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Works and Days

The Scandal of Our Age

June 17th, 2012 - 10:05 pm

Like Nothing Before

In the Watergate scandal, no one died, at least that we know of. Richard Nixon tried systematically to subvert institutions. Yet most of his unconstitutional efforts were domestic in nature — and an adversarial press soon went to war against his abuses and won, as Congress held impeachment hearings.

As far as national security went, Nixon’s crimes were in part culpable for destroying the political consensus that he had won in 1972, at a critical time when the Vietnam War to save the south was all but over, and had been acknowledged as such at the Paris Peace Talks. But Watergate and the destruction of Nixon’s foreign policy spurred congressional cutbacks of aid to South Vietnam and eroded all support for the administration’s promised efforts to ensure that North Vietnam kept to its treaty obligations.

Iran-Contra was as serious because there was a veritable war inside the Reagan administration over helping insurgents with covert cash that had in part been obtained by, despite denials, selling arms to enemy Iran to free hostages — all against U.S. laws and therefore off the radar. The Reagan administration was left looking weak, hypocritical, incompetent, and amoral — and never quite recovered. Yet even here the media soon covered the story in detail, and their disclosures led to several resignations and full congressional hearings.

Quite Different

What I call “Securitygate” — the release of the most intricate details about the cyber war against Iran, the revelations about a Yemeni double-agent, disclosures about covert operations in and against Pakistan, intimate details about the Osama bin Laden raid and the trove of information taken from his compound, and the Predator drone assassination list and the president’s methodology in selecting targets — is far more serious than either prior scandal. David Sanger and others claim that all this was sort of in the public domain anyway; well, “sort of” covers a lot of ground. We sort of knew about the cyber war against Iran, but not to the detail that Sanger provides and not through the direct agency of the Obama administration itself.

Here is the crux of the scandal: Obama is formulating a new policy of avoiding overt unpopular engagements, while waging an unprecedented covert war across the world. He’s afraid that the American people do not fully appreciate these once-secret efforts and might in 2012 look only at his mishaps in Afghanistan or his public confusion over Islamic terror. Ergo, feed information to a Sanger or Ignatius so that they can skillfully inform us, albeit with a bit of dramatic “shock” and “surprise,” just how tough, brutal, and deadly Barack Obama really is.

Yet these disclosures will endanger our national security, especially in the case of a soon-to-be-nuclear Iran. They will probably get people killed or tortured, and they will weaken America’s ability for years to work covertly with allies. Our state-to-state relations will be altered, and perhaps even the techniques and technology of our cyber and special operations wars dispersed into the wrong hands. There is nothing in the recent “exclusive” writings of David Sanger or David Ignatius that was necessary for the American people to know at this stage, unless one thinks that we had a right to the full story of the Doolittle Raid in 1942, or that Americans by July 1944 needed an insider account of the date and planning of D-Day, or that we should have been apprised about what was really going on in New Mexico in 1944.

Here is why Securitygate is a national outrage and goes to the heart of a free and civil society.

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