Belaboring the Obvious

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Have been meaning to comment...

... on this little piece of fear-mongering, but, have been otherwise enjoying the latest Palin public meltdown (perhaps a bit too much, I admit).

I speak of Michael Scheuer's little visit with Glenn Beck around the end of June. Now, I don't know a great deal about Scheuer, except that he's tried to get as much commercial mileage out of his time with the bin Laden issue group at the CIA (the so-called "Alec Station"), and his anonymously written books. Larry Johnson thinks Scheuer's looney tunes, but, then, such a recommendation from Larry Johnson ought not to be considered authoritative, given Johnson's own frequent departures from reality once it became apparent that Hillary Clinton was not to be anointed by the Democrats.

However, let's face it--anyone who appears on Glenn Beck's program that doesn't do it to make Beck look like a crass huckster is automatically suspect. It's not any great gift of insight that leads to the conclusion that Beck would murder his mother live on the air for a better share of the ratings--it's something anyone with an IQ of three digits, a passable understanding of the English language and some experience with retail salesmen can grasp.

So, I get a strange feeling that I can only describe as being "creeped out" when I learn that Scheuer is playing into Beck's apocalyptic schtick by saying, as Adam Serwer writes for TAPPED:

"The only chance we have as a country right now is for Osama bin Laden to deploy and detonate a major weapon in the United States. ... It's an absurd situation again, only Osama can execute an attack which will force Americans to demand that their government protect them effectively, consistently, and with as much violence as necessary." Beck nodded solemnly.

Now, if this fellow Scheuer had been sitting in my living room, making such dramatic statements, I wouldn't be nodding solemnly. I'd be quoting Ken Kesey: "wait just a minute, bub."

Let's review: the national legislature, in its infinite wisdom, was so spooked by the events of 9/11 (and perhaps by some potentially homegrown anthrax attacks pointed directly at some of those legislators) that they passed--often without reading them--a host of new laws which gave the Executive Branch free rein to trample civil rights, and without reflecting on the fact that many of those laws were written by people in the Executive Branch, and which represented a longstanding wish list of the sort of people in law enforcement that generally believe that the Bill of Rights is a bothersome imposition on them.

Even so, this passel of new laws wasn't enough for the Executive Branch, which promptly began violating them at will, culminating in rampant domestic spying that went on for years, and for which no one in authority has ever been charged. Along with these new powers came a series of administrative decisions that subjected the public to unnecessary--and, likely, politically motivated--intrusions into their lives. (No doubt, Bush administration TSA officials thought putting Sen. Edward M. Kennedy on the watch list was a great practical joke.)

And, then, there was the torture--something of which Scheuer seems to approve, as well--that had the net effect of sending thousands of government agency employees on snipe hunts. In fact, in an op-ed for The Washington Post, Scheuer justifies torture by the CIA using similar words as he did on Glenn Beck's show, along with a scenario right out of the Fox Channel's show, "24":

In surprisingly good English, the captive quietly answers: 'Yes, all thanks to God, I do know when the mujaheddin will, with God's permission, detonate a nuclear weapon in the United States, and I also know how many and in which cities." Startled, the CIA interrogators quickly demand more detail. Smiling his trademark shy smile, the captive says nothing. Reporting the interrogation's results to the White House, the CIA director can only shrug when the president asks: "What can we do to make Osama bin Laden talk?"

Americans should keep this worst-case scenario in mind as they watch the tragicomic spectacle taking place in the wake of the publication of the Justice Department's interrogation memos. It will help them recognize this episode of political theater as another major step in the bipartisan dismantling of America's defenses based on the requirements of presidential ideology.

Note the common term "detonate" in this op-ed and in his Glenn Beck appearance. Apart from this being pretty much unadulterated horseshit (and, on top of that, coming from a guy whose shop in the CIA missed both the West African embassy bombings and the attack on the U.S.S. Cole), it's classic fear-mongering. It doesn't surprise me that this attitude comes from a guy who refined his chops at the CIA. Scheuer is trying hard to justify torture on the basis of national defense being some sort bedrock issue upon which no question of morality or rights can impinge, and this notion is compounded by his repeated references to al-Qaeda and nuclear weapons, which continues to be the bĂȘte noire of the fever-dreamstruck on the right. How odd it is that Scheuer still insists that torture can protect us from such a fate when all evidence strongly points to torture being counter-productive, and when the obviously morality-neutral process of beefing up port-of-entry security with better neutron and alpha-particle counters and the like is continually slow-walked because of right-wing objections that it may cost importers (read WalMart and its ilk) a little time and money. Scheuer's invocation of bin Laden himself as the boogie man with secret knowledge of the bomb is also a convenient way of investing the terrorist with near-supernatural powers, attempting to conjure in the mind of the reader a situation most unlikely in real life--after all, Scheuer's group in particular and the CIA in general has supposedly been trying to find bin Laden for thirteen years, without success. Equally, bin Laden's probably been about as successful in getting someone to sell him nuclear weapons.

Most importantly, Scheuer, in availing himself of the forum provided by Beck, and by saying, more or less directly, that Americans must be punished for not entrusting their safety to amoral assholes like Scheuer is precisely the sort of argument that would appeal only to Beck's audience, and would rightly repel most Americans. Most anyone, stepping back for a moment and judging his remarks on their practical merits, would think that Scheuer was an escaped madman. That those arguments are regularly embraced by the right-wing wackos in the country--and regularly given prominence in the press--is a signal that conservatism has become completely disconnected from its philosophical and pragmatic moorings... not that it was ever very well-grounded to begin with.

Scheuer doesn't seem to grasp that the sort of country he envisions--one that has abandoned both Constitutional rights and morality in exchange for a still-imperfect and never-achievable level of security--would no longer be a place in which ordinary day-to-day life would be either tolerable, practical or possible. Officers of the federal government take an oath to defend the Constitution, first and foremost, and abdicating that responsibility in favor of protecting the national security state inexorably leads not to more security, but less. In Scheuer's weltanschauung, liberty is not only dispensible, it is a stubborn impediment to the CIA's aims.

What Scheuer clone will say, at some indeterminate time in the future, without a trace of irony or self-awareness, "we had to destroy the country to save it," as our epitaph?


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