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Washington Does Not Like Snarky

By       Message John Grant     Permalink
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You groomed yourself for Washington political work with a degree from Georgetown in foreign service. Then it was jobs with the Congressional Budget Office, the Senate Foreign Relations committee advising Joe Biden and a two year stint working for my senator, Pennsylvania's Bob Casey, as his sole adviser on national security issues. Finally, you got the White House job and were about to be promoted, at age 40, to a job in the Pentagon.

Back in 1980, I made a futile effort to be part of the US foreign service. I had been a kid in Vietnam and had finished graduate journalism school at Temple University. I took and passed the foreign service exam and was invited to Washington for a day-long "assessment." By that time, it was 1981 and the beginning of the Reagan period, and the interrogators assigned to assess me knew in ten minutes how wrong I was. All I had to do was open my mouth.

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I suppose I carry some sour grapes from that encounter, along with my experiences in Vietnam and documentary photography in Central America. All this no doubt influenced me to be a critic of US foreign policy ever since. I'm dead certain our arrogant foreign policy decisions over the past half century have significantly increased the dangers to America we face today. That's, of course, a radical analysis, one that looks to the past for the roots of today's problems -- rather than the willful historic amnesia we have become so inured to.

Your path seems much more calculated to fit into the Washington power game. But, then, you seem to have had a fatal flaw.

Your career so far suggest to me a man who wants to recognize how things work so he can play the power game well enough to move steadily up the pecking order. As you observe who has the power and who doesn't and who's getting ahead, as you are climbing upward, your tweet persona suggests a counter instinct and a sense of disloyalty to those you're working for. Along the way you seem to have become burdened with a critical impulse and, maybe, even a sense of the absurdity of the merry-go-round you were on.

In this country, we're all realizing we live under an incredibly rigid regime of secrecy that seems to grow by leaps and bounds every year, our government becoming more and more fearful and paranoid as it realizes the costs of even the smallest revelation. I imagine there is no place on Earth quite as sensitive to candor these days as the White House.

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National security state whistleblowers like Bradley/Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden are being imprisoned or hunted down with unprecedented ruthlessness by a liberal, once anti-war president. At least one major national security reporter is now being threatened with jail time. The sense of US government desperation is palpable. And it's not only in the United States. With the rise of the internet, governments all over the world hate the journalistic impulse. In Kenya, the government is about to clamp down hard on a relatively free press for broadcasting videos of police and military men looting the wrecked Nairobi mall attacked by terrorists. Here, in the land of the free and the brave, an ex-military Fox News commentator says in the future the US government may have to treat journalists as "enemy combatants."

Your fatal flaw fits into this scenario. You may be a small time annoyance fired for being too glib on Twitter, but you are, nevertheless, a loose cannon in the midst of a national security state often verging on panic over its perceptions of insecurity. Inter-office gossip is one thing, but you broke the holy membrane and sent out your snarky, critical tweets for all the world to see. You were acting as a leaker/journalist on September 3 when you said, "Will do my best to live Tweet this Syria hearing." And as a leaker/journalist, you were efficiently hunted down so you could be publicly crucified as a bad example.

Were you a good leaker/journalist? I'll leave that for you to decide. From the contrite, embarrassed statement attributed to you, I think you probably know the answer to that question. Be glad you're not in danger of going to jail for your opinionated leaks.

If I were you I would ponder the courageous insider acts of Manning and Snowden and think about what it was they were doing. Yes, they are more extreme cases. But it's good to ask why so many of us see these American leaker/journalists as true patriotic heroes.

I hope your experience being fired by the White House will in the end be a positive one. You may not really fit in the dog-eat-dog, back-stabbing world of insider Washington power games. A more noble career would be one in which you pursue this urge of yours to publicly express your Truth versus serving their Power.

You could say your Truth has already set you free.

John Grant
This Can't Be Happening

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PS: Photo of a Twitter gotcha-moment in the annals of cell phone surveillance:

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I'm a 68-year-old American who served in Vietnam as a naive 19-year-old kid. From that moment on, I've been studying and re-thinking what US counter-insurgency war means. I live outside of Philadelphia, where I'm a writer, photographer and (more...)

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