Liberals, Russia and the Intelligence Community

Politics, especially in the Trump era, does indeed make for some strange bedfellows. For example, according to Damien Paletta and Julian Barnes, the Republican president-elect is planning to pare back the U.S. intelligence apparatus.

President-elect Donald Trump, a harsh critic of U.S. intelligence agencies, is working with top advisers on a plan that would restructure and pare back the nation’s top spy agency, people familiar with the planning said.

The move is prompted by his belief that the Office of the Director of National Intelligence has become bloated and politicized, these people said…

One of the people familiar with Mr. Trump’s planning said advisers also are working on a plan to restructure the Central Intelligence Agency, cutting back on staffing at its Virginia headquarters and pushing more people out into field posts around the world. The CIA declined to comment.

This comes on the heels of the president-elect’s continuous praise of Russian President Vladimir Putin, something that would have caused Ronald Regan to turn over in his grave.

Historically, it has been liberals who tried to tamp down the furor over the U.S. relationship with the former Soviet Union during the Cold War and who mounted opposition to the intelligence community, from the CIA’s covert involvement in 1953 coup in Iran to its use to ramp up claims about Iraqi WMD’s in the Bush/Cheney years.

The realignment of these positions by some on both the left and right is sometimes written off simply to partisanship and leads folks like Glenn Greenwald to write this:

That Democrats are now venerating unverified, anonymous CIA leaks as sacred is par for the course for them this year, but it’s also a good indication of how confused and lost U.S. political culture has become in the wake of Trump’s victory.

But is this merely partisanship and/or confusion? Or is there more to the story than that?

It is first of all important to keep this in mind:

Russia has long since ceased to be a country built on the teachings of Karl Marx and has evolved into a right wing ethno-nationalist plutocracy.

To the extent that Putin wants to expand the influence of that ethno-nationalist plutocracy, the essence of liberalism would be to oppose him.

It is much more difficult to weigh in with full-throated support for U.S. intelligence services. By design, they most often work in secret, which makes accountability difficult. That is what led to the investigation and recommendations of the Church Committee in 1975. A lot of that history seems to have been forgotten by critics on the left today, though. The most recent way that they sometimes echo Donald Trump is with statements like this:

This dramatic story [Russian responsibility for the hacking of DNC] puts the news media in a jackpot. Absent independent verification, reporters will have to rely upon the secret assessments of intelligence agencies to cover the story at all.

Many reporters I know are quietly freaking out about having to go through that again. We all remember the WMD fiasco.

“It’s déjà vu all over again” is how one friend put it.

For eight years now there has been a strain of liberal criticism of President Obama that equates his actions (especially in the arena of foreign policy) to George W. Bush. This is simply another example of that. To make the comparison, one needs to assume that there is no difference between the credibility of Barack Obama and George W. Bush – also that they are intellectually and morally equivalent. That’s because the information about Russian hacks as well as WMD’s were not simply leaked by intelligence sources – they were reviewed by the president in both cases and presented to the public by them.

Beyond that, I’ll simply add this from John Cole:

There simply is no comparison between the WMD story and the Russian hacking. The Obama administration has no Office of Special Plans ginning up fake bullshit about the Russian hacking, feeding it directly to the media through backchannels, all in direct contradiction to what the intelligence services are actually saying. There is no Doug Feith, Ahmad Chalabi, Paul Wolfowitz or Judy Miller. John Kerry isn’t standing before the UN lying about what the Russians have done like Colin Powell and his fucking aluminum tubes.

It is certainly important to maintain a healthy dose of skepticism when it comes to the operations of our intelligence services, and paring them back is not necessarily a bad thing (although to do so based on the recommendations of a conspiracy theorist Islamaphobe like Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn is cause for great concern). But it is also important to keep in mind that in a democratic republic, elections matter. Ultimately it is the Commander-in-Chief who calls the shots.

 

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly and frequently blogs at Political Animal.