Daniel Benjamin and Steven Simon write: Like a George Lucas Death Star or one of those planet-eating monsters in Star Trek, the Deep State has crashed into the national consciousness. Suddenly, it’s not just an obsession of those who inhabit the fevered, conspiracy-laced dream world of Alex Jones or Breitbart, but also the subject of countless news stories and headlines of all stripes across the media spectrum—bigger than anything imaginable, undermining the elected president of the United States, threatening the fundaments of our democracy.
Like the Death Star, the American Deep State does not, of course, exist. An appropriation from countries such as Egypt, Turkey, Pakistan and Algeria, where real networks of intelligence, defense and interior ministry officials exercise real power to drive policy, sideline elected officials and eliminate opponents, the American Deep State is nothing more than an invention of President Donald Trump and his allies—the convenient enemy from within that they blame for their frustrations. The leaks that undid former national security adviser Michael Flynn? That was the Deep State. Reports of extensive contacts between the Trump campaign and all manner of other smears? The Deep State. The president is said to be irate about this rear-guard action led by, in the words of White House press secretary Sean Spicer, Obama administration holdovers who have “burrowed in” and “continue to espouse the agenda of the previous administration.” Trump’s unshakable certainty that his Trump Tower phone has been tapped seems to be rooted—disingenuously or not—in this belief.
Many, including Loren DeJonge Schulman, Max Fisher and David Remnick, have written insightfully on the fatuousness of these charges, and there is plenty more to say: for example, that there may be only one Obama appointee left in the two premier Deep State institutions, the FBI and CIA. That’s FBI Director James Comey, whose unprecedented intervention in the presidential election would give Hillary Clinton a much better basis for complaining about the political manipulations of unelected officials than Trump. At the CIA, all four Obama appointees have left, and it is unlikely any Obama people remain at the National Security Agency and the passel of other intelligence agencies, where there were never more than a handful. The problems that plague Trump have nothing to do with former President Barack Obama, or some covert “opposition.” Like it or not, leaks abound when career people feel their agencies are being unfairly attacked, as they did after Trump accused the intelligence community of politicization and fabrication, or when they fear that an administration is dangerously undermining U.S. interests, a worry engendered by Trump’s denigration of traditional U.S. allies and lionization of Russian President Vladimir Putin. [Continue reading…]