"The ideal subject of totalitarian rule is not the convinced Nazi or the convinced Communist, but people for whom the distinction between fact and fiction (i.e., the reality of experience) and the distinction between true and false (i.e., the standards of thought) no longer exist." Hannah Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism, p. 474, Harcourt, Inc., New York, 1976.
To which I would add a second, functionally equivalent category: People who are afraid to make such distinctions. [OH]

June 20, 2006
Totalitarianism | Linking the Pieces

Missed Connections


ichiko Kakutani's review of The One Percent Doctrine by Ron Suskind in today's issue of the New York Times (appended) conveys some of Suskind's revelations about the Bush regime but fails to link them to current and historical issues.

Missed Connection 1

In the first paragraph she quotes Suskind's paraphrase of Vice President Cheney:

If there was even a 1 percent chance of terrorists getting a weapon of mass destruction… the United States must act as if it were a certainty.

Since the Bush regime was doing its best to promote the belief that the "if" condition in this statement was in fact true, Cheney was simply exploiting the shortest path to dictatorial power, namely fear. But how did this readily exploitable fear come into existence? Given the consequences for the US and the world, this is hardly a question to be casually bypassed.

J. Robert Oppenheimer, 1904-1967

During WW2, the scientific director of the US project to develop an atomic bomb was the physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer. In the immediate postwar era, Oppenheimer became the chief advisor to the newly created Atomic Energy Commission. In this position he was an advocate of international control of atomic weapons and their further development. With his enormous reputation as the "father of the atomic bomb" he commanded an international audience for his views. His opponents, the hawks of the time, believed they had, in the US monopoly of atomic weapons that then existed, the key to defeating the Soviet Union. Perceiving that they were about to lose the debate, the hawks removed Oppenheimer from active participation by having his security clearance administratively terminated in 1954. This ended the debate and removed all constraints on further development of these weapons and, consequently, their natural proliferation as predicted by the advocates of internationalization.

In 2003 Mohammed El Baradei, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, proposed "that all production and processing of weapon-usable material be under international control." ("A negotiated solution to the Iranian nuclear crisis is within reach," Noam Chomsky, ZNet, June 19, 2006.) Two generations after Oppenheimer's proposal was forcibly squelched, the hawks are still in control: The Bush regime rejected the El Baradei proposal. And so we have a hawk invoking a threat of his own creation in order to centralize dictatorial power in his hands and to facilitate the creation of a totalitarian state.

That's one connection the reviewer missed.

Missed Connection 2

Hannah Arendt, 1906-1975

Next, the reviewer informs us of the author's introduction of the concepts of "invisibles" and "notables" in the US state apparatus. The former are the anonymous intelligence and police agents while the latter are the officials whose names are publicly known. This concept has an interesting point of contact with Hannah Arendt's [see note below] description of totalitarianism. She argues that in traditional forms of centralized state power such as monarchies, tyrannies, and dictatorships the police function as a more or less corrupt "state within a state," while in a state which has passed over into totalitarianism the distinction between the police and state becomes blurred and the police become the state. The following are her words from The Origins of Totalitarianism, pp. 380-381:
It is because of the affinity between the functioning of a secret society of conspirators and of the secret police organized to combat it that totalitarian regimes, based on the fiction of global conspiracy and aiming at global rule, eventually concentrate all power in the hands of the police.

From the viewpoint of an organization which functions according to the principle that whoever is not included is excluded, whoever is not with me is against me, the world at large loses all the nuances, differentiations, and pluralistic aspects which had in any event become confusing and unbearable to the masses who had lost their place and their orientation in it. [My emphasis.]

With the Bush regime's interpretation of the President's Commander in Chief role as empowering him to ignore any law which he believes limits his ability to defend the United States, Bush sees himself as the head of a vast coercive apparatus which functions as a world police force. In this role the world's nuances vanish and he sees it as a place where, as he has said, you are "either with us or against us."

The reviewer's quotations from the book that the First Data Corporation and the NSA, respectively, were authorized by Bush to monitor all credit card transactions and telephone records merely show the depth of surveillance available to the new totalitarianism. And from other sources we know that he also authorized the CIA to abduct and torture people and to create a "detention center" in Guantanamo Bay from which the only escape is suicide. In Arendt's theory such centers are the sine qua non of totalitarianism. She writes (ibid. p. 440):

[Concentration camps] emerge for the first time during the Boer War, at the beginning of the [20th] century, and continued to be used in South Africa as well as India for "undesirable elements"; here, too, we first find the term "protective custody" which was later adopted by the Third Reich. These camps correspond in many respects to the concentration camps at the beginning of totalitarian rule; they were used for "suspects" whose offenses could not be proved and who could not be sentenced by ordinary process of law. All this clearly points to totalitarian methods of domination;…[My emphasis.]

