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Review: The Rule of the Clan

Wednesday, April 20th, 2016

[by Mark Safranski / “zen“]

Rule of the Clan by Mark Weiner

I often review good books. Sometimes I review great ones. The Rule of the Clan: What an Ancient Form of Social Organization Reveals about the Future of Individual Freedom  by Mark S. Weiner gets the highest compliment of all: it is an academic book that is clearly and engagingly written so as to be broadly useful.

Weiner is Professor of Law and Sidney I. Reitman Scholar at Rutgers University whose research interests gravitate to societal evolution of constitutional orders and legal anthropology. Weiner has put his talents to use in examining the constitutional nature of a global phenomena that has plagued IR scholars, COIN theorists, diplomats, counterterrorism experts, unconventional warfare officers, strategists, politicians and judges. The problem they wrestle with goes by many names that capture some aspect of its nature – black globalization, failed states, rogue states, 4GW, hybrid war, non-state actors, criminal insurgency, terrorism and many other terms. What Weiner does in The Rule of the Clan is lay out a historical hypothesis of tension between the models of Societies of Contract – that is Western, liberal democratic, states based upon the rule of law – and the ancient Societies of Status based upon kinship networks from which the modern world emerged and now in places has begun to regress.

Weiner deftly weaves the practical problems of intervention in Libya or counterterrorism against al Qaida with political philosophy, intellectual and legal history, anthropology, sociology and economics. In smooth prose, Weiner illustrates the commonalities and endurance of the values of clan and kinship network lineage systems in societies as diverse as Iceland, Saudi Arabia, Kenya, India and the Scottish highlands, even as the modern state arose around them. The problem of personal security and the dynamic of the feud/vendetta as a social regulator of conduct is examined along with the political difficulties of shifting from systems of socially sanctioned collective vengeance to individual rights based justice systems. Weiner implores liberals (broadly, Westerners) not to underestimate (and ultimately undermine) the degree of delicacy and strategic patience required for non-western states transitioning between Societies of Status to Societies of Contract. The relationship between the state and individualism is complicated because it is inherently paradoxical, argues Weiner: only a state with strong, if limited, powers creates the security and legal structure for individualism and contract to flourish free of the threat of organized private violence and the tyranny of collectivistic identities.

Weiner’s argument is elegant, well supported and concise (258 pages inc. endnotes and index) and he bends over backwards in The Rule of the Clan to stress the universal nature of clannism in the evolution of human societies, however distant that memory may be for a Frenchman, American or Norwegian. If the mores of clan life are still very real and present for a Palestinian supporter (or enemy) of HAMAS in Gaza, they were once equally real to Saxons, Scots and Franks. This posture can also take the rough edges off the crueler aspects of, say, life for a widow and her children in a Pushtun village by glossing over the negative cultural behaviors that Westerners find antagonizing and so difficult to ignore on humanitarian grounds. This is not to argue that Weiner is wrong, I think he is largely correct, but this approach minimizes the friction involved in the domestic politics of foreign policy-making in Western societies which contain elite constituencies for the spread of liberal values by the force of arms.

Strongest recommendation.

We’re a legacy industry in a world of start-up competitors

Wednesday, August 26th, 2015

[ by Charles Cameron — Ambassador Husain Haqqani and Daveed Gartenstein-Ross at Chautauqua ]

chautauqua haqqani daveed


From the outset, when cheers went up for Daveed’s birthplace, Ashland, Oregon, and Ambassador Haqqani’s, Karachi — and for the brilliant meeting of the minds that is Chautauqua — it was clear that we were in the presence of two gracious, witty and informed intelligences, and the seriousness of the conversation between them that followed did nothing to reduce our pleasure in the event. Daveed called it “easily the best experience I have ever had as a speaker.”

