Friday, August 15, 2014

an attack on national security professionals

I like books and articles with Big Ideas. They can be lively, persuasive, or infuriating -- and usually better than the standard soporific pieces. But Michael Glennon, a lawyer and professor, has taken an analysis of 19th century Britain by Walter Bagheot, applied it to the United States, and in the process argued that James Madison's theory of government is not working in practice in America.

Glennon's basic argument that that U.S. national security policy is not really controlled by the President, or Congress, or the Judiciary, but rather by a large coven of "Trumanites." These national security professionals, moving in and out of government and between branches, provide a continuity that prevents elected officials from making major changes. Their name comes from the fact that the basic building blocks of the national security state -- the Defense Department, CIA, NSC -- were created under President Harry Truman.

Glennon describes this hidden government of careerists this way:
Unlike “the best and the brightest” of earlier times, the Trumanites
are not part of big decisions because of wealth, family connections, or an
elite education. Most have no assured financial or social safety net to save
them should they slip. They are “in” because they are smart, hard-working,
and reliable, which among other things means unlikely to embarrass their
superiors. What they may lack in subtlety of mind or force of intellect they
make up in judgment. Love of country draws the Trumanites to their
work but so also do the adrenaline rush of urgent top-secret news flashes,
hurried hallway briefings, emergency teleconferences, intense
confrontation, knowing the confidential sub-plot, and, more broadly, their
authority. The decisions they secretly shape are the government’s most
crucial. They are Trollope’s Tom Towers: “It is true he wore no ermine, bore
no outward marks of a world’s respect; but with what a load of inward
importance was he charged! It is true his name appeared in no large
capitals . . . but what member of Parliament had half his power?”
Glennon exaggerates and is ultimately wrong, in my opinion. The Constitutional officers of government are more powerful than their staffs -- if they choose to be. There is much less continuity or consensus among careerists than Glennon claims. He argues that there are just enough counter examples to keep people from accepting his thesis. On the contrary, those counter examples are the reality; his "double government" is the illusion.

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