It was another tepid Tuesday save for a few run-of-the-mill moral capitulations in Washington. They are perhaps notable in that they express the degree to which our government is beholden to a degraded and contemptible pursuit of power—unaccountable to its citizens, unrepentant to its victims, and blind to its own amorality. The protagonists in our 24-hour tale include two veterans of the Hill, once promising voices, now more like the exoskeletons of a fled cicada, still clinging to the tree of state.
We Trust You, Mr. Clapper
One can never quite get enough of Congressional abdications. Thankfully, they occur on a regular basis. This week, the Senate intelligence committee attempted to quietly amend the Intelligence Authorization Act, its annual bill sanctioning intelligence operations for the current year. Chairwoman Diane Feinstein and others tiptoed into the Senate and delicately removed from the snoozing bill the clause requiring the White House to disclose the exact number of combatants or noncombatants slaughtered by drones during the preceding year. It seemed a simple and, one would think, necessary clause in any Intelligence Authorization Act requiring even the slightest accountability from those it purports to oversee. And this from Diane Feinstein, a Senator who argued for a ban on assault weapons and once introduced a resolution to end the Authorization of Military Force (AUMF) act that has wildly inflated the powers of the executive. Sadly, despite having been empowered to deliver a Democratic voice to intelligence matters, she has become a vocal and sometimes inane advocate of surveillance, from the FISA courts to the NSA (although she did throw a bit of a fit when she found the CIA had “hacked” her computer).
Evidently, Feinstein and the “Honorable” Saxby Chambliss were deeply swayed by this piece of boilerplate drivel from Director of National Intelligence James Clapper. Functioning like a preprogrammed automaton, Clapper played the “national security” card in his missive, claiming that revealing how many unnamed individuals were slain would compromise our ability to “protect intelligence sources and methods.” Clapper also claimed such revelations would only be meaningful in “context.” He didn’t bother to say what context he had in mind, but perhaps he meant the multiple violations of international law that each drone strike incurs when it fires in a sovereign country on uncharged and untried citizens inexplicably labeled “combatants.” As many of the slain have been traveling along country roads, attending wedding parties, or simply moving about their neighborhood, it’s hard to know how the labels were arrived at. Nor is it clear why these unbefitting monikers are used to replace the actual names of the dead. Not only can we not know the numbers of robot-slain innocents; we can’t know their real names either. To do either might awaken the rabble, with dire consequences for the ruling elite.
In any event, the Senate intelligence committee performed its duly assigned duty as servile lapdog of the White House and its metastasizing intelligence services. In a publicized photo, Feinstein is shown shaking Clapper’s hand. Clapper gives the Senator a cunning look, as though happily confirming her complicity in their deal with the devil. No doubt these two elitist beltway insiders believe they are shielding their constituents from knowledge far too profound for their delicate ears. In any event, we’d do well to recall retired General Tommy Franks’ memorable phrasing: “We don’t do body counts.”
A Hasty Apology for Telling the Truth
Not to be outdone, the executive branch weighed in as well, with another freshly minted gaffe from Secretary of State John Kerry who, in a pique of frustration at the stalled Israeli-Palestinian talks, shrilly noted that Israel risked becoming “an apartheid state” by continuing to stonewall negotiations. Once his wayward words were published, the much-esteemed doyen beat a hasty retreat. It’s another sad chapter in the downward spiral of Kerry. One can hardly conjure any longer the shaggy haired man of principle who testified before the Fulbright Hearings in 1971 to protest the Vietnam War. Nor can one picture the same antiwar activist who hurled his military medals onto the steps of the Capitol. Ironically, it was that principled activism that launched Kerry into the public consciousness. Decades later he was thought to be a judicious liberal Senator from New England. But by the time he ran for president in 2004, he had shape-shifted into a full-fledged beltway insider, donning hunting jackets to burnish his image as a man of the people, rehashing his swift boat battles, and posturing as a sensible alternative to the unhinged folly of George W. Bush. Kerry’s turn as Secretary of State showed how far he’d drifted from the antiwar credo he’d espoused on returning from Vietnam. He fronted a farcical attempt by the White House to implicate the Syrian government in chemical attacks on a Damascus suburb. He played the fear-mongering alarmist in negotiations with Iran, despite the latter’s efforts to conciliate a frothing American administration intent on demonizing and disarming both Iran and its economy. Then he strutted into the abyss of Israel-Palestine rehearsing the same smug and senseless tripe of every Secretary of State in recent memory, claiming a two-state solution as his top priority, and subsequently producing a stillborn set of negotiations as negligible for their outcome as for the sincerity of their mediator.
Now Kerry, having slipped into a rare moment of clarity and called Israel a borderline apartheid state, has been reduced to groveling before his AIPAC masters. He uttered this reversal yesterday, “First, Israel is a vibrant democracy and I do not believe, nor have I ever stated, publicly or privately, that Israel is an apartheid state or that it intends to become one.” Of course, there’s nothing less like apartheid than Israel’s treatment of Palestinians, including their sequestration in Gaza and virtual Bantustans in the West Bank, the closure of their right to East Jerusalem, and their access to essential resources throughout Gaza. Second-class citizens will hardly do as a label for Israeli Arabs any longer. Kerry denies this now, having descended back into his dogmatic slumber.
On both fronts, the morality of the day dictates a sycophantic submission to political power—whether the desperate policies of a White House vitiated by corporate dollars, or the influence wielded by the Israeli lobby and its stranglehold over the pivot point of American foreign policy. Feinstein, Kerry, and the like have traded their progressive credentials for the imprimatur of the state, the creature comforts of elitism, and footnote status in the state-sanctioned history of the realm. They now project a profile of leaders profoundly corrupted by power. How artful, underhanded, and full of guile they now seem. And how perfectly normal.
Jason Hirthler is a veteran of the communications industry. He lives and works in New York City and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.