Friday, January 1, 2010

Conservatives once again condescend to the intelligence agencies

No, Erick Erickson, this is not "the greatest and potentially the deadliest of Obama's screw ups so far". Or perhaps it is, in which case you have a surprisingly favorable impression of the administration.

Erickson refers to the recent suicide bombing in Afghanistan that killed 7 or 8 CIA officers, the deadliest day for the Agency in decades. He specifically criticizes the Obama administration for publicly acknowledging the tragedy, and mourning the loss of life. In so doing, he alleges, al Qaeda and the Taliban are gifted a major propaganda victory, and Obama's relations with the CIA are seriously undermined, while doing further damage to the Agency's morale.

Even if all of this is true - and I grant none of it, since Erickson doesn't even come close to describing a single source in his post, beyond "members of the intelligence community," (which only narrows it down to about 100,000 people) - it says infinitely more about the incompetence and unprofessionalism of the American Intelligence Community (IC) than it does about the Obama administration.

For one thing, I thought these people had rather important jobs. It surprises me to learn that they're so easily distracted from their work by press releases from the White House. I would have thought they wouldn't let so important a task as national security be imperiled by their hurt feelings and grumpy moods. Certainly, Republicans, who've spent decades telling us just how serious, professional and dedicated the members of the IC are, aren't alleging that they make decisions about whether or not to protect the country based on whether they're annoyed with the President.

For another, what has the Obama administration actually done wrong here? The information about the bombing victims leaked out well before Obama made any sort of statement, so the essence of the Taliban's propaganda victory was already out there before the White House did anything. Maybe there's some super-secret IC rationale for not saying anything once the cat is clearly out of the bag, but I can't really see it.

Finally, to the extent that the CIA was licking its wounds already before this attack took place (and therefore deserve to be treated with kid gloves right now), I call bullshit. America spends far too much money ($50 billion/year or so) for the level of performance we get from these folks. We have the right to demand they do a better job, and to criticize them when they screw up, which happens repeatedly and on pretty major issues (WMDs in Iraq sure were a "slam dunk," huh?) I'm sure they've saved us from thousands of attacks and saved tens of thousands of lives over the years, but that shouldn't earn them any special immunity from criticism: that's their job! That's why we pay them $50 billion a year! And it does them no favors to treat them like fragile children who can only be reassured that they're doing a great! job! all the time, lest their feelings get hurt.