I’ll highlight some quotes from each speaker, with the occasional comment:

Amb. Haqqani:

None of the countries except Egypt, Turkey and Iran, none of the countries of the Middle East are in borders that are historic, or that have evolved through a historic process. And that’s why you see the borders a straight lines. Straight lines are always drawn by cartographers or politicians, the real maps in history are always convoluted because of some historic factor or the other, or some river or some mountains.

You’ll see how neatly this fits with my recent post on borders, No man’s land, one man’s real estate, everyone’s dream?

And now that whole structure, the contrived structure, is coming apart.

Then most important part of it is, that this crisis of identity – who are we? are we Muslims trying to recreate the past under the principles of the caliphate .. or are we Arabs, trying to unify everybody based on one language, or are we these states that are contrived, or are we our ethnic group, or are we our tribe, or are we our sect? And this is not only in the region, it’s also overlapping into the Muslim communities in the diaspora..


If Amb. Haqqani emphasized the multiple identities in play in the Arabic, Islamic, Sunni, Shia, Sufi, and tribal worlds in his opening, Daveed’s emphasis was on the failure of the post-Westphalian concept of the nation state.

Daveed G-R:

In the economic sphere there’s this thing that is often called “legacy industries” – industries that fit for another time, but are kind of out of place today. Think of Blockbuster Video, once a massive, massive corporation.. that’s a legacy industry. So when Ambassador Haqqani talks about how it’s not just in the Middle East that we have this crisis of identity, I think the broader trend is that the Westphalian state that he spoke about, the kind of state that was encoded after the Peace of Westphalia, looks to a lot of people who are in this generation of the internet where ideas flow freely, it looks like a legacy industry.

Why do you need this as a form of political organizing? And what ISIS has shown is that a violent non-state actor, even a jihadist group that is genocidal and implements as brutal a form of Islamic law as you could possibly see, it can hold territory the size of Great Britain, and it can withstand the advance of a coalition that includes the world’s most powerful countries including the United States. And what that suggests is that alternative forms of political organization can now compete with the nation state.


The Ambassador then turned to the lessons we should take from 1919’s US King–Crane Commission, reporting on the break-up of the Ottoman Empire — they concluded that it gave us

a great opportunity — not likely to return — to build .. a Near East State on the modern basis of full religious liberty, deliberately including various religious faiths, and especially guarding the rights of minorities

— down to our own times.

Amb. Haqqani:

What we can be sure of is that the current situation is something that will not be dealt with without understanding the texture of these societies. So for example, when the United States went into Iraq without full understanding of its sectarian and tribal composition, and assumed that, all we are doing is deposing a dictator, Saddam Hussein, and then we will hold elections and now a nice new guy will get elected, and things will be all right -– that that is certainly not the recipe. So what we can say with certainty in 2015 is .. over the last century what we have learnt is: outsiders, based on their interests, determining borders is not a good idea, and should certainly not be repeated. Assuming that others are anxious to embrace your culture in totality is also an unrealistic idea.

The sentence that follows was a stunner from the Ambassador, gently delivered — a single sentence that could just as easily have been the title for this post as the remark by Daveed with which I have in fact titled it:

Let me just say that, look, he ideological battle, in the Muslim world, will have to be fought by the likes of me.

Spot on — and we are fortunate the Ambassador and his like are among us.


Daveed then turned to another topic I have freqently emphasized myself.

Daveed G-R:

The power of ideas – we as Americans tend not to recognize this when it falls outside of ideas that are familiar to us. So one thing that the US has been slow to acknowledge is the role of the ideology that our friend and ally Saudi Arabia has been promulgating globally, in fomenting jihadist organizations.

And one of the reasons we have been slow to recognize that. I mean one reason is obvious, which is oil. .. But another reason has been – we tend to think of ideas that are rooted in religion – as a very post-Christian country – we tend to think of them as not being real – as ideas which express an ideology which is alien to us –as basically being a pretext, with some underlying motivation which is more familiar to us. That it must be economics, or it must be political anger. I’m not saying those are irrelevant, they’re not – but when Al-Qaida or ISIS explains themselves, taking their explanation seriously and understanding where they’re coming from – not as representatives of Islam as a whole, but as representatives of the particular ideology that they claim to stand for – we need to take that seriously. Because they certainly do.


