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The Scandal of Our Age

The Timing and Theme

Why are we suddenly learning in spring of 2012 of all sorts of classified information about the administration's war on terror? Why not in 2009? Why is all the disclosed information in the press predictably designed to offer another side of Barack Obama in an election year? The president turns out not to be the familiar senator or presidential candidate Obama, who once demanded that Guantanamo be shut down, who mocked renditions and tribunals, who opposed preventative detentions, who wanted to try Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in a civilian court, and whose team characterized the Major Hasan murders as workplace violence and the Mutallab plot as “allegedly” or came up with the laughable euphemisms “overseas contingency operations” and “man-caused disasters.”

In other words, all the prior public knowledge of the Obama administration’s conduct of the war on terror had helped contribute to real public worries about its national security reliability. In contrast, all the recent disclosures paint a much different picture of the real “Obama Doctrine” -- a Nobel Peace Prize laureate reading his St. Thomas Aquinas as he struggles with blowing up bad guys from the air, takes out bin Laden, unleashes a cyber war against Iran, or sends his agents into Yemen. A Hollywood scriptwriter could have done Obama the “paradox” no better: ruthlessly sensitive, decisively reflective, and tragically underappreciated.

The decision to disclose a multifaceted covert war on terror and ensure the continuance of the administration Barack Obama is supposedly far more important to our long-term national security than is any short-term damage that follows these disclosures.

The Role of the Press

We all know how the deplorable practice of “leaking” works. But in truth, these were not quite leaks: information was not “leaked” by rogue insiders or hostile outsiders, but rather given freely to the press by administration officials.

That fact alone makes Securitygate different from any other past scandal over publicized classified documents or insider accounts of covert operations -- or even Bob Woodward’s mythography and insider psychodramas, where he only imagines what presidents and secretary of states are “really” thinking silently to themselves.

Usually liberal reporters nurture and stroke unnamed sources and would-be whistle-blowers who claim worry about an administration's stealthy and dangerous national security efforts. Sometimes they divide and conquer -- warning reluctant sources that when the proverbial stuff hits the fan, their own silent narratives will be drowned out by the connivers who squawked. Message? If you can’t beat them, then beat them to the punch.

When the leaked story goes public, the administration in question goes bananas; after all, its most private protocols and operations are rendered worthless as they enter the public domain. Our Woodstein-like reporters in question predictably fancy themselves Edward R. Murrows, as if speaking truth to power. They earn praise from the New York-Washington, D.C., corridor, with all the accruing beneficia of strong book sales, career promotions, TV appearances, or often prizes for their “courage.” The leaker, if found out, often likewise is canonized, in Daniel Ellsberg fashion, as he usually beats the rap.

None of that was true of the released information about the bin Laden mission, subversion in Pakistan, the Yemeni double agent, the Predator drone protocols, and the cyber war against Iraq, or our covert war in Africa. The press were lapdogs, not bull terriers. The leakers were not misguided whistle-blowers, but careerist insiders. We don’t quite have an investigative press these days, but rather a Ministry of Truth put in charge of Barack Obama’s public relations: when the worldwide Left worries that Obama is too militaristic, we heard of deep engagement with Catholic theologians and a desire to go after former CIA agents, or more plans to close Guantanamo; when the Right is up in arms that Obama is not pursuing Islamic terrorists, then the drone tally, cyber war, and more details about Osama bin Laden suddenly are all over the news.

Complicity not skepticism is the theme of the work of a Sanger or Ignatius and their kindred reporters. Their aim is that we should be "surprised" about just how muscular is the Obama version of the war on terror -- an appreciation that is especially timely in mid-2012, rather than, say, 2009 or 2010.

Doubt all that? The subtitle of David Sanger's book -- Surprising Use of American Power -- says it all, does it not? "Surprising" is a rather mild adjective that one might not usually expect from a New York Times "investigative" reporter hell-bent on rushing into print leaked material about controversial, legally questionable, and covert U.S. operations. “Surprising” is the sort of loaded adjective that reminds us of the press’s other favored word -- “unexpectedly” -- when citing the latest dismal economic news.