Turning 18 on November 2nd, 2008 provided my first opportunity to participate in democracy, and it was a presidential election. At that time, we were spending hundreds of millions of dollars a day on the war in Afghanistan and the original mission appeared long over. Today, most people agree that staying in Afghanistan for another 13 years was a mistake, but at the time, the was significant vocal support to stay and complete the mission. In hindsight it is probably more accurate to say that many still believed that there was an achievable mission.
I voted for Obama primarily because he promised to end the war in Afghanistan. His actual promise was to "finish the job". The rest is history: he consistently escalated the war during both his terms. When reporters asked, uh, if we're ever going to be done in Afghanistan, he always said that yes, we would win as long as we threw some more money and American lives at the problem. When reporters pointed out that this was clearly no longer the case, Obama said that his decisions were based on secret intelligence that journalists and citizens did not have access to. Of course the pentagon papers have since revealed that this intelligence was fabricated. The pentagon knew that the war was unwinnable and they lied to the president. I have not seen anyone serve jailtime for this.
Now that the war has ended, the partisan finger-pointing has intensified. Republicans readily call for an investigation to the messy withdrawal, while Democrats blame Bush for starting the conflict in the first place. How has the intelligence community escaped criticism and accountability for their repeated failures?
The constant lying to policy-makers revealed in the pentagon papers is only one of many instances I can think of when bad intel was the origin of bad policy decisions. I remember Bush saying that he had "Good intelligence, sound intelligence," that Saddam Hussein was harboring WMDs. Many years and American lives later, Bush's supporters washed their hands of wrongdoing by blaming the intel. "Bush got bad intelligence, so the war isn't his fault," they said. I am willing to agree with that, but I won't agree that it's nobody's fault.
How is it that our Three Letter Agencies run a massive (and illegal) global surveillance program and still fail to tell the difference between a van full of terrorists with bombs and a van full of schoolchildren with water jugs? How is it that when war crimes are committed because of such intel, nobody is held to account?
Leaders of these TLAs are not democratically-elected and have no term limits. As presidents come and go, they stay in office, choosing what intel to feed to the rest of government, what to lie about, and what to withhold. Their invisible hand, as the source of information for the rest of our government, is an unchecked danger to our democracy.
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