Amb. Haqqani:

The world is not a problem for Americans to solve, it’s a situation for them to understand.

This makes a nice DoubleQuote with Gabriel Marcel‘s more general aphorism:

Life is not a problem to be solved but a mystery to be lived.


Toward the end of the discussion, Daveed touched on some ideas of recurrent interest to Zenpundit readers..

Daveed G-R:

Looking at the US Government, questions that I ask a lot are: Why are we so bad at strategy? Why are we so bad at analysis? Why do we take such a short term view and negate the long term?

He then freturned to the issue of legacy industries and nation-states:

Blockbuster is a legacy industry. And the reason why legacy industries have so much trouble competing against start-up firms, is because start-ups are smaller, it’s more easy for them to change course, to implement innovative policies, to make resolute decisions – they can out-manoeuver larger companies. And so larger companies that do well adapt themselves to this new environment where they have start-up competitors. Nation-state governments are legacy industries. Violent non-state actors are start-up compoetitors.

— and had the final, pointed word:

We’re a legacy industry ina world of start-up competitors.


Having offered you these tastes, at this point I can only encourage you to watch the whole hour and a quarter, filled to the brim with incisive and articulately-stated insights:

R2P Debate Rising ( Part I.)

Friday, February 7th, 2014

I thought I would call the attention of the readership to a debate that has been ricocheting around different social media platforms on R2P (Responsibility to Protect“). I have dealt with the topic several times in the past, related to the ideas of Anne-Marie Slaughter, but not much recently until Victor Allen, over at The Bridge, put up an enthusiastic post:

Strong State, Weak State: The New Sovereignty and the Responsibility to Protect

The Responsibility to Protect doctrine represents a leap forward in accountability for states and does not infringe upon their sovereignty, as states are no longer held to be completely self-contained entities with absolute power over their populations. Rather, there is a strictly defined corpus of actions that begin the R2P process?—?a process that has different levels of corrective action undertaken by the international community in order to persuade, cajole and finally coerce states into actively taking steps to prevent atrocities from occurring within their boundaries. That R2P does not violate sovereignty stems from the evolution of sovereignty from its Westphalian form in the mid 17th century to the “sovereignty as responsibility” concept advanced by Deng, et al. Modern sovereignty can no longer be held to give states carte blanche in their internal affairs regardless of the level of suffering going on within their borders. This does not diminish state agency for internal affairs, but rather holds them responsible and accountable for their action and inaction regarding the welfare of their populations…

Victor’s post deserves to be read in full.

I did not agree with Victor’s framing of the legal character of state sovereignty, to put it mildly, nor his normative assessment of R2P.  Mr. Allen also described R2P somewhat differently than I have seen from other advocates, but I was less concerned by that as the concept does not seem to be presented with consistency by the community of  R2P advocates and theorists. Having seen similar theoretical debates over the years about angels dancing on pins over 4GW, constructivism, EBO, Network-centric Warfare, OODA,  Clausewitz’s remarkable trinity,  nuclear deterrence, preemptive war, COIN,  neoconservatism, free market economics, the agrarian origin of capitalism in England, Marxist theory etc. I am not too worried if Victor’s interpretation in its specifics is not ideologically perfect. It is representative enough.

I responded to Allen’s post somewhat crankily and with too much brevity:

R2P: Asserting Theory is not = Law 

….As far as premises go, the first point is highly debatable; the second is formally disputed by *many* states, including Russia and China, great powers which are permanent members of the UN Security Council; and the third bears no relation to whether a military intervention is a violation of sovereignty or not. I am not a self-contained entity either, that does not mean you get to forcibly enter my house.

That R2P does not violate sovereignty stems from the evolution of sovereignty from its Westphalian form in the mid 17th century to the “sovereignty as responsibility” concept advanced by Deng, et al. Modern sovereignty can no longer be held to give states carte blanche in their internal affairs regardless of the level of suffering going on within their borders.

