The Generals, the Spies and Barack Obama

Posted on June 14, 2013 by

To understand the expansion of drone attacks and domestic spying under Barack Obama, I imagine a meeting among the newly elected president in 2009 and America’s top spies, national security analysts and military offices in the white house “situation” room.

I picture the president surrounded by those shoulder-padded generals alongside somber CIA operatives, the types who know – literally – where the bodies are buried.

They’re briefing the new commander-in-chief on the threats facing the country.  Consider what it must be like to absorb these details.  Think about Obama trying to sort out how he can re-balance the nation’s foreign policy after the Bush fiascoes. He can’t do it all at once.  He will pick and choose: get troops home, repair relations with traditional allies and look for diplomatic openings with adversaries.

The president inherits a tangle of American military and internal defense “interests” and can’t brush aside army brass and national security operatives.  To govern, Obama accepts the assumption that his most important job, as he often says, is to keep Americans safe.

A terrorist attack on his watch would destroy his presidency.  His decision to unleash the drones and the NSA seem – well – acceptable.

Back in the situation room, President Obama looks around the table (I’m borrowing imagery from The West Wing) and tells himself that his decisions align with progressive values.  These are not, he hopes, deals with the devil.

Comments (5)


  1. Ben says:

    Well, you probably have it about right Lou.
    Sometimes, it seems, the President has tried to find the more flexible or less arrogant people in the military/”intelligence”/foreign policy establishment such as Hagel for Defense Secretary or Kerry for Secretary of State.
    But yeah, it must be a constant effort for him.

  2. Mark Gibney says:

    You’re doing a Hollywood on this, Lou. You reducing this to ficitonalizing Obama, asking us to get caught up in the drama of the sheriff standing up to the baddies, gathering the farmers to form a posse, risking the harvest because he just wants to protect the women and children. What if Gregory Peck could walk of the set of Mockingbird and into the role of Al Pacino on the Godfather? Could you still dream of him as a kindly uncle?

    Once the CIA trained Snowden he gets snatched up by Booz Hamilton Allen, his salary rockets from about $40 K to about $200 K and BHA contract him out to the CIA for maybe a million a year. That’s the story as I’ve come to understand it. A high school dropout having access to even Obama’s email and voicemail, and the for-profit sector spooks buying their vacation homes on the taxes you and I pay.

  3. John Connolly says:

    Oooch! Mr. Gibney seems to have nailed it.

  4. rick chertoff says:

    Another way of putting it is, they don’t call it the “Ruling Class” for nothing. Whether it’s China, Iran, or the U.S., they wield because they have acquired several formidable weapons; real weapons of force, such as guns, but moreover, the means of communication so that as soon as someone pulls the sheets back to show what is truly going on, he’s a traitor. Why? Because the means of communication a slick functionary like Obama so we feel sorry for him- Amazing! He’s holding 200 men in a concentration camp without charges or evidence for 10 years in Gitmo; torturing them, according to medical doctors who have defined it as that- and we’re feeling sorry for HIM!! When do we wake up? Our fear gets translated into romantic adulation, and then it becomes subserviance.

  5. rick chertoff says:

    the poor email mechanism omited a few key words: “they wield ” is what I said. Then….”because the means of communication a slick functionary..,, to be romantized……”

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