Republished as part of our ‘Best Of’ series, revisiting some of OffG’s Pre-Covid editorials – either because they help remind us of important realities easily overlooked nowadays, or because they take on added significance in a ‘post-covid’ world.
I picked this piece for the Best of OffG for two reasons: Firstly, the synchronised “there is no Deep State” messaging, making all the same arguments and citing identical counter examples, was so accidentally revealing it became incredibly funny. Secondly, it genuinely taught me something new.
Prior to reading the story that spurned this article I had always sort of accepted the “official story” of Watergate, but finding out that Bob Woodward was only a journalist because somebody at the FBI told him to become one really opens your eyes to way the (very real) Deep State works.
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Last week the New Yorker, and yesterday Salon magazine, published editorials arguing against the very existence of an “American Deep State”. The arguments presented are very…interesting. Both are, perhaps, classic cases of protesting too much.
To start off the author, David Remnick, relates a very cheery sounding story about a young man’s transformative journey from junior naval officer to hard-hitting journalist. I shall relate it to you in bullet points, for the sake of brevity:
- In 1970 junior naval officer Bob Woodward, a Yale graduate and member of the Book and Snake secret society, goes to the White House Situation room. At night.
- Whilst there, he meets a high-up at the FBI named Mark Felt, an intelligence veteran and long-time loyalist to J. Edgar Hoover.
- For reasons unknown the two men discuss the career prospects of young Mr Woodward. Mr Felt gives Woodward advice about pursuing “only employment that interests him”.
- Later that year Woodward leaves the navy, and applies for a job at the Washington Post. He doesn’t get it, thanks to a complete lack of any journalistic experience. He spends a year working at a minor local paper instead, before being hired by the WaPo in 1971.
- Throughout this time Woodward and his FBI friend are in constant contact, Woodward thinking of Felt as a “career counsellor”.
- Felt confides in Woodward that he sees the Nixon administration as “corrupt, paranoid, and trying to infringe on the independence of the Bureau”.
- In 1973 Felt, under the alias “Deep Throat”, leaks Woodward information on the Watergate break-in, and – by proxy – brings down the Nixon administration.
How does that story read to you? There are unquestionably overtones of Operation Mockingbird, right?
Well, not according to Remnick. He tells us the meeting was accidental, the friendship natural, the career advice sincere and the leak opportunistic. He asks the rhetorical question:
Was Deep Throat part of the Deep State?”
As if the only logical answer is “no, of course not”, when in truth any answer other than “Yes, almost certainly” shows a level of willful blindness or chronic naivety that probably merits medication.
We are expected to believe that a young naval officer, with no previous interest or experience in journalism, takes career advice from a senior FBI agent after one (accidental) meeting, leaves the navy, becomes a reporter, and ultimately acts as a key cog in what amounted to a “soft coup” in the United States.
That is patently absurd.
As I said before, what is presented as a case against the existence of an American Deep State, makes a very strong argument for both its existence, and its power.
Next, Remnick provides us with a little history on “Deep States”:
“Deep State” comes from the Turkish derin devlet, a clandestine network, including military and intelligence officers, along with civilian allies, whose mission was to protect the secular order established, in 1923, by the father figure of post-Ottoman Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. It was behind at least four coups, and it surveilled and murdered reporters, dissidents, Communists, Kurds, and Islamists. The Deep State takes a similar form in Pakistan, with its powerful intelligence service, the I.S.I., and in Egypt, where the military establishment is tied to some of the largest business interests in the country.
You see, he’s not arguing that Deep State power structures don’t exist – he willingly admits that they do – it’s just that they don’t have them in America. His argument for this is simple…or at least, it probably would be if he were to make one.
What he actually DOES is simply describe how deep states work in other countries, and then leave an ellipsis that’s meant to convey “and of course none of that is true in the USA”, when in fact – again – it does the exact opposite.