Academic theorists do not have the authority to override sovereign powers (!) constituted as legitimized, recognized, states and write their theories into international law – as if an international covenant like the Geneva Convention had just been contracted. Even persuading red haired activist cronies of the American president and State Department bureaucrats to recite your arguments at White House press conferences does not make them “international law” either – it makes them “policy” – and that only of a particular administration. 

This riff  set off something of a reaction on Facebook in private groups and on Twitter as Mr. Allen, who I am sure is a fine gent, has a large set of common colleagues with me, some of whom are Boydians and all of whom are sharp strategic thinkers. Consequently,  Victor’s post(s) as well as mine and a later follow up by a “Leonidas Musashi” ( great nom de guerre)  made it into a high caliber defense forum as well as other sites online. My spleen-venting provoked the following rebuttal at The Bridge:

R2P: A Spectrum of Responses 

….Safranski’s final point about sovereignty as carte blanche seems to be a stealth argument for the principles of R2P:

States always could and did take military action in self-defense when disorders in neighboring states threatened their security or spilled over their border outright.R2P seeks to minimize harm caused by disorder through early action taken prior to conflicts spilling over borders that can potentially cause larger conflagrations, but more importantly, it recognizes that atrocities can happen entirely within the confines of a state, and that the international community will not allow them to continue unchecked. This recognition is easily seen in the rhetoric and discussions regarding rebels in both Libya and Syria. Libya is admittedly a flawed example of the use of R2P, with second-order effects seen in the Russian and Chinese opposition to UN-sanctioned stabilization operations in Syria, but that concern for the population first and the state second were common facets to both bear mentioning in the debate and illustrate the shifting nature of intervention and sovereignty. This shift is exemplified in the contrast between discussions in the UN General Assembly regarding Kosovo/East Timor and Syria: “most of the 118 states that mentioned Syria at the UN General Assembly in 2012 expressed concern about the population, up from less than a third who invoked Kosovo and East Timor in 1999… It is clear that a fundamental shift has taken place regarding humanitarian intervention and that more and more states embrace the broad values expressed by R2P.” (“Democracy, Human Rights, and the Emerging Global Order: Workshop Summary,” Brookings Institution, 2012)

Again, I caution about reading posts in full.

Here in this rebuttal Victor doubled down, which I admire because that is interesting, but with which I agree with even less because he seems to be far removed from how the world really works in terms of international relations, not merely in practice, but also in theory as well.  That said, his response deserves a much more serious reply than my first post evinced. I have been fiddling with one ( I seem to be moving slowly these days) but another voice – “Leonidas Musashi” – has entered the debate at The Bridge with a sharp retort against Allen’s conception of R2P:

Responsibility to Protect: Rhetoric and Reality 

….My main observation, however, is that the discussion thus far has been focused more on a “right” to protect than a “responsibility” to do so. The arguments indicate that a state has a responsibility to protect its people but takes for granted that third parties somehow inherit this responsibility when the state cannot fulfill it. There is a missing explanation here. The need to justify such efforts may seem callous, but a nation’s highest moral order is to serve its own citizens first. Such an explanation would certainly be a legitimate demand for a mother that loses a son who volunteered to defend his nation, or for a government entrusted by its people to use their resources to their own benefit. While it is often stated that the international community “should” intervene, explanation of where this imperative comes from is not addressed other than by vague references to modern states being interconnected. But this implies, as previously stated, a right based on the self-interest of states, firmly grounded in realistic security concerns, rather than any inherent humanitarian responsibility to intervene. Instability and potential spillover may very well make it within a nation’s vital interests to intervene in another country and pursuing humanitarian and human rights goals within the borders of another state may well be in a nation’s secondary interests. But if this is the case, the calculus of the political leadership will determine if pursuing this goal is worth the cost/potential costs – as has been done in such cases as North Korea, Iran, Zimbabwe, Tibet and Syria. In either case, the decision is determined by what is in the nation’s interests, a reality that makes R2P not a mandate, but a merely a post hoc justification for interventions that do occur.

