Tate report on John Brennan’s facing “a quandary over clandestine service appointment,” the term “quandary,” in this case, ordinarily signifying perplexity or doubt, is really not quite accurate, because a) he knows who and what he wants already, b) he is engaged in damage control, knowingly advancing a candidate directly associated with torture, which might give The Agency (shades of Kafka) a bad name and antagonize Senate Intelligence, and c) he least of all wants to bring the clandestine service into public view, the secretive division within the secretive agency presiding over, among other questionable activities (i.e., violations of international and national law) the secretive armed drone program for targeted assassination.
Not unusual for the Obama administration: Three layers of secretiveness, and that just for starters in this one realm. One would almost think here of children’s games, except that we are speaking of the core of lethality in the conduct of American foreign policy. Again, not surprising, the candidate is nameless, faceless, the record out of reach, just like the video records of torture she helped to destroy (without authorization from above, obviously, because CIA higher-ups will do everything to ensure deniability, especially where war crimes are concerned); all we know is that she is a woman, and that senior officials have used the prospective appointment—she is presently temporary director of NCS—as evidence of diversity, a “two-fer” for CIA, both a woman and very much respected for her activities in torture, thus, as the new Agency Director, a feather in Brennan’s cap.
Obama chose wisely. Halfway through the First Term, we learned that Brennan had become his closest adviser, not only on national security, but with that central, how this feeds into the wider geopolitical strategy of USG. One could not ask for a more competent adviser, given Obama’s attunement to the doctrine and practice of permanent war, most clearly foreshadowed by and then embodied in the drone program of assassination.
The post-World War II legacy of Marshall Plan-style foreign aid to strengthen Rightist leaders and governments (as well as penetrate the internal economies of the recipient nations) has now given way to the terrorization of peoples, pure and simple. As we learn more about the armed drones, despite the tight secrecy of their operations (location of airstrips, weaponry, delivery systems, number of missions, number of civilian casualties), the reputed counterterrorism purpose gives way to the larger design, counterrevolution on the international level, but, more to the point here, the effect on the individual of a deliberate mounting of sheer panic, not unlike Nazi UAV raids over London, to soften the path for resurgent US political-economic-ideological influence, and therefore part of the nuts-and-bolts of counterrevolution itself.
Obama-Brennan-CIA, a lovely troika qua hegemonic battering ram, reached a structural convergence, aka The National Security State, just in the nick of time, as America has begun an accelerated decline from numero uno in global power and now perhaps vainly seeks to reassert its unilateralism in world politics at the very moment alternative modes of organization—the rise of multipolar centers of power—some quite possibly even socialist, are on the historical boards. For our troika, anything goes! Assassination, torture, covert operations, the wider use of paramilitary forces, cyberwarfare, massive “defense” spending (what a misnomer), modernization of nuclear weaponry, naval power, from itty-bitty littoral craft to supercarriers,…god, the list is inspiring, as thrilling to recite, as is the experience of watching Stealth flyovers at the halftime of big football games. I already have a lump in my throat. And we owe this resurgence of American power to Barack Obama, his man at CIA, and, not to be forgotten, the CIA’s partner in spreading democracy, JSOC, itself running the military wing (remember, the CIA is, yes, civilian) of the drone assassination program, or in today’s terms, the more neutral-sounding “project.”
Our Lady-in-Waiting, at National Clandestine, will probably get the permanent appointment, and Brennan also will probably keep the Senate Report on the Agency, with Sen. Feinstein’s cooperation, secret. Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose. Except that it’s not the same thing. At first, a year in, I thought of Obama as Bush II, but, still in the first term, I realized that he has introduced a qualitative change, a more tightly integrated (i.e., systemic) militarized capitalism, not simply, capitalism at a higher or more mature stage, conventionally thought of as the monopolistic consolidation of industry and banking, but that along with an authoritarian formation enshrouded in secrecy, all accountability out the window. Therefore the human troika has as its counterpart a structural troika: financialization, militarization, privatization. No wonder a National Clandestine Service, the next step: joint CIA-JSOC activity within the United States. Drones overhead, not Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen, but California, New York, Illinois.
Norman Pollack is the author of “The Populist Response to Industrial America” (Harvard) and “The Just Polity” (Illinois), Guggenheim Fellow, and professor of history emeritus, Michigan State University.