In recent airstrikes against the Syrian government ,the military brass urged the White House to exercise restraint. Meanwhile, various liberal academics who are committed to “global understanding” allege that the President is “soft on the Russians” and not confrontational enough. What is happening in the American deep state? Things seem completely out of whack.
The tension between the U.S. military and the U.S. intelligence community has been longstanding. Disagreements on foreign policy can often be interpreted as these two powerful camps, within the federal structure, pushing for their own methods and opposing those of the other.
In recent years, it has become clear that both the Pentagon and Langley are no longer occupying their traditional cold war roles. The military and the intelligence communities of the United States, the “bad cop” and “good cop” of US relations with the world, are in crises of identity. The “gender roles” of U.S. foreign relations are being reconfigured in a new context, defined by the changing ideological character of geopolitical tension.
The Male and Female Side of Empire
The modern “deep state” emerged in its current incarnation in the aftermath of the Second World War. The Pentagon was constructed in 1941, while the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) was formed in 1947. As the Cold War moved into full swing, these two very distinct headquarters struggled and collaborated in order to define U.S. foreign policy.
The United States Armed Forces has been associated with the crass use of force and displays of strength. They are also closely tied with the very profitable industry of weapons manufacturing. The Pentagon brass is unconcerned with whether or not the USA is popular around the world. As articulated in slogans like “Peace Through Strength” and “Shock and Awe” the Generals simply want opponents of U.S. power to be terrified and intimidated.
Mocking the Pentagon as a stronghold of “toxic masculinity” has been a favorite pastime of Hollywood liberals and peace activists. The Pentagon is seen as a group of rowdy aggressive boys who are excited to show off the size of their bombs and missiles, and looking for any opportunity to appear on TV and boast about their latest battlefield accomplishments.
The Pentagon was responsible for the massive bombing campaigns that killed millions in Vietnam and Korea, as well as the highly expensive escalation of the Cold War nuclear arms race. In the past, voices associated with the U.S. military were not subtle in criticizing presidents such as Kennedy and Carter, who seemed reluctant to provide the massive confrontations they seemed to have desired. Kennedy’s speeches about “those who make peaceful revolution impossible make violent revolution inevitable” and his refusal to send troops into Cuba, made him quite unpopular with the Pentagon brass. Jimmy Carter’s Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT) were openly condemned by military voices, many of whom appeared to be solidly behind Ronald Reagan in the 1980 election.
Intelligence agencies seem to have a much opposite personality, and a different reputation, which places them closer to the feminine archetype. The CIA is led by graduates of Harvard and Yale who have spent years carefully studying the art of asserting U.S. power in deniable, and untraceable ways. Intelligence strategies involve “soft power” and methods that allow the USA to appear benevolent and completely unselfish as opponents are quietly liquidated and competitors are removed from the global stage.
The CIA wants the world to believe the USA is a kind, charitable country that just wants to “promote human rights” and eradicate poverty. The intelligence community strives to make sure that their role is as unknown and invisible as possible. Much of the CIA’s activities during the Cold War involved programs like the Congress for Cultural Freedom, funding art galleries and music concerts, and the manipulation of the media like in the infamous “Project Mockingbird.” Intelligence agencies spent millions of dollars studying potential uses for hallucinogenic drugs and telepathy. The CIA invested millions of dollars into coordinating with anti-Communist left-wing figures like Sidney Hook and the creators of Partisan Review magazine.
American intelligence services certainly have carried out bloodthirsty coups, in which thousands died, but their roles have always been obscured; somebody else always did the dirty work, while they functioned quietly in the background. For example, in 1965, the CIA worked to arrange the overthrow of Indonesian President Sukarno and the rise of the military dictator known as Suharto. The CIA’s allies went beyond simply toppling the elected government and began conducting a mass genocide against ethnically Chinese communities. The mass killings left rivers near the Indonesian capital clogged with corpses.
However, as over 500,000 people were killed, American media presented the bloodbath as if the U.S.A. had no role. This was just a tragic episode of Indonesians killing each other. The specific details about the CIA arming, training, and directing the Indonesian military did not emerge until decades later. Interestingly, Barack Obama was living in Indonesia as a small child when these events occurred. His mother was married to a top Indonesian military officer.
Forget Dr. Strangelove…
During the cold war, the ideology of the enemy was Marxism-Leninism. The military and the intelligence agencies constructed their seemingly masculine and feminine roles in relation to this clearly defined opponent. The Pentagon were fanatical anti-communists, who embraced the ideals of capitalism, the traditional family, and the Republican Party. They hated communism with every bone in their bodies and wanted to destroy anything that was “socialistic” or “left-wing,” resembling the enemy.
The CIA, on the other hand, had the task of figuring out why people around the world might be attracted to Communism, and how they could be carefully redirected or manipulated. The intelligence agencies had the task of maneuvering within dissident circles, manipulating ideological cracks within Marxism, and cultivating relationships with intellectuals and artists who might otherwise become Communists. The CIA often favored portrayals of the U.S.A. as having a “liberal” and “sensitive” side, and not being the brutal capitalist-imperialist power the Marxists claimed.
Intelligence agencies often wanted the U.S. to be more liberal domestically. The CIA was fully aware that Jim Crow segregation and racism were publicized by the Soviet Union in order to demonize the United States. While the Pentagon rightists felt Martin Luther King Jr. was helping the Communists by stirring up unrest, often the CIA worked to highlight the Civil Rights Movement and various liberals reforms in order to counter the Soviet narrative, and help the image of the United States.
