Willis L. Krumholz:
Something happened to the Republican Party between the Bush years and President Obama’s second term: the GOP electorate learned lessons from George W. Bush’s mistakes, while most elected GOP officials did not. This asymmetry between the conservative base and the establishment GOP has yet to be rectified, especially over the U.S. intelligence bureaucracies and foreign policy.
Previously I outlined how more evidence is needed to support the current view of widespread and unprecedented Russian election interference. I also suggested that U.S. intelligence agencies might grossly overstate the degree to which Russia interfered in the election.
This article picks up where the other left off. First, it will discuss why political leaders should treat the intelligence community with skepticism, and why meaningful reform of intelligence agencies is needed. Second, it will argue that powerful elements within the GOP ruling class are blocking meaningful reform.
Flyover Country Common Sense
After the Iraq War and the Obama years, the American people—conservatives in particular—have grown increasingly wary of the intelligence bureaucracies. Even flyover state Democrats have told their higher-ups that voters are sick-and-tired of the “Russia” story.
The author is no fan of Vladimir Putin, and neither is flyover country. Contrary to the Beltway’s conventional wisdom, however, Russia is not the boogeyman. Russia has a gross domestic product totaling 7 percent of America’s, roughly equivalent to the size of the New York City metro area, and a total defense budget less than what America spends on our $75 billion per year non-military-security-complex, which includes the intelligence bureaus. So Russia is neither a friend to America nor an existential threat. And of course Russia would love to influence American elections, and has certainly tried to do so in the past.
Flyover country is certainly not sympathetic to Russia, but that doesn’t mean flyover country trusts the U.S. intelligence community. Common sense says the intelligence community is not full of bad people, but it is made up of flawed individuals just like the rest of us, who have arguably been granted too much power. Given this, why would elements within the intelligence bureaucracy exaggerate Russian meddling in the U.S. electoral process?
Overstating Russian Election Interference
For starters, what if there were vast abuses by these bureaucracies that might threaten the clean reauthorization of the controversial FISA Section 702? What if the Obama White House abused Section 702 to improperly unmask (spy upon) Americans tied to the Trump campaign, along with members of Congress?
What if the intelligence bureaucracies (namely the National Security Agency and the Federal Bureau of Investigation) under Obama had been illegally spying on Americans, so egregiously that the pro-government FISA court rebuked the Obama administration in an unprecedented legal opinion days before Obama was set to shuffle out the White House door? What if a key member of Trump’s team, Michael Flynn, planned on a big shakeup of the intelligence bureaucracies, including a sizeable reduction in the number of desk jobs at the Central Intelligence Agency headquarters in Langley?
One thing is for sure: instead of talking about a shakeup at the CIA, or the clear abuses of power by the intelligence bureaucracies and the Obama administration, we are only talking about “Russia.”
Even worse, what if unelected bureaucrats wouldn’t mind ousting a sitting president who would dare to go outside the norms of established American foreign policy, on which a $700 billion per year Pentagon and intelligence budget is at least partially dependent? If Trump isn’t removed, what if his goal to improve relations with Moscow or not go to war in Syria is stymied? Remember how many Trump opponents fell all over themselves to praise Trump when he launched missiles into Syria? (It doesn’t matter what you think about Syria or Russia, this is a political question meant for elected officials to decide, not anonymous bureaucrats).