Leonidas makes many good points, in my view, but the intellectual fungibility of R2P as a concept, its elastic and ever evolving capacity to serve as a pretext for any situation at hand is the most important, because it is potentially most destabilizing and threatening to other great powers with which the United States has to share the globe. In short, with great responsibilities come greater costs.

In part II. I will lay out a more methodical case on the intellectual phantom that is R2P.

Is Grand Strategy Democratic?

Friday, August 9th, 2013

[by Mark Safranski – a.k.a. “zen“]

Grand strategy in 1941

A very interesting article at Small Wars Journal by Captain Sean F.X. Barrett, USMC on the state of contemporary grand strategy. Definitely worth the time to read the whole thing:, but I am only going to make meandering comments on a few sections:

The Democratization of Grand Strategy 

Calls for a formalized strategic planning process and grand strategy have been mounting for years.  However, those sounding these calls erroneously remember a past that rarely if ever existed and overestimate the importance of a formalized process and a final product.  Most disconcertingly, they assume that government is necessarily the only supplier of grand strategy, while ignoring that those in government are not incentivized to actually produce it.  In fact, the proliferation of communications technology, which provides the means for accessing a wealth of open source intelligence and for disseminating ideas, and the plethora of academics, analysts, and other intellectuals outside of official government communities provide a more effective, democratic, and transparent substitute to the (oftentimes imagined) Project Solariums of the past.  The environment in which these intellectuals operate nurtures “real devils,” who vigorously propose policy and strategy alternatives in which they truly believe and have a stake in seeing implemented, resulting in a de facto strategic planning process, whose merits far exceed those of a de jure one. 

I think the call for a formal process, or at least an institutionalized forum for “doing grand strategy”, derives from both the lack of incentives correctly noted by Barrett and the frequently piss-poor and astrategic performance of American statesmen after the Soviet collapse. That the resulting criticism, proposals, counter-proposals, debates and domestic politics in drag relating to grand strategy are an alternative, open-source and more effective mechanism than formal planning is an intriguing idea.

Certainly, if a statesman or senior policy adviser have not done hard thinking about geopolitics and grand strategy while in the political wilderness then they won’t do it at all. Once in office, there simply is no time even if the inclination is present. Richard Nixon, who thought very seriously on these matters, as POTUS was militant about having Haldeman carve out undisturbed time for him to continue doing so in a secret “hideaway” office in the EOB. This was highly unusual and difficult even for Nixon to maintain – most presidents and senior officials faced with 18 hour days, 6-7 days a week, simply want to unwind in their off hours, see their loved ones or sleep.

….Furthermore, when formalized strategic planning processes and grand strategy have actually existed, their importance has largely been exaggerated.  For example, Richard Immerman debunks some of the myths surrounding Project Solarium, which is often referenced today as a model for grand strategy.  In referencing the intelligence that was ostensibly utilized during Project Solarium to guide the formation of grand strategy, he argues that, even though President Eisenhower—whose highest priority was to exploit the full resources of government to formulate a more effective and sustainable national strategy—was welcoming of CIA input, this input had minimal impact on President Eisenhower’s policies or grand strategy.[viii]  After such a long time serving in the Army, President Eisenhower had already developed highly formed beliefs about national security, and while intelligence has been perceived as playing a critical role by confirming his beliefs, a lack of confirmation would not have significantly impacted or altered his decisions.[ix]  Furthermore, Immerman claims that he has “never been able to locate a scintilla of evidence collected by the CIA and other agencies that changed Eisenhower’s [mind].”[x]   

While Barrett is correct that in discerning grand strategy in historical eras it is often reified and exaggerated retrospectively -that is because grand strategy, much like strategy itself, has a deeply iterative character. In facing the Soviet challenge,  Project Solarium both responded to and built upon a solid foundation laid by the post-warwise menNSC-68, Containment policy, the Marshall Plan, the National Security Act, the creation of the CIA , NSC, NATO, the Department of Defense, the Truman Doctrine, the X Article, the Long  Telegram, Bretton Woods and stretching back to WWII, the geopolitical vision of The Atlantic Charter, Potsdam and FDR’s Four Freedoms. Project Solarium was not ex nihilo but an effort to improve, shape, refine and surpass what the Eisenhower administration had inherited from it’s Democratic predecessors.