In the 21st century, these roles are being widely redefined. The Pentagon sees extremely conservative forces dubbed “radical islam” as a primary battlefield enemy. In light of this enemy, not surprisingly, the U.S. military now allows gays and lesbians to openly serve in its ranks. The U.S. military is now confronting its internal problems with sexual harassment and rape, and working to create a better atmosphere for women. The once masculine bastion of “peace through strength” is increasingly launching programs related to ecological sustainability, and promoting international cooperation.
Meanwhile, the “soft power” department of US foreign policy is becoming less “soft.” During the Bush years, the CIA conducted a torture program. Psychologists were hired in order to determine how to effectively subject people to physical pain and suffering in order to gain information. The newly appointed CIA director, Gina Haspel, has been widely linked to the controversial program.
In Afghanistan, CIA officers continue to die on the battlefield, where they are embedded with armed fighting groups, according to the New York Times. Unlike the Cold War days in Eastern Europe, the “soft power” allies of the United States utilized to topple independent governments are not the idealistic youth, who want Beatles music and freedom of speech, but rather, fanatical Wahabbi extremists who seek to establish a Sunni Caliphate. The “Free Syrian Army,” among the various religious extremists the CIA has worked with in Syria and Libya, are not liberals at all, but some of the most fanatically religious, conservative and bloodthirsty forces in the world today. Rumors persist that Obama’s CIA director, John Brennan, converted to Wahabbi Islam during his years working from Riyadh.
The deep state confusion seems to have come to the surface most visibly with April’s airstrikes against the Syrian Arab Republic. As it is widely reported in the U.S. media, the Pentagon urged restraint from President Trump, not wanting to do anything that would result in a direct confrontation with Russian forces stationed in Syria to support the government. Anyone familiar with U.S. Cold War culture can tell you that the Pentagon urging restraint, in order to avoid fighting the Russians, just doesn’t fit standard procedure. What happened to Dr. Strangelove? Even more curiously, the loudest voice criticizing the U.S. attack and questioning regime change narratives was right-wing FOX News host, Tucker Carlson.
Meanwhile, the voices urging an escalation against Syria and Russia came from foreign policy think-tanks, liberal “activist” types; the voices more commonly aligned with the intelligence community. A barrage of articles in BBC, Vice News, the Guardian, the Intercept, and a variety of outlets not considered to be right-wing or hardline, urged the western public to ignore any questions about the reports about Douma as “conspiracy theories.” Linda Sarsour, the Arab American leader of the “Women’s March” and darling of New York City’s “socialists” has led demonstrations calling for more aggressive actions against Syria.
The Geopolitical Re-Alignment Behind the Confusion
Underlying all this confusion within the American deep state is a global realignment. The 1917 revolution in Russia put Communists into control of a significant amount of territory for the first time in world history. In 1928, Stalin launched his Five Year Plans, and Russia and the surrounding countries industrialized, creating a state-run, non-capitalist economy.
In order to carry out these mass construction projects and bring Soviet society into order, Stalin broke with the social-liberalism that had previously defined the Marxist movement. Stalin outlawed abortion and homosexuality, and began to glorify “The Soviet family.” Soviet films began appealing to Russian heritage, and during the Second World War, often medieval Czars who engaged in conquest were invoked as national heroes.
After the Soviet Union’s victory over the Nazis, non-capitalist economies began to emerge throughout the world. In 1949, China began constructing a socialist economy. The Baathist Arab states emerged during the Cold War, and the Islamic Republic of Iran was created following the 1979 revolution. Gradually, and most especially following the fall of the Soviet Union, “socialism” i.e. economies that function according to central planning, not the chaos of the market, became almost completely disconnected from social liberalism and the cultural interpretation of Marxism.
Today, people in developing countries rally behind Communists, Bolivarians, Baathists, and Shia Muslims, not because they wanted to rebel against tradition, but rather in order to defend it against the chaos and insecurity associated with the western capitalist system. The Chinese Communist Party has repudiated the Cultural Revolution and the Gang of Four, and now promotes a revival of Maoist ideology alongside an upsurge of Confucianism. Iran’s state run economy calls itself “not capitalism, but Islam.” Even the Bolivarian countries of South America, while utilizing explicitly Marxist rhetoric, promote Roman Catholicism and maintain bans on abortion.
The Pentagon and the U.S. intelligence agencies no longer have the explicit task of destroying Marxism-Leninism. In fact, they are increasingly not even tied in with specific US interests. The intelligence community and the U.S. armed forces are tasked with defending the “open international system” of free markets and social liberalism. The enemy is not a specific ideology but “populist” regimes that would stand in the way of free trade and the globalist atomization of human society. While “populists” cling to a particular identity or people, the U.S. deep state is committed to one global community in which individualism triumphs over all else, and any concept of community or solidarity is shattered.
So, how do the sectors of the American deep state play the role of “good cop” or “bad cop” in this new geopolitical context? How can the hawkish Pentagon be “conservative” when wars are waged in the name of promoting a liberal social agenda? How can the soft-power CIA be “liberal” when its assigned task is perfecting methods of torture, and unleashing the most bloodthirsty and primitive minded forces of destruction, shattering societies and dissolving them into the “open international system?”
These are the questions that the American deep state cannot clearly answer. The confused and disorganized nature of recent foreign policy debates can be interpreted in this context.