What common sense and "normal people" refuse to believe is that everything is possible. We attempt to understand elements in present or recollected experience that simply surpass our powers of understanding. We attempt to classify as criminal a thing which, as we all feel, no such category was ever intended to cover.

That's another connection the reviewer missed.

Missed Connection 3

Further along in the review, Kakutani refers to Suskind's revelation that 9/11, among many other things, enabled the top of the Bush administration to impose "message discipline" on the remainder of the government. That's an excellent and creative translation for what the Third Reich called gleichschaltung, which my German-English dictionary defines as "enforced conformity."

This is a minor, but interesting point which the reviewer could have pointed out.

Missed Connection 4

The remainder of the review covers Bush's well known ignorance of issues, giving him the useful attribute of "self-deniability," and former CIA director George Tenet's willingness to take a fall for his boss. The latter is the ritual sacrifice demanded to make the "failure of intelligence" defense of the President credible to the public. The backside of this counterfeit coin is that "intelligence" is expected to be accurate. The reviewer might have quoted Gabriel Kolko's comment on this subject (Intelligence for What: The Vietnam War Reconsidered, Counterpunch, Nov. 8, 2003.):

The state's intelligence mechanisms are constrained by a larger structural and ideological environment and by the inherent irrationality of a foreign policy which foredooms any effort to base action on informed insight to a chimera. Even when the insight is exact, and knowledge is far greater than ignorance, political and social boundaries usually place decisive limits on the application of 'rationality' to actions. The political and ideological imperatives and interests define the nature of 'relevant' truths.

Intelligence's pretension to being objective is a hoax because those parts of it that do not reconfirm the power structure's interests and predetermined policies are ignored and discarded. There are innumerable reasons we must conclude this. Even more important is the entire experience with Iraq and the U.S.' failed confrontation with the Islamic world for over half a century. To expect the U.S. to behave other than as it has is to cultivate serious illusions and delude oneself. The system, in a word, is irrational. We saw it in Vietnam and we are seeing it today in Iraq.

Kakutani, in a parenthetical remark, informs the reader that when the CIA didn't produce the story the Bush regime wanted to justify its programmed invasion of Iraq it created a separate analytical unit headed by Douglas Feith to do so.

What she doesn't tell the reader is that Feith is a notorious conduit for Israeli influence over US mideast policy whose highest priority at the time was to have the US invade Iraq. This is documented in a monograph, The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy, published in March of this year by John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, professors at the University of Chicago and Harvard, respectively.


Was this and the material presented above ignored for lack of space, or because it conflicted with the desired spin of the review, or because the knowledge imparted might have lifted its readers out of the desired category of "ideal subject for totalitarian rule?"


Note: Hannah Arendt was a German Jew born in Koenigsberg, East Prussia (now Kaliningrad, Russia). She was a precocious student of the German philosopher Martin Heidegger and later Karl Jaspers, under whose guidance she earned her doctorate. She was a committed Zionist since the late 1920's and emigrated to France when the Nazis came to power in 1933. She was briefly interned in France as an enemy alien when WW2 began in 1939. In 1941 she emigrated to the US with her husband Heinrich Bluecher. She held teaching positions at many US universities, but primarily at the New School for Social Research in NY. She was a prolific writer and lecturer, and the recipient of numerous awards. Her most controversial work was Eichmann in Jerusalem, Viking Press, New York, 1963, which grew out of her reportage of the 1961 trial of Adolf Eichmann in Israel for the New Yorker magazine. She wrote The Origins of Totalitarianism between 1945 and 1950 and it was first published by Harcourt, Brace & Co., New York, 1951. It has gone through three editions. My page numbers refer to the paperback "Harvest Book" edition published by Harcourt, Inc.