Barrett is also on target when he identifies a strong ideological-political predisposition in formulation of grand strategy. Eisenhower had not only operational/experential preferences but a worldview that he brought with him into the White House and his Secretary of State, John Foster Dulles, had even stronger convictions that, especially in regard to his fierce and almost Calvinistic anti-communism, sometimes render him a caricature today. We have to be careful though in parsing public statements and private assessments. Dulles, despite his hardline reputation, was a sophisticated and highly influential figure in American foreign policy as the senior GOP adviser through most of the 1940’s. Despite talk of “rollback”, neither Dulles nor Eisenhower had any appetite for leaping into Hungary militarily to support the anti-Soviet revolt or supporting the Franco-British-Israeli debacle in the Suez. Still less attractive was the prospect of military intervention in faraway Laos. Grand strategic ideas were applied with realism and prudence by the Eisenhower administration.

….It should come as no surprise that three of the first four members of the 2014 QDR’s “independent” panel are those that self-selected into the DOD and conformed and performed so well as to achieve flag officer rank, including retired Marine Corps Gen. James E. Cartwright, former vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; retired Air Force Gen. Gregory S. Martin, former commander of Air Force Materiel Command; and retired Army Lt. Gen. Michael D. Maples, former Defense Intelligence Agency director.[xx]  The fourth member, Michele Flournoy, former Undersecretary of Defense for Policy, has been deemed politically palatable enough by both Congress and the Obama Administration, and one must assume the DOD well, since nominations are not made, and consent by Congress not given, without DOD’s at least tacit approval.  That we insist on calling this panel independent should be disconcerting enough in itself.  The first four members were selected by the Senate Armed Services Committee, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel will appoint the Chairman and Vice Chairman of the panel, and the other panel appointees will be made by the chair and ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee.  This situation is not entirely dissimilar to China under the Ming emperors, wherein the emperors’ concern for stability, obedience, and conformism overlapped with the bureaucracy and their strong aversion to changing the status quo.  The imperial literary examination system of Imperial China helped breed this mutually beneficial conformism, and its effects prove quite relevant in this regard.  While the examination preserved the cultural unity and political stability of China, it also impeded originality and experimentation.[xxi]


Arguably, the period of Ming-Q’ing decline may have been superior in the sense that the Confucian classics and the exams upon which they were based that were the gateway to the mandarinate were at least, an objective and respected yardstick, however ossified and ritualized. All we have by contrast are partisan politics, bureaucratic culture and the increasingly oligarchic client-patron networks within the Beltway and Manhattan..

….President Eisenhower commissioned Project Solarium in part to devise a strategy for coping with a lack of knowledge about the Soviets’ intentions and capabilities.  Today, however, more and more strategic intelligence is publicly available.  For example, the National Intelligence Council’s[xxiii] new Global Trends series is unclassified.  We now arguably suffer not from too little information, but from too much. This has increasingly democratized the arena of grand strategy and enabled more and more even amateur analysts to help process the wealth of information in the public domain and formulate it into alternative visions for the future.  One might argue that what these different entities focus on is simply policy or at best strategies for individual instruments of national power.  However, even individual policy or strategy analyses might instead be seen as reflections of the overarching principles that they support (and that are often enumerated in the mission statements of many of these think tanks, institutes, and analysis centers), which as Sinnreich contends, are what in fact help form the basis of an enduring grand strategy

Sort of. There are two other ways to look at this picture.

