My Love Letter to the Deep State
May I call you Deep State? Everyone else is doing it and it’s so hot right now. Such a brief and convenient nickname, which must make up for the fact that it’s wildly inappropriate.
It’s a week after Valentine’s Day, D.S. (may I call you D.S.?), but I feel like it was time to get in touch.
You’ve been a naughty boy D.S. I hear you’ve been responsible for a cascade of leaks! It’s so interesting, you’ve leaked like a sieve for decades but only this round has somehow made you a Deep State! Quelle surprise. It’s so very odd. Everyone seems to know why you’re spilling your guts to the press, as though your leaks are footnoted and, using the word of the month, unprecedented. I do also find it astonishing that all three million of you have gathered together to bless these leaks as well. I’m sure there is no wishful thinking influencing this #analysis.
And you, all by yourself, took down the president’s closest national security confidant! A three star general who lied to the vice president and was fired by the Obama administration for bad management! Remarkable, my darling, that you took this upon yourself just to save the Iran deal, and not the cast of political players with possible axes to grind against one another.
I also understand the dinner party circuit has assessed you may be “slow walking” the president’s agenda and we should therefore panic about your superpowers? I could have sworn that advising senior leaders on the best means to execute their policy goals and any risks therein was not actually a prelude to a coup of bureaucrats, but I’m a bit slow. I missed the announcement the president is now God Emperor and if his agenda is not implemented immediately there must be something malevolent in the bowels of the Pentagon. Perhaps I’m just fooling myself, but much of the gossip kind of seems like institutional channels airing their laundry, which may include some scandalous items (you dirty thing!), or publicly making sausage (these analogies write themselves).
I’m sure this apparent delay in policy-making has nothing to do with the fact that the administration has put in place no political appointees below cabinet level. I paid very little attention in political science class, but I guess bureaucratic principal-agent problems of working and shirking sprang fully formed from the president’s head and aren’t just…normal. And I’m also not entirely sure how you’re managing all these machinations while being completely kept out of the loop. It’s all so confusing D.S., and I feel I hardly know you anymore.
And your intelligence community is at war with the president! It’s so strange, I had really thought he’d ostensibly initiated hostilities against them ages ago. I must have imagined the then-president elect refusing to accept their findings on Russia’s actions during the election, tainting the CIA’s memorial wall with a political speech, and declining to meet with PDB briefers with any regularity. How odd it is that you are labelled the aggressor, but maybe we just need to catch up.
I had no idea you were capable of such machinations! How Machiavellian, and how out of character. Just last year you were bloated, wasteful, and corrupting. So curious that you are now able to secretly determine the direction of the country.
D.S., I have butterflies in my stomach, and not only because of my deep and abiding affection for you. This continued characterization of all public servants as an evil genius hive mind intent on world domination worries me. I think you’re mostly an ok guy. I don’t want to freak you out, but it sounds like you have a big fat target on your back that’s going to be tough to get rid of, and people should really chill with this whole “Deep State” thing. A couple folks agree. Zach Beauchamp writes:
If these terms are being used to refer to the fact that the United States has a permanent national security bureaucracy, that’s a banal observation that applies to nearly every country on Earth. If they’re being used to imply that there’s a vast, organized Turkey-style internal security conspiracy pulling the strings of the US government, that is false and misleading.
Soner Cagaptay, a guy who knows a Deep State when he sees one, says:
It’s such a catchy concept, because it helps explain so much. If you want to explain inefficiency, it’s not inefficiency but it’s a deep state. Why did the U.S. government fail in a certain policy? Oh, it’s because the deep state wanted it to fail, not because it was bad execution, or bad policy, or combination of both.
You’ve got issues, D.S. Don’t get me wrong. You’re too big. You’re slow. You can’t hire or fire worth a damn. Your cafeterias are dreadful. You still use blackberries for crying out loud. You have a dreadful issue with policy inertia. You talk like it would be such a bad thing if someone understood you. You have some extensive powers that no one should be terribly comfortable with, should they be used for ill. For all this and more, I had to dump you after ten years together. But I can’t sit on the sidelines watching others take potshots.
What I love about you, D.S., is that you showed up for work on January 21, 2017, 2009, 2001, 1993, 1989, 1981, etc., drawn by a duty higher than petty politics and swearing to defend the Constitution against all enemies regardless of whose photo is on the entryway walls. I love that you think about what it takes to serve in each successive administration and again and again win the trust and admiration of a host of political leaders of all stripes. I love that when you read the executive order on terrorism that shocked so many of us, some corner of your mind thought:
I could have done that better. I could have drafted an order that makes us safer from terrorists. I could have launched a roll out plan that made this workable. I could have given implementing instructions to Customs and Border Patrol that didn’t make them look like a total shitshow. If someone asked.
D.S., I know you’re tired. You’re anxious. You’re out of the loop. You’re under a hiring freeze. You want to prove yourself, but no one’s even inviting you to the meeting. You learned about your new Middle East policy via tweet. All this is normal — crappy but normal — for transitions. Get some rest. Eat some kale. Expect a new memo format and font size. Keep doing your job — I have faith that the president and his friends will seize on your value sooner than later. And if not, I’m on your team.
Love and hugs,
PS: I don’t think you have a secret bowling league where you control the trajectory of the free world. But if you start one, here’s my number, call me maybe?
Loren DeJonge Schulman is the Deputy Director of Studies and Leon E. Panetta Senior Fellow at the Center for a New American Security. Ms. Schulman left the White House in 2014 after serving as Senior Advisor to National Security Advisor Susan Rice. She has also worked as Chief of Staff to the Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs, Director for Defense Policy and Strategy on the National Security Council Staff, and as a special assistant to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates. She contributed to the 2010 QDR, the 2012 Defense Strategic Guidance, and the 2014 QDR.
Image: George Hodan, Public Domain