There’s been considerable pushback on the idea that a Deep State has undercut the Trump Administration (most notably by leaking information about calls between Trump insiders and Russian officials.) The New York Times yesterday, for example, published an article calling the “Deep State” a foreign concept:
The concept of a “deep state” — a shadowy network of agency or military officials who secretly conspire to influence government policy — is more often used to describe countries like Egypt, Turkey and Pakistan, where authoritarian elements band together to undercut democratically elected leaders.
This seems a little risible in general (who was J. Edgar Hoover if not the Deep State incarnate?), but part of the problem might be that we are looking for the wrong term. A Good Old American version of a very similar concept with slightly different political valence might be the Military Industrial Complex, which President Eisenhower, in his 1961 farewell address, warned against in terms barely different from those declaiming the Deep State today:
“This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence — economic, political, even spiritual — is felt in every city, every State house, every office of the Federal government….In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist…Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together. [Discusses the influence of federal research on academic research.] The prospect of domination of the nation’s scholars by Federal employment, project allocations, and the power of money is ever present and is gravely to be regarded. Yet, in holding scientific research and discovery in respect, as we should, we must also be alert to the equal and opposite danger that public policy could itself become the captive of a scientific technological elite.
It is the task of statesmanship to mold, to balance, and to integrate these and other forces, new and old, within the principles of our democratic system — ever aiming toward the supreme goals of our free society.”
The New York Times, until recently, was in agreement with Eisenhower about the threat the military-industrial complex poses, listing over 1,500 articles using the phrase and, for example, agreeing in 1985 with the leader of the USSR when he criticized the military-industrial complex’s influence:
While arms contractors don’t have the same prominence and prestige they once did, a great deal of what we conceive of as the actions of the national security state today are still in fact the work of private contractors; when Edward Snowden exfiltrated his troves of documents about global surveillance, for example, he was working for Booz Allen Hamilton and Dell, not the CIA. And the CIA’s plots to turn into surveillance devices all of our phones and even Samsung Smart TVs are surely their own kind of military-industrial complex. Here’s my little unsophisticated doodle of how I think federal policymaking works:
Clearly, there’s a “How a Bill Becomes a Law” quality about all of this; now that Congress is more-or-less a vestigial organ of government and almost all policymaking is done by the Executive Branch, contained intermittently by the courts, carried out by contractors, and acting on plans conceived largely by think tanks and academia, how much democratic accountability do we even expect?
There’s something irritating as well, of course, about newspapers acquiring breathless naivete about the influence of institutions they’ve spent decades decrying. Much like the “new-found respect” for the CIA or for George W. Bush, it leads one to suspect that either they are the world’s worst liars, or as Obama’s adviser Ben Rhodes bragged to the Times last year, “The average reporter we talk to is 27 years old, and their only reporting experience consists of being around political campaigns. That’s a sea change. They literally know nothing.”
Amusingly enough, yesterday Ben Rhodes became the most prominent member of the Obama Administration to deny that a Deep State exists, stating that “Claims of a ‘deep state’ are offensive to both US civil servants and the people in other countries who actually experience oppression.”
Ah…offensive even to imagine a Deep State exists!