First, that we have an insufficient consensus bordering on ideological schism within the elite as to what America is and is supposed to become that executing  foreign policy, much less enunciating a grand strategy, cannot get beyond the lowest common denominators between left and right and bureaucratic autopilot. This in turn causes the cacophony of voices on grand strategy. I partially subscribe to this view.

Secondly, that our elite, whatever their divisions over political passions or personalities have a consensus grand strategy ( or at least, an ethos) for generational and class aggrandizement at the expense of the rest of us and American national interest in a way that the former 20th century governing class called the Eastern Establishment would have neither imagined nor tolerated. The resulting ferment of “bottom-up” grand strategy is a result of increasing divergence of interests between rulers and the ruled and an erosion of the former’s legitimacy as a result of their self-aggrandizing game-rigging , abandonment of the ethic of leadership as stewardship for “ubi est mea” and a deficit of competence that contrasts with their enormously inflated collective sense of self-importance.

I partially subscribe to this one as well.

For the Fourth of July: The Once and Future Republic?

Thursday, July 4th, 2013

Ahem….”I told you so“.

“Congress intended to allow the intelligence communities to access targeted information for specific investigations. How can every call that every American makes or receives be relevant to a specific investigation?”

                                                             – Representative James Sensenbrenner (R-Wisconsin)
                                                                 A primary author of The Patriot Act 

“We have not yet seen any evidence showing that the NSA’s dragnet collection of Americans’ phone records has produced any uniquely valuable intelligence. Gen. Alexander’s testimony yesterday suggested that the NSA’s bulk phone records collection program helped thwart ‘dozens’ of terrorist attacks, but all of the plots that he mentioned appear to have been identified using other collection methods. The public deserves a clear explanation”

                                                                 – Senators Ron Wyden (D- Oregon) and Mark Udall (D- Colorado)

“What I learned from our journalists should alarm everyone in this room and should alarm everyone in this country….The actions of the DoJ against AP are already having an impact beyond the specifics of this particular case. Some of our longtime trusted sources have become nervous and anxious about talking to us, even on stories that aren’t about national security. And in some cases, government employees that we once checked in with regularly will no longer speak to us by phone, and some are reluctant to meet in person. This chilling effect is not just at AP, it’s happening at other news organizations as well”

                                                               – Gary Pruitt, President of the Associated Press 

“The people who are worried about privacy have a legitimate worry….But we live in a complex world where you’re going to have to have a level of security greater than you did back in the olden days, if you will. And our laws and our interpretation of the Constitution, I think, have to change.”

                                                              – Michael Bloomberg, Mayor of New York City 

“One-party autocracy certainly has its drawbacks. But when it is led by a reasonably enlightened group of people, as China is today, it can also have great advantages.”

                                                                -Thomas Friedman, NYT Columnist 

“Toll records, phone records like this, that don’t include any content, are not covered by the fourth amendment because people don’t have a reasonable expectation of privacy in who they called and when they called, that’s something you show to the phone company. That’s something you show to many, many people within the phone company on a regular basis.”

                                                                 – James Cole, Deputy Attorney-General 

“In the abstract you can complain about Big Brother and how this is a program run amok, but when you actually look at the details, I think we’ve struck the right balance.”

                                                                 -Barack Obama, President of the United States 

While we need intelligence services, including the formidable collection capacity of the NSA, we don’t need a mammoth repository of information being continually compiled on every American, held in perpetuity by the US government.

First, the mere existence of so massive a database on the data of all Americans is itself a critical strategic vulnerability and a potential risk to the national security of the United States because it centralizes for any would be spy or hacker not just anything, but virtually *everything* they would want to know about *everyone*. The greatest testament against the strategic wisdom of this scheme from a counterintelligence perspective is the erstwhile Mr. Edward Snowden – breach just one security regime and you walk away with the whole store or as much of the store as you have time and brains to snatch.