What he does is supply us a short checklist of qualities which define a “Deep State”:
- Clandestine and secretive
- Involving military and intelligence officers
- civilians allies
- Protecting the status quo
- ties to big business interests
Does that not sound the least bit familiar to anyone else?
The first two are givens that need no explanation.
Civilian allies? Well, I would imagine that a planted and/or manipulated journalist would make a good “civilian ally”. Such a person could be used to “leak” information that brings down enemies of the Deep State. Or, indeed, to write clumsy editorials about how the Deep State doesn’t even exist.
Protecting the status quo. The protection of “secular order” in Turkey could easily be translated as the protection of the neo-liberal order in the United States. It is essentially a program of protecting those in power from any kind of change. In fact, the way Remnick writes about this mission, it’s almost as if he is arguing that the noble ends justify ignoble means. That’s an interesting subtext to include.
Coups, surveillance and assassinations. Turkey’s derin devlet was behind only four coups? That’s a busy morning at the CIA. Surveillance? Well, it has suited the MSM of late to pretend they didn’t tell us all about the level of surveillance we operate under every single day. But we all know. Assassinations? Yes, there are a few famous examples, and a few not so famous. Blowing the President’s head off in the middle of a public square probably counts.
Ties to big business? Well Eisenhower admitted that, and warned against it, sixty years ago. Soros Open Society Foundation frequently collaborates with the State Department, as does the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The Pentagon’s ties to Boeing and Lockheed Martin are well documented, as is Dick Cheney’s involvement with Halliburton. The list is endless.
As an eight-point definition of a “deep state”, America’s power structures certainly seem to stand as a perfect template.
Now we come to the good part. The part where Remnick is forced to include a lot of information he’d rather pretend wasn’t true, because – if he didn’t mention it – he would open himself up to an awful lot of correction and/or ridicule…even more so than he does already.
One does not have to be ignorant of the C.I.A.’s abuses — or of history, in general — to reject the idea of an American Deep State. Previous Presidents have felt resistance, or worse, from elements in the federal bureaucracies: Eisenhower warned of the “military-industrial complex”; L.B.J. felt pressure from the Pentagon; Obama’s Syria policy was rebuked by the State Department through its “dissent channel”.
You see, there undoubtedly are powerful secretive intelligence organisations with ties to big business and the military.
Yes, you can point to the uncontested public record of literally dozens of crimes – both international and domestic – carried out by these agencies (calling coups and wars “abuses”, is craven apologist language).
Yes, it’s perfectly true that many Presidents (from both parties) have faced domestic opposition from these agencies, to their eventual ruin in some cases. Yes, some of those President’s – including Truman, Eisenhower and Kennedy – have publicly warned against the influence of these unelected actors and agencies…but – BUT – that doesn’t mean America has a “Deep State. Because:
…to use the term as it is used in Turkey, Pakistan, or Egypt is to assume that all these institutions constitute part of a subterranean web of common and nefarious purpose.
Which begs the response: “And?”
For one thing, David, it’s not to assume that, it’s to reason that…based on evidence (including all the evidence you helpfully supply in your article). It was your self-appointed task to provide a counter-argument to this reading of the evidence….and you have failed. Miserably.
However, David Remnick is not alone in his ineffectual assertion that “there is no deep state, it just looks like there is”.
Further arguments that there are no “secretive military and intelligence collectives” pushing their agendas through “civilian allies”, was published in Salon. It is an editorial on the exact same subject, published on the exact same day, with almost the exact same title.
The author, Ryan Bohl, argues (in apparent seriousness) that deep states are definitely real, that Egypt has one, but that American can’t have one…because America and Egypt are different.
His assertions that America “doesn’t have a deep state”, would probably hold more water if he displayed any kind of understanding of what the term actually means. Instead he has, in truly Orwellian fashion, redefined the phrase in order to present a counter-argument…and even then barely manages to scrape one together.
…a major flaw of the American Deep State theory is that a deep state needs a weak state to survive
I’m not sure where Bohl got this statement from. I suspect he made it up. It means nothing and is never backed up by any kind of sources, analysis or evidence. It is a baseless factoid, invented to allow the author to use the rhetorical trick of shifting the argument.
