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Design by Force: The New Intelligence

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Wes Walls
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And so Bush appoints a be-medaled, NSA domestic spy program-defending, active-duty officer to head the CIA. Appointing an officer is not unprecedented, but this one is not free of that banana republic feeling. An emblazoned, heavy yes-man.

In government, uniforms are a sign of weakness. Sadam Hussein decked out and firing a gun, or Mayday parades with flag-draped missiles, are images for ridicule rather than reverence; from the outside-in, these pretenses are easily seen for what they are. Strong societies do not take militarism seriously. Are we becoming acclimated to such weak-souled patriotism?

Hayden is "the right man". According to the Bush management style, this sort of hortatory marketese is almost enough ("trust me"), but then there is the obligatory recounting of credentials. Of course, Hayden's primary qualification is that he is a made man; since he had a role in developing the illegal NSA spying project, he is marked by the kinds of transgressions that form the deepest bonds of loyalty. Hayden means something, and this is the symbolism that we ought not to ignore. Bush, and this is a pattern in previous nominations, tries to make these symbols of defiance as glaring as possible.

"We are guilty together," Bush seems to say; "but this guilt is simply loyalty. And in a time of war, loyalty is all that matters. It is a matter of courage simply to brush aside laws; what would a crime say, except that I would do anything to protect the nation?" The right, unflinching man.

The other bit of symbolism here is the following: intelligence must be subordinated to force. The function of "good intelligence", after all -- the kind of things that squeamish liberals worry about -- is to confront the president even with things that he might not want to hear. It is to say, for example, "I'm sorry Mr. President, there isn't much evidence to make the claim that Iraq has WMDs, despite the fact that we can't rule them out". Good intelligence gathering walks lightly; it would rather remain invisible and attentive to facts rather than alter these facts by mere force of will, as the administration has suggested it will do when need be. If you drag your big stick across the terrain, perhaps you alter things in your own image; but you lose a sense of what was there to begin with. The idea of making Iraq our ownand torturing "intelligence" out of reluctant "detainees" is all of a piece: force comes first, intelligence comes from force (please repeat). Whether you're Cheney browbeating a CIA official, or John Doe water-boarding Mr. Redacted, you are making sure that you get to hear that you want to hear.

In a vengeful mood, "intelligence" is a little too weak, too passive. It calls more for words than deeds, for observation rather than action. And perhaps it feels like a matter of courageous will to redefine "intelligence" to mean "war". In fact, these sorts of notions turn on their head the ambition, after 9-11, to reform intelligence in order to prevent future terrorist attacks. The "War on Terror" was the response to the failure of preemptive intelligence. "Prevention" and "preemption" were simply incorporated into the lexicon of force, to mean: "attack early." Intelligence, as we know, was entirely abandoned, unless it could altered enough through administrative pressure to be incorporated into a public relations campaign in favor of war.

Hence by appointing your military man and NSA blood brother -- the man slightly wounded with you in your heady days of battle against the Democrats -- you have accomplished something profound. This, Bush says, is the meaning of "intelligence": I will dictate what comes out of the CIA, I will appoint the unquestioningly faithful, I will spy; I will break laws -- or rather, the laws flow from me. (This notion of "intelligence" is not unrelated to that of intelligent design).

We know that that people who do stupid, even criminal things, see their deviance as a sign of great power, even metaphysical transcendence. In Seductions of Crime, Jack Katz describes these "ways of the badass". I am reminded of Bush's delinquent demeanor: he can't wear a leather jacket, or sport a tattoo; but he can, like the Fonz, snap his fingers and have people move. He sees himself as cool, and:
"to be cool is to view the immediate social situation as ontologically inferior, nontranscendent, and too mundane to compel one's complete attentions." (click here)

This is what many commentators see as the kingly air of Bush; it is in fact that studied manner of adolescence. And when the parents (meaning primarily, the media and the polls, i.e., the people) demand something different, he is here to declare "no f*cking way" or to make some other gesture of defiance, e.g. by a nomination. (Incidentally, he also knows how to spend an allowance). Bush tries to produce what Katz describes as the cool "powerful, alien presence", but it generally comes off as surly. And as Katz points out, there is a fine line between being cool and being an idiot (the "cool" fashions of old are always laughable today). The latter marks you as the true outcast, the social deviant who has not perfected the transcendence of the outcast status and turned feelings of inferiority on their head; who has not genuinely become a rebel.

It is Bush's Janus-face that divides Americans: for some, he just seems so leaderly.

Many of us have always seen something else.
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Wes Walls is a communications consultant living in Washington, D.C.
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