How many Snowdens have we *not* heard about because they were quietly fired by a contractor? How many other Snowdens working for foreign intelligence services eluded government detection and got away with who knows what?  Or are still doing it now?

Not exactly a resilient system from a cybersecurity perspective, is it?

What the USG has done here is not dumb. It is fucking dumb with a capital F. Sometimes we get so caught up from a technical viewpoint in what we might be able to do that no one stops and seriously considers if we should do it. From such unasked questions come the unwanted second and third order effects we live to rue.

Unless, of course,  building a draconian comprehensive digital dragnet for a  “leaky system” is what was desired in the first place. If so, bravo gentlemen.

Which brings us to the second point: the surveillance state as currently configured in law with the legal equivalent of string and chewing gum is inimical to the long term survival of the United States as a constitutional Republic. This is not an attack on any particular person or politician or three letter agency. It’s a hard world filled with extremely bad men who would do us lasting harm, so we need our spooks, but the spooks need proper constitutional boundaries set by our elected representatives in which to operate and somewhere in the past decade we have crossed that Rubicon.

The United States of America has had a historically remarkable run of 237 years of good government and in all that time the system failed us only once. That one time cost the lives of approximately 630,000 Americans.

On a level of moral and political legitimacy, we have created a bureaucratic-technological machine, a sleepless cyber  J. Edgar Hoover on steroids that contradicts our deeply held political values that define what America is and aspires to be. There is no way to reconcile cradle-to-grave digital dossiers on the 24/7 life of every American with the provisions of the US. Constitution. Really, an ever-watching state was not in the cards at our Constitutional Convention, even with the delegates like Alexander Hamilton who privately thought George Washington might make a fine King.

On a more pragmatic level, in creating the SIGINT-cyber surveillance state we have made not an idiot-proof system, but an idiot-enabling one that represents an enormous potential reserve of power that will be an unbearable temptation for misuse and abuse. The long, bloody and sordid record of human nature indicates that someone, eventually, will not be able to resist that temptation but will be smart enough to get away with it. If we are greatly fortunate, it will be a lazy person of limited vision looking merely to enrich themselves and their friends. Or a malevolent minor bureaucrat like Lois Lerner looking to punish “the little people” who raised her ire.  If we are unlucky, it will be a gifted figure of ill intent and outsized ambitions, an American Caesar.

Or an American Stalin.

In the long term, our Democracy will not be healthy when the government – that is, the Executive – monitors everyone and stores everything  we do forever. While most of us are not that interesting, reporters, public figures, newspaper publishers, members of Congress, aspiring politicians, their campaign donors,  judges, dissenters, writers and so on are very interesting to people in power. The Congress, for example, cannot do it’s job properly when it’s cloakroom is bugged and their email is read anymore than can the editorial office of the Associated Press. What we have built, if it existed in a foreign country, would be frankly described as a “Deep State.  Nations with deep states are not pleasant places to live and they usually do not work well. At best, they look like Russia and Turkey, at worst they look like Pakistan and Iran.

Rolling the surveillance state back to targeting foreign enemies, it’s proper and constitutional role, instead of every American citizen – yes, we are all, every man, woman and child of every race, creed, color and political persuasion being treated as potential enemies by the Federal government – is up to us and only us.  Tell your Congressman, your Senator and the President what you think in a respectful and thoughtful way – and then make this an issue that decides your vote.

If we do nothing, we have no one to blame but ourselves for what comes next. We can at least console ourselves with pride in the fact that the US had a good go at making freedom work unequaled in world history, but that democracy may had had it’s time.  Others in the distant future, may profit from our example the way we learned from Athens, Rome and Britain. Or we can leave while the door still remains open.

Enjoy your Fourth.

                                                “Well, Doctor, what have we got, a republic or a monarchy?”

                                                                      – Mrs. Powell

                                             ” A Republic, if you can keep it”

                                                                      – Benjamin Franklin
                                                                         Signer of the Declaration of Independence
                                                                         Delegate, Constitutional Convention

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