Establishment Washington Unifies Against Prosecutions

The Washington Post's David Ignatius today does what he does best: serve
as the spokesman for the Washington establishment's most conventional
wisdom in a way that really illuminates what it is:

The Washington Post's David Ignatius today does what he does best: serve
as the spokesman for the Washington establishment's most conventional
wisdom in a way that really illuminates what it is:

underscore the message, Obama indicated that he would oppose
retrospective investigations of wrongdoing by the CIA and other
agencies, arguing: "When it comes to national security, what we have to
focus on is getting things right in the future, as opposed [to] looking
at what we got wrong in the past." This is the kind of realism that
will disappoint liberal score-settlers, but it makes clear that Obama has a grim appreciation of the dangers America still faces from al-Qaeda and its allies.

word "liberal" has undergone a remarkable transformation over the last
eight years. All that has been necessary to qualify is a belief in
such radical, exotic and fringe-leftist concepts as search warrants
before the Government can eavesdrop on our communications; due process
before the state can encage people for life; adherence to decades-old
Geneva Conventions restrictions which post-World-War-II America led the
way in implementing; and the need for an actual, imminent threat from
another country before we bomb, invade, occupy and destroy it.

added to the pantheon of "liberal" dogma is the shrill, ideological
belief that high government officials must abide by our laws and should
be treated like any other citizen when they break them. To believe that
now makes you not just a "liberal," but worse: a "liberal
score-settler." Apparently, one can attain the glorious status of
being a moderate, a centrist, a high-minded independent only if one
believes that high political officials (and our most powerful
industries, such as the telecoms) should be able to break numerous
laws (i.e.: commit felonies), openly admit that they've done
so, and then be immunized from all consequences. That's how our
ideological spectrum is now defined.

* * * * *

The more
important development highlighted by Ignatius' name-calling is how
important it has obviously become to establishment media and political
figures to vigorously argue against investigations and prosecutions for
Bush crimes and even to rehabilitate Bush officials as well-intentioned leaders who, at worst, went a little overboard in protecting us. Digby raised this question the other day: given that there is virtual unanimity
among our political and media elites that we do not and should not hold
American political officials accountable when they break the law and
(especially) when they commit war crimes -- indeed, outside of civil
liberties groups and a few political advocates here and there, it's
virtually impossible to find anyone advocating that Bush officials
should be criminally investigated -- why has it become such a priority
for establishment figures to defend Bush officials and urge that there
be no prosecutions? As Digby put it:

beginning to wonder if there isn't more to all this than is obvious. I
don't honestly think anyone wants to deal with the torture regime, and
it doesn't seem to me that there is a huge public clamor for it. For
most people, it's probably enough that the president has promised to
end the policy. So, I'm a little bit surprised that it remains so
prominent on the radar screen. Something doesn't scan.

I'm not sure I know the answer exactly, but there seems rather clearly to be two primary factors at play:

Bush officials didn't commit these crimes by themselves. Virtually the
entire Washington establishment supported or at least enabled most of
it. It isn't merely that leading Congressional Democrats were, to one
degree or another, complicit in these acts and are therefore hamstrung
in investigating crimes of which they were aware and did nothing to
stop, though that is true. The enabling of all of this extends far beyond the leadership of the two parties.

As confirmed accounts emerged years ago
of chronic presidential lawbreaking, warrantless eavesdropping,
systematic torture, rendition, "black site" prisons, corruption in
every realm, and all sorts of other dark crimes, where were journalists
and other opinion-making elites? Very few of them with any significant
platform can point to anything they did or said to oppose or stop any
of it -- and they know that. Many of them, even when much of this
became conclusively proven, were still explicitly praising Bush
officials. Most of them supported the underlying enabling policies
(Guantanamo and the permanent state of war in Iraq and "on terror"),
and then cheered on laws -- the Military Commissions Act and
the FISA Amendments Act -- designed to legalize these activities and
retroactively immunize the lawbreakers and war criminals from

So when these media and political elites are
defending Bush officials, mitigating their crimes, and arguing that
they shouldn't be held accountable, they're actually defending themselves. Just
as Nancy Pelosi and Jay Rockefeller can't possibly demand
investigations for crimes in which they were complicit, media stars
can't possibly condemn acts which they supported or, at the very best,
towards which they turned a blissfully blind eye. They can't indict
Bush officials for what they did because to do so would be to indict
themselves. Bush officials need to be exonerated, or at least have
their crimes forgotten (look to the future and ignore the past, they all chime in unison), so that their own involvement in it will also be cleansed and then forgotten.

and quite relatedly, is that establishment elites have, by definition,
a vested interest in glorifying and protecting the Washington
establishment. It's perfectly fine to have a President who is inept or
even somewhat corrupt. A titillating, tawdry sex scandal is also fun, even desirable, as that keeps entertainment levels high. That's all just part of the political cycle.

to acknowledge that our highest political officials are felons (which
is what people are, by definition, who break our laws) or war
criminals (which is what people are, by definition, who violate the
laws of war) is to threaten the system of power which, above all else,
they are desperate to maintain, as it is their role within it as royal
court spokespeople that provides them with their access, prominence,
wealth and self-esteem. Their prime mandate is to protect and defend
establishment Washington -- most media figures are integrals parts of
that establishment, not outside of it -- and that means, above all
else, attacking anyone who would dare suggest that the establishment
has been rotten, criminal and evil at its core.

