Top Leaderboard, Site wide
Left Masthead
November 30, 2015
Truthdig: Drilling Beneath the Headlines
Sign up for Truthdig's Email NewsletterLike Truthdig on FacebookFollow Truthdig on TwitterSubscribe to Truthdig's RSS Feed

The American Hunger Games
Forest Destruction Can Be Cut by Half

First Bite: How We Learn to Eat
The Painting That Saved My Family From the Holocaust

Truthdig Bazaar more items

Print this item

The Deep State Is Vulnerable to People Power

Posted on Feb 24, 2014

By Juan Cole


My remarks below were published at Bill Moyers’ site this weekend.

They came in response to Mike Lofgren’s important essay, “Anatomy of the Deep State.” Lofgren is a former congressional staffer.

Mike Lofgren’s long experience on the Hill has given him a small window, he might say only an aperture, into a vast network of unaccountable governmental and private institutions he calls the “Deep State” in his essay. There is much that is valuable in his explication of these networks, which depend on public tax money for their operation but typically do not answer to the public in any significant way. Indeed, the public is assiduously kept in the dark about much of what they do.


Square, Site wide

The danger of this invisible institutional latticework to any but a dryly procedural notion of democracy is obvious. Its menace to individual privacy and liberty is obvious. If absolute power corrupts absolutely, invisible power corrupts invisibly.

Let me, however, push back a little bit against Lofgren’s conceptual apparatus. Egypt also has a Deep State, but the young revolutionaries who overthrew the president for life in 2011 warned against using the very conception, since, they said, it overstated the paper tiger of elite power and could discourage popular action to rein it in.

Lofgren seems to me to put too little emphasis on the impact of the September 11 attacks in allowing the vast expansion of the Deep State. It paralyzed Congress and the judiciary with regard to security and terrorism. So too did World War I and the Bolshevik Revolution allow the post-war Red Scare. These moments of timidity have occurred repeatedly in US history, but have been time-bounded. As 9/11 recedes, there will likely be a reassertion of other interests, as the author implicitly admits. A federal judge has already called NSA domestic spying “Orwellian.” As Lofgren notes, Silicon Valley’s brand name is now endangered by being tagged in international markets as spyware, and powerful tech firms with plans for cloud computing are unlikely to take it lying down.

It seems to me that Lofgren’s paradigm also needs to be interrogated in two other respects. He slights the role of the president. The Iraq War was resisted by most of the institutions he names, and had to be sold so hard by the Bush administration precisely for that reason. It was not a project of the Deep State but of interlopers from Dallas and Houston. The conflicts among these institutions and within them is also slighted. The National Security Council had a virtual civil war over intervening in Libya and was tipped into it by NATO considerations; Deep State icon and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates was opposed. Wall Street historically dislikes foreign wars because they are inflationary.

If the Deep State is not monolithic but divided over policy, and if it is in fact much more responsive to the exercise of public political power than the author admits, then it is vulnerable to a vigilant public.


The Moyers/ Lofgren interview on The Deep State is here:

For other reactions to the essay by Andrew Bacevich, Danielle Brian, Henry Giroux and others, click here.


New and Improved Comments

If you have trouble leaving a comment, review this help page. Still having problems? Let us know. If you find yourself moderated, take a moment to review our comment policy.

Right 1, Site wide - BlogAds Premium
Right Skyscraper, Site Wide
Right Internal Skyscraper, Site wide
Right 2, Site wide - Blogads
Join the Liberal Blog Advertising Network

Like Truthdig on Facebook