Having “established” that a Deep State cannot exist within a strong nation, the author no longer has to disprove the Deep State’s existence…but can now focus on proving that America is strong. Unfortunately for him, he is equally bad at this.
What does a weak state look like? For one, it’s horrifically ineffective: not a “I can’t believe they made me wait 45 minutes for my driver’s license when there were only six people in front of me” nuisance, but “I can’t believe I had to spend 2 years, $4000, and know an official at the Ministry of Transport via a relative to get my license”-style corruption. It is a state that fails to provide water, electricity, schools, and roads on a vast scale every single day.
The logic is obviously terrible. His argument that a deep state can only exist within weak and corrupt infrastructure? A completely unjustifiable a priori assumption. One that is never established with any kind of evidence.
…but let’s suppose, for the sake of argument, that he’s right – doesn’t America have a failing infrastructure?
Doesn’t America house 20% of all the incarcerated people on the planet?
Aren’t many of these people held in corrupt private prisons?
Aren’t post-industrial cities falling apart?
Didn’t Detroit have no water for weeks at a time?
And didn’t Flint have toxic water?
Aren’t their roads and bridges crumbling?
Didn’t New Orleans flood because of neglected levees?
Aren’t their dams crumbling to dust?
If a state is labeled “weak” on the quality of its infrastructure and development, then any objective observer would have to accept that America is weak.
In many cases it is practically a third world nation.
But Bohl has a response:
It can seem like the United States has a weak state when you compile the many anecdotes of bad roads, bridges, schools, water supplies, and other creaky public services. But this is misleading: just because you know a lot of stories about a topic doesn’t mean you know anything about its societal scale.
You see, much like the deep state, it might seem like America is falling apart…but it’s not really. Just look at the statistics he cites.
There is also yet another critical argument against an America deep state: the regular transfer of power.
Another flawed argument. The very theory he is arguing against is that the elected officials possess very little power at all, and, as such, power is never transferred. Rather, the puppet is replaced.
What frustrates Trump and his allies is not a conspiracy of a CIA/State Department/journalists/Democrats/Obama/Pentagon cabal, agenda-driven to impose some secret world order upon the United States. Rather, they are encountering the hard edges of America’s geopolitical interests.
You see, it’s not there is a deep state with an agenda, it’s just that America has concrete, innate “interests” that cannot be threatened by elected officials without encountering massive resistance from the agencies whose job it is to protect these interests.
…it is not in America’s interests to align with Russia any more than it has to, especially under the Putin government. So long as Russia has an independent foreign policy, it will be a threat to both NATO and the American-led world order; only bringing its foreign policy into the American-led alliance system will end that condition.
It is counter to the unquestioned and never-changing “interests” of the USA to have friendly relations with Russia, so naturally if the elected representatives of the people try to improve those relations, then the CIA/State Dept./FBI/the media and other unelected bodies will work together in opposing those plans.
This does not mean America has a deep state.
America having geopolitical interests that extend beyond the power of the people’s elected officials is NOT evidence of a “deep state”…because? Well…
As the deep state accusations grow, it would behoove some to visit Egypt, stay a while, and try to get a driver’s license. That is what a place with a deep state truly feels like.
…have you ever tried getting a driver’s license in Cairo?
Seven non-members of the non-deep state are so enraged by the idea that people might think the totally fake American deep state might be real, that they accidentally publish seemingly coordinated attacks on the very idea. Under very similar titles. All within the same few days. Citing the same “counter examples” of Egypt and Turkey. All acting with symmetrical umbrage.
That’s almost as unlikely as bumping into a senior FBI agent in the White House by chance, taking his off-hand advice about a career change and then accidentally breaking the story that results in the FBI’s removal of a President they perceived as a threat to their influence, when you think about it.
Nevermind. I’m just paranoid. America doesn’t have a deep state.
It just sometimes really looks like it does.