In a typically superb essay -- entitled "Flushing the Cheney Administration Down the Memory Hole"
-- Billmon compares the process currently underway to how adept
the Soviets were at simply erasing embarrassing and unpleasant episodes
from their history:

It shows just how far the system -- specifically, in this case, the Beltway political press -- has wandered from reality.

can see this in just about all of the transition coverage. Reporters
(like the ones responsible for the journalistic abomination above) and
columnists and pundits are busy cranking out the usual lame duck legacy
stories, as if this were the "normal" end of a "normal" presidency,
instead of the concluding chapter of a national tragedy.

is just a yawning disconnect between the nature of the crimes allegedly
committed (and, in many cases, essentially admitted): waging aggressive
war, torture, secret prisons, illegal wiretapping on a massive scale,
obstruction of justice, perjury, conspiracy -- to the point where it
would probably take an army of Patrick Fitzgeralds and a full-time war
crimes tribunal a year just to catalogue them all -- and how the story
is being treated in the corporate media. . . .

as in late Soviet times, the absurdity of the official story line is
only reinforced by the other systemic failures that surround it: in our
case, financial collapse, plunging asset prices, massive fraud and a
corrupt, sclerotic political system that may be incapable of doing even
the most simple, obvious things (like printing and spending sufficient
quantities of fiat money) to stave off an deeper downward spiral.

being the case, I have a strong hunch the political-media complex (i.e.
the Village) is going to want to move fairly quickly to the post-Soviet
solution I described earlier -- skipping right over the perestroika and
glasnost to get directly to the willful amnesia and live-in-the-moment
materialism of mid-1990s Russia.

Which means, in turn, that
Bush, Cheney, Rummy, Feith and the whole noxious crew are about to get
flushed straight down the memory hole: banished fairly quickly from
public discussion and corporate media coverage -- in much the way the
Iran-Contra scandal (go ahead, Wiki it) was almost immediately
forgotten or ignored once it became clear that the fix was in. America
apparently had its big experiment with truthtelling and reform in the
post-Watergate era, and the experience was so unpleasant that nobody
(or nobody who counts) is willing to go there again.
That would be like expecting the Baby Boomers to start dropping acid again.

political/media establishment isn't desperately and unanimously
fighting against the idea of investigations and prosecutions because
they believe there was nothing done that was so bad. They're fighting
so desperately precisely because they know there was, and they know
they bear much of the culpability for it. They fear disruptions to
their own comforts and prerogatives if any more light is shined on what
happened. The consensus mantra that the only thing that matters is to "make sure it never happens again" is simply the standard cry of every criminal desperate for absolution: I promise not to do it again if you don't punish me this time. And the prevailing Orwellian Beltway battle-cry -- look to the future, not the past! -- is what all political power systems instruct their subjects when they want to flush their own crimes down the memory hole.

* * * * *

Two unrelated notes:

(1) To follow up on the Tom Friedman claim from yesterday that Hamas will lose support if Israel kills enough Palestinian civilians, The New York Times today reports that "The more bombs in Gaza, the more Hamas's support seems to be growing at the expense of the Palestinian Authority." This was the (self-evident) point made so well yesterday by Daniel Larison: if a foreign power drops lots of bombs on a population (to say nothing of stories like this and this),
they tend to become more hostile to those doing the bombing and more
supportive of their own leaders, especially if those leaders vow
retribution against the attackers. As Jonathan Schwarz recalls, Tom Friedman's own demented reaction to the 9/11 attacks illustrates exactly how that dynamic works.

(2) In The Los Angeles Times' Op-Ed "Dustup" feature this week, I'm debating various issues surrounding the last days of the Bush administration with American Spectator Editor W. James Antle II. The first installment (which, truth be told, wasn't all that fascinating) is here; today and tomorrow's sessions will hopefully be more probing.

UPDATE: Throughout the 20th Century, the U.S. has criminally prosecuted people for waterboarding
-- both foreigners who did it and then were prosecuted as war
criminals, and American law enforcement officers who did it and were
prosecuted as ordinary criminals. But now, in America, MSNBC devotes
three hours every day to hearing from someone -- Joe Scarborough -- who
just the other day spent six minutes on television explicitly defending
torture. There is something about this clip that is simultaneously
repulsive and yet fascinatingly illustrative about what the country has

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