Thursday, July 30, 2009

David Ignatius the excoriates the Security Culture: Or how to talk from both sides of your mouth

Over at the Washington Post, David Ignatius is busy today trying to talk out of the other side of his mouth. He’s writing about the “security culture” that now pervades our nation’s capitol, and to a lesser extent the rest of the nation. His prescription – we should “dial it back a notch” with the impending eighth anniversary of September 11th.

If Mr. Ignatius had a long history of agitating against the semi-police state that America seems to be building Imight buy it. But he doesn’t. Writing on July 15th about potential prosecutions for CIA officers who violated the Bush Administration’s ugly “rules” on torture, Ignatius said this:

“It was a dark chapter in American history that should never be repeated, and Obama has rightly changed the rules. But what would be accomplished by the appointment of a prosecutor in a case where criminal intent would be so hard to prove? The only certainty is that the process would damage careers and morale at the CIA.”

Contrast that with this statement today about security details and the security culture:

“The security culture has its own momentum, wiping away other values, such as openness or privacy.”

It also wipes away the rule of law, a bedrock principle on which this nation was founded. That principle can only be preserved if, going forward, we intentionally look back at our past transgressions, admit to them, and then hold those who committed them accountable. That means prosecuting those who break our laws – right up to the office of the President. Apparently, Mr. Ignatius missed this key point – or he just compartmented these two concepts in his mind – and refuses to tear down the wall of incompatibility between them.

Seeking to bolster his case that we need less security (I suppose to go with less accountability; Less Really Is More), he describes the scene of the Vice President’s motorcade going back to the Naval Observatory grounds each night:

“Maybe it's necessary to have so many cars, but it's a scene, frankly, that reminds me of Moscow during the Soviet days.”

Perhaps it does, but the nation’s intelligence services torturing “enemy combatants” to wring information out of them that fits a certain political agenda also reminds me of the Soviet Union. Since Mr. Ignatius defends such practices by American officials, I can only surmise that he has been gripped by American Exceptionalism Disease. This pernicious illness leads one to believe that an action conducted by Americans is OK, but that same action conducted by other nations, particularly against Americans, is wrong, and often requires military intervention to make right.

Mr. Ignatius closes with this:

“But surely we have reached the point of diminishing returns with the fortress mentality. The truth is, we all must live with vulnerability. It's a part of
modern life. We need to take reasonable precautions, yes. But it would be good for our public officials to step out of the bubble occasionally and smell the roses -- unfiltered by the security detail.”

Sure it would be good, and perhaps they’d learn something. The problem is, whether Democrat or Republican, most folks serving at that level do not, in fact, want to be out of the bubble. Then they’d have to deal with pesky voters, who continue to insist that we, not political elites, run the country. Likewise, once you are out of the bubble, you might actually have to account for your sins, and as Mr. Ignatius has said, nothing good can come from such an accounting.

So stretch those jaw muscles sir – that two sided mouth thing will continue to be quite taxing.

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