June 20, 2006
Books of The Times | 'The One Percent Doctrine'

Personality, Ideology and Bush's Terror Wars


The title of Ron Suskind's riveting new book, "The One Percent Doctrine," refers to an operating principle that he says Vice President Dick Cheney articulated shortly after 9/11: in Mr. Suskind's words, "if there was even a 1 percent chance of terrorists getting a weapon of mass destruction — and there has been a small probability of such an occurrence for some time — the United States must now act as if it were a certainty." He quotes Mr. Cheney saying that it's not about "our analysis," it's about "our response," and argues that this conviction effectively sidelines the traditional policymaking process of analysis and debate, making suspicion, not evidence, the new threshold for action.

Mr. Suskind's book — which appears to have been written with wide access to the former director of the Central Intelligence Agency, George Tenet, as well as to other C.I.A. officials and a host of sources at the F.B.I., and in the State, Defense and Treasury Departments — is sure to be as talked about as his "Price of Loyalty" (2004) and the former counterterrorism czar Richard A. Clarke's "Against All Enemies" (2004).

The book, which focuses on the 2001 to 2004 period, not only sheds new light on the Bush White House's strategic thinking and its doctrine of pre-emptive action, but also underscores the roles that personality and ideology played in shaping the administration's decision to go to war in Iraq. It describes how poorly prepared homeland security was (and is) for another terrorist attack, and looks at a series of episodes in the war on terror that often found the "invisibles," who run intelligence and enforcement operations on the ground, at odds with the "notables," who head the government.

In fleshing out key relationships among administration members — most notably, between Mr. Cheney and Mr. Bush, Mr. Bush and Mr. Tenet, and Mr. Tenet and Condoleezza Rice, then the national security adviser — it adds some big, revealing chunks to the evolving jigsaw-puzzle portrait of this White House and its modus operandi, while also giving the reader some up close and personal looks at the government's day-to-day operations in the war on terror.

In "The One Percent Doctrine," Mr. Suskind discloses that First Data Corporation — one of the world's largest processors of credit card transactions and the parent company of Western Union — began cooperating with the F.B.I. in the wake of 9/11, providing information on financial transactions and wire transfers from around the world. The huge data-gathering operation in some respects complemented the National Security Agency's domestic surveillance program (secretly authorized by Mr. Bush months after the Sept. 11 attacks), which monitored specific conversations as well as combed through large volumes of phone and Internet traffic in search of patterns that might lead to terrorism suspects.

Despite initial misgivings on the part of Western Union executives, Mr. Suskind reports, the company also worked with the C.I.A. and provided real-time information on financial transactions as they occurred.

Mr. Suskind's book also reveals that Qaeda operatives had designed a delivery system (which they called a "mubtakkar") for a lethal gas, and that the United States government had a Qaeda source who said that plans for a hydrogen cyanide attack on New York City's subway system were well under way in early 2003, but the attack was called off — for reasons that remain unclear — by Osama bin Laden's deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri. The book also reports that Al Qaeda had produced "extremely virulent" anthrax in Afghanistan before 9/11, which "could be easily reproduced to create a quantity that could be readily weaponized."

Just as disturbing as Al Qaeda's plans and capabilities are the descriptions of the Bush administration's handling of the war on terror and its willful determination to go to war against Iraq. That war, according to the author's sources who attended National Security Council briefings in 2002, was primarily waged "to make an example" of Saddam Hussein, to "create a demonstration model to guide the behavior of anyone with the temerity to acquire destructive weapons or, in any way, flout the authority of the United States."

"The One Percent Doctrine" amplifies an emerging portrait of the administration (depicted in a flurry of recent books by authors as disparate as the Reagan administration economist Bruce Bartlett and the former Coalition Provisional Authority adviser Larry Diamond) as one eager to circumvent traditional processes of policy development and policy review, and determined to use experts (whether in the C.I.A., the Treasury Department or the military) not to help formulate policy, but simply to sell predetermined initiatives to the American public.

Mr. Suskind writes that the war on terror gave the president and vice president "vast, creative prerogatives": "to do what they want, when they want to, for whatever reason they decide" and to "create whatever reality was convenient." The potent wartime authority granted the White House in the wake of 9/11, he says, dovetailed with the administration's pre-9/11 desire to amp up executive power (diminished, Mr. Cheney and others believed, by Watergate) and to impose "message discipline" on government staffers.

"The public, and Congress, acquiesced," Mr. Suskind notes, "with little real resistance, to a 'need to know' status — told only what they needed to know, with that determination made exclusively, and narrowly, by the White House."

