Since 9/11, we have seen a pattern of panic-stricken Washington officials reacting with brutal but self-defeating force and pathetic whining to one challenge after another in a spineless display of amateurism that constitutes the greatest threat there is today to both American democracy and American national security.
The latest example of Washington whining is the leader of the free world giving “its word” to the ex-KGB operative running the Kremlin that said leader of the “free” world will not do to Snowden what it has already done to Manning (torture) or what it is evidently trying to do to Manning (execution). Obama needed to make this promise, because otherwise no one would have believed that Snowden would be given a fair trial or treatment in accordance with American principles in the U.S., any more than Manning has had fair trial or principled treatment. Having spent my formal professional career fighting against communism, I find the new 21st century Imperial Presidency with its endless abuses of power–war on Islam, war on whistleblowers, wars on false pretenses, wars of choice, arbitrary backdoor bailouts of billionaires–pathetic and humiliating. Oh, yes, it makes me angry, but it also makes me want to cry. So needless, so self-defeating. Washington has of course, like any government, always made its share of mistakes, but never before has it appeared as pathetically whiny as in the last 15 years.
The Cold War perhaps was and certainly was perceived as a desperate struggle both for outright survival and for the survival of our way of life, yet this struggle was contained short of mutual destruction until we all managed to squirm out of it alive. Whatever one thinks of the relative merits of the two combatants, the people on both sides did survive, and it really was a desperate struggle…against the very real threat of nuclear catastrophe. As a management challenge, the extremely confusing Cold War ended up deserving a fairly high grade. We not only survived but retained our self-respect and our democracy. Compared to the Cold War, even bin Laden’s stunning and tragic attack was a non-event, and how much less significant were the 2008 Wall St. wave of corruption, and the releases of information that should never have been classified in the first place by Manning and Snowden. The laws they may have broken were but jaywalking misdemeanors in comparison to the profound need in the U.S. for transparency in government, it seems to me. And if my judgment be erroneous, well, assessing guilt is exactly what our public judicial system is designed to do: there is no place for solitary confinement as a means of pre-trial torture or a global campaign to “get” someone because he embarrassed a bunch of red-faced officials caught red-handed.
The better policy for dealing with bin Laden would have been a combination of determined international police action, public trial, and meticulously moral treatment of Muslims worldwide to demonstrate that, contrary to bin Laden’s propaganda, no conflict of interest existed between Islam and the West. The better policy for dealing with Wall St. fraud would have been to re-instate and enforce Glass-Steagall up to 2007 and, thereafter, to welcome the purging from Wall St. of corrupt and irresponsible banks to big to manage by the very visible hand of capitalism combined with an appropriate measure of “socialism with a human face” in the form of extended relief for people losing their primary residences. The better policy for dealing with embarrassing whistle-blowers would have been contrite recognition of guilt plus the immediate establishment of an independent investigative commission. But alas, such policies are only imaginable under a leadership that is both dedicated to leading a democracy and possessed of both self-confidence and the long view: the measures of a rare professionalism.
In sad contrast, the actual pattern displayed by Washington’s reaction to bin Laden (a “war on terror,” plus an unrelated occupation of Iraq, plus the unrelated campaign against Iran, plus approaching two decades of war in Afghanistan, plus reaffirmation of a blind commitment to placing the self-perceived interests of the extreme right wing of the Israeli ruling elite ahead of U.S. national interests, etc., etc.), by Washington’s reaction to the Wall St. corruption/insolvency crisis, and by Washington’s reaction to Manning, Snowden, and the long series other whistle-blowers (including NSA employees Thomas Drake, Kirk Weibe and William Binney as well as such recognized heroes as Bunnatine Greenhouse, Brooksley Born, and Elizabeth Warren) is profoundly disturbing to those who believe in America: it is a pattern of official panic. No doubt bin Laden never expected to defeat the U.S. in military confrontation, but he might well have considered what he apparently did do the moral equivalent of victory: he took away our government’s pride and confidence, its sense of honor and proportion.
It is time for Americans to start believing in themselves again.