The War On Intellect

Dubya’s battles with intelligence agencies belie a deeper conflict

In a faith-based administration, the greatest enemies appear to be facts. As many have observed, Bush’s team is allergic to any hint of the massive amounts of evidence proving their mendacity. This has been pointed out recently (to devastating effect) by Sidney Blumenthal in an article for the Guardian:

Now, postwar, the intelligence wars, if anything, have got more intense. Blame shifting by the administration is the order of the day. The Republican senate intelligence committee report will point the finger at the CIA, but circumspectly not review how Bush used intelligence. The Democrats, in the senate minority, forced to act like a fringe group, held unofficial hearings this week with prominent former CIA agents: rock-ribbed Republicans who all voted for and even contributed money to Bush, but expressed their amazed anger at the assault being waged on the permanent national security apparatus by the Republican president whose father’s name adorns the building where they worked. One of them compressed his disillusionment into the single most resonant word an intelligence agent can muster: “betrayal”.

The growing disconnection between our Dear Leaders and the people who do the actual work of government has become obvious. Part of the problem is, of course, ideology. This is as common and timeless as politics itself. However, this administration’s willingness to suppress, ignore, or flat-out lie about facts is unprecedented. Comparisons to Orwell’s novels are increasingly common. I posit, however, that there is an even deeper problem.

Since 9/11, the policies of the Bush White House have been strongly influenced by the neoconservative ideal of global domination. From the beginning, however, religious extremists have influenced the administration’s policies. While the neocon technocrats don’t always agree with the radical religious elements of the Republican party, they do have certain things in common. Of primary concern to this discussion is their mutual desire for ideological purity and distaste for opposition — expressed as “patriotism” by the neocons and “the True Faith” by the dogmatics. Doubt is demonized — literally, in some religious matters.

Further exacerbating the problem is the long-standing distrust among the constituents of both groups for “intellectuals.” Antipathy for “eggheads” and “geeks” is ingrained in Americans from childhood, as those who do well in school are ostracized. Ironically, while America’s dominance is based on scientific, military, and financial genius, fear of these savants favors less openly intellectual leadership. While Reagan, Bush Sr., and Clinton successfully downplayed their intelligence, relying instead on strength of personality, the 2000 election was seen by many as the smart guy against the ordinary guy. The ordinary guy became president, in part thanks to the Supreme Court, but he got close enough by making himself appealing as an ordinary guy who trusts his gut over the policy wonks. To give credit where credit is due, he was honest on that point, if few others. The problem is, the policy wonks usually know what they’re talking about. That’s rather the point of being an expert.

These three factors — patriotic fervor, religious extremism, and pre-existing distrust — have combined in a manner unprecedented in the United States to create a hostile atmosphere for any sort of intellectual curiosity. The Bush administration has actively suppressed the findings of its own agencies, including the EPA on global warming and New York post-9/11, the State Department and the CIA on Iraq, and its own commission regarding September 11th. No matter how much evidence, analysis, or plain sense contradicts their decisions, the administration leaders continue to insist that they know best. Their defenses are legion: they’ll be proven right in the end, the evidence actually supports their position (contrary to all logic), those evil critics are undermining our Dear Leaders by thinking bad thoughts, they didn’t say what we thought they said, they know things we don’t but can’t tell us because of national security, etc.

Faith, in and of itself, is not a bad thing. During difficult times, like the recent fires in Southern California, faith that things can get better can help us keep going when we might want to quit. This administration’s devotion to a radical ideology, however, is far more problematic than a simple matter of faith, religious or political. It is an active hostility to questions, to disagreement, even to commentary that might prove embarrassing. This hostility could be accepted to a point if it was only directed at the administration’s adversaries, but when the questions come from members of the intelligence community who are also lifelong Republicans — including the president’s own father — that hostility borders on the inexcusable.

The true irony, of course, is that the men behind the curtain are intellectuals themselves, after a fashion. They represent the cream of the ideological crop as well as the movement’s dirty little secret — it’s all right to be a “brain,” as long as you a) are one of their brainiacs, and b) know your place, which is in the employ of the “ordinary guys.” The problem is, fitting into these two categories means setting aside actual thinking when it might contradict their beliefs.

Which, ultimately, is the administration’s real problem with intellect. Too many people are seeing their failures for what they are: the results of a righteous certainty with no basis in reality. While the Bush regime has been hostile to intelligence from the beginning, now that it’s in trouble they’ve chosen to wage all-out war on intellect rather than reconsider their own premises. When blind faith is the justification, thought itself becomes the enemy.

(/) Roland

[ed. note: image “war-intellect-170.jpg” no longer available]

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