Within the government, he goes on, there was frequent frustration with the White House's hermetic decision-making style. "Voicing desire for a more traditional, transparent policy process," he writes, "prompted accusations of disloyalty," and "issues argued, often vociferously, at the level of deputies and principals rarely seemed to go upstream in their fullest form to the president's desk, and if they did, it was often after Bush seemed to have already made up his mind based on what was so often cited as his 'instinct' or 'gut.' "

This book augments the portrait of Mr. Bush as an incurious and curiously uninformed executive that Mr. Suskind earlier set out in "The Price of Loyalty" and in a series of magazine articles on the president and key aides. In "The One Percent Doctrine," he writes that Mr. Cheney's nickname inside the C.I.A. was Edgar (as in Edgar Bergen), casting Mr. Bush in the puppet role of Charlie McCarthy, and cites one instance after another in which the president was not fully briefed (or had failed to read the basic paperwork) about a crucial situation.

During a November 2001 session with the president, Mr. Suskind recounts, a C.I.A. briefer realized that the Pentagon had not told Mr. Bush of the C.I.A.'s urgent concern that Osama bin Laden might escape from the Tora Bora area of Afghanistan (as he indeed later did) if United States reinforcements were not promptly sent in. And several months later, he says, attendees at a meeting between Mr. Bush and the Saudis discovered after the fact that an important packet laying out the Saudis' views about the Israeli-Palestinian situation had been diverted to the vice president's office and never reached the president.

Keeping information away from the president, Mr. Suskind argues, was a calculated White House strategy that gave Mr. Bush "plausible deniability" from Mr. Cheney's point of view, and that perfectly meshed with the commander in chief's own impatience with policy details. Suggesting that Mr. Bush deliberately did not read the full National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq, which was delivered to the White House in the fall of 2002, Mr. Suskind writes: "Keeping certain knowledge from Bush — much of it shrouded, as well, by classification — meant that the president, whose each word circles the globe, could advance various strategies by saying whatever was needed. He could essentially be 'deniable' about his own statements."

"Whether Cheney's innovations were tailored to match Bush's inclinations, or vice versa, is almost immaterial," Mr. Suskind continues. "It was a firm fit. Under this strategic model, reading the entire N.I.E. would be problematic for Bush: it could hem in the president's rhetoric, a key weapon in the march to war. He would know too much."

As for Mr. Tenet, this book provides a nuanced portrait of a man with "colliding loyalties — to the president, who could have fired him after 9/11 but didn't; and to his analysts, whom he was institutionally and emotionally committed to defend." It would become an increasingly untenable position, as the White House grew more and more impatient with the C.I.A.'s reluctance to supply readily the sort of intelligence it wanted. (A Pentagon unit headed by Douglas Feith was set up as an alternative to the C.I.A., to provide, in Mr. Suskind's words, "intelligence on demand" to both Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and the office of the vice president.)

While many C.I.A. analysts were deeply skeptical of the imminent danger posed by Mr. Hussein and simultaneously worried about the fallout of a possible invasion, the C.I.A., paradoxically enough, would become a favorite scapegoat for the administration's decision to go to war against Iraq, thanks in no small measure to Mr. Tenet's remark (quoted in Bob Woodward's 2004 book "Plan of Attack") that the existence of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction was a "slam dunk." In this volume Mr. Suskind reports that Mr. Tenet says he does not remember uttering those famous words: "Doesn't dispute it. Just doesn't remember it."

Mr. Suskind credits Mr. Tenet with deftly using his personal bonds with "key conditional partners" in the war on terror, from President Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan to King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia. He depicts the former C.I.A. director as frequently being made by the White House "to take the fall" for his superiors, on matters including the administration's handling of prewar intelligence to the 16 disputed words in the president's State of the Union address, regarding Iraq's supposed efforts to obtain uranium from Africa. Because it was Mr. Tenet "who brought analysis up the chain from the C.I.A.," Mr. Suskind writes, he "was best positioned to assume blame. And Rice was adept at laying it on Tenet."

At the same time, Mr. Suskind suggests that Mr. Tenet acted as a kind of White House enabler: he writes that in the wake of 9/11, Mr. Tenet felt a "mix of insecurity and gratitude" vis-ΰ-vis George W. Bush, and that eager to please his boss, he repeatedly pushed C.I.A. staff members to come up with evidence that might support the president's public statements.

In the days after 9/11 Mr. Bush defended the embattled C.I.A. chief to angry congressmen, and at that point, Mr. Suskind writes: "George Tenet would do anything his President asked. Anything. And George W. Bush knew it."