The Deep State.

Anyone who paid attention to the Egyptian coup that overthrew the Muslim Brotherhood government of Mohammed Morsi, or to Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s battering of the Turkish military, civil bureaucracy, and intellectuals after a failed coup will have encountered the term “deep state.”  It refers to networks of officers, bureaucrats, journalists, and businessmen who actually control government by concerted actions behind the scenes.[1]  The “deep state” endures across generations, rather than being a momentary conspiracy; it recruits its members by invitation, rather than by public competition; and it is inherently un-democratic, both in its means of operation and its ability to manipulate the course of elected governments.  However, Middle Eastern societies seem particularly vulnerable to conspiracy theories.

Now the term has surfaced in American politics.   Breitbart News, other right-wing web-sites, and the social media feeds of many Trump supporters have been using the term for a while now.  When President Trump’s supposed “grey eminence,” Steve Bannon, used the term “administrative state” in a speech to the Conservative Political Action Conference, the New York Times construed his words to refer to the “deep state.”[2]  Newt Gingrich seemed to be playing Charlie McCarthy to Bannon’s Edgar Bergen when he said that “We’re up against a permanent bureaucratic structure defending itself and quite willing to break the law to do so.”  Their aim is to undermine the Trump presidency.   Some even see this conspiracy as being directed by former President Barack Obama, who announced his willingness to break the traditional silence of former presidents when the new administration threatened “our core values.”[3]  (This view ignores the roll-out of HealthCare.gov.)

Former Obama administration government officials rushed to denounce the charge, albeit in circumspect language.  One said that “deep state” is “a phrase we’ve used for Turkey and other countries like that, but not for the American republic.”[4]  Another expressed surprise that a president would suggest that civil servants would try to undermine the government.  So, that’s settled.[5]   The NYT sought to normalize this as habitual Republican back-biting.

What gets lost in this unseemly mud-slinging is the pedigree of the issue.  In his 1959 farewell address Dwight Eisenhower warned of a “military-industrial complex.”  In the 1960s and again in the last few years, well-informed people have analyzed the power of the national security bureaucracy.  Sandwiched in between these Jeremiads, the journalist-turned-open-novelist Fletcher Knebel hit the best-seller lists with “Seven Days in May” (1962), about a military coup, and “The Night of Camp David” (1965), about a crazy president.  More recently, Chalmers Johnson published three books on the costs of “empire.”  Democracy was chief among them.[6]  Well-informed people haven’t taken the issue as a joke.  Even if everyone else does.

Is there a “deep state” in America?  Of course not.  What seems more likely, and disturbing, is that there is a momentary open quarrel between a president and the national security professionals.   Would such a quarrel precipitate the formation of a “deep state”?

[1] If this is true, then the common public discourse and action beloved of academics has little real meaning.  Instead, the books on the shelves of junior army officers and school principals, and conferences on the middle floors of government ministries or dinner meetings in private homes hold the key to understanding events.

[2] Julie Hirschfeld Davis, “’Deep State’?  Until Now It Was a Foreign Concept,” NYT, 7 March 2017.

[3] It is worth comparing these remarks with the boom in sales of dystopian novels to alarmed Democrats.

[4] OK, so what’s the American term?  The NYT reporter did not ask.

[5] Although it doesn’t seem to have been the Russkies who leaked to the press news compromising National Security Adviser-for-a-Day Michael Flynn.

[6] See: https://waroftheworldblog.com/2015/02/13/cinay-sayers/;and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chalmers_Johnson

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One thought on “The Deep State.

  1. Pingback: The Deep State Strikes Back. | waroftheworldblog

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