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The deep state

A recent article in the Atlantic Monthly by Conor Friedersdorf  brings up the question of the deep state, and whether it has overwhelmed our elected state, the one you and I see as the government.  Briefly, the deep state is a term borrowed from Turkish politics, and denotes a secret cabal that actually runs things under the cover of the elected state, which is seen to be ineffectual in decisions that really matter.  Applied to the United States, it refers to the institutions that continue intact, regardless of changes in the elected government and whomever they may appoint as titular heads.  These institutions include the military, all the various agencies, and the bureaucracy in general.  In its most sinister interpretation, beloved of conspiracy theorists, it is the deep state that really runs things, elected government amounting only to window dressing, a sop to keep the ignorant masses deluded.  In its most benign interpretation, the deep state simply represents the necessary continuity in government, provided by career specialists, advising elected officials on finer points of a technical nature.

It’s not hard to see that there’s a continuum there; the reality can run anywhere between the two extremes.  It can even vary, depending on the strength and leadership of the individuals in the elected government at any given time, on any given policy.  It’s hard to believe in the most sinister extreme, because it would mean that everyone who has successfully run for high office is in on the conspiracy, is too stupid to see what’s going on, or has been intimidated into silence.  The many instances of institututional displeasure with presidential policy would also have to have been staged, with none of us the wiser.  All it would take to expose a conspiracy on this order would be one individual.  We see already what Snowden has been able to do on a much lower level.  Unless, of course, that’s been staged as well.  If so, Snowden wins the Oscar hands down.

In his article, Friedersdorf’s alarm concerns the extent the military deep state has increased its power, based on some comments in Robert Gates’ recently published memoir:

…I can’t help but marvel at the casual manner in which this former secretary of defense observes that the military did take control of the policy process with regard to Afghanistan, and implies that they had the capacity to “run away with” the policy process.

This is in regard to the surge, strongly endorsed by the commanders in the field.  He goes on to question why Obama is suggesting changes in NSA eavesdropping, instead of simply ordering them.

I don’t see it, frankly.  Obama clearly had the option to go ahead with the surge or not.  What is it that supposedly would have happened had he declined?  An assassination?  Indeed, what would happen if he ordered the changes he suggests in NSA policy?  It is possible the NSA would simply continue clandestinely, and clamp down on leaks; it’s hard to imagine, though, a clandestine surge in Afghanistan.  Most tellingly, though, there are just too many differences in policy from one administration to another to led credence the worst of the fears, in spite of Obama’s unexpected continuation of many Bush policies.

What do you think?

8 thoughts on “The deep state

  1. Really interesting article. I’ve always wondered about the ‘deep state’ and the extent to which it exists and how it functions. Didn’t know it was referred to as the ‘deep state’, very informational and interesting, and I liked the poll!

  2. “In its most sinister interpretation, beloved of conspiracy theorists, it is the deep state that really runs things,”

    Mikels, there is another option, which is that the deep state runs things but that there is no conspiracy. I am referring to the possibility that the deep state is a combination of powerful vested interests that influence policy makers, for example bureaucrats who want to expand their power and influence, and lobbyists representing special interests desirous of obtaining privileges not available to them otherwise.

    • Ha! I think we agree on a lot more than we like to let on, because I also think we both love a good argument. My excuse is 12 years of parochial schooling; I don’t know what yours is. 😉

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