Wednesday, 14 December 2016

It's not Russia that's making the CIA so angry

Here's what no one is asking about President-elect Donald Trump's scuffle with the Central Intelligence Agency: why didn't the CIA just pull Mr Trump aside for an hour and show him the evidence about Russian cyber manipulation?

Did you have this thought? If not, it's ok. Some people are trained to have it, while some people are trained not to have it.

To see why this is the only question worth asking, look at the recent history of Mr Trump's life. The Clinton campaign knew it was staring down a massive persuasion competition to win the White House, and her campaign didn't have the skills. So it created a false narrative of his connection with Putin and the Siberian nastiness of everything Russian. They ballooned it to wild proportions, trying to connect him to authoritarians and Nazis so Mrs Clinton could win the election.

But Mr Trump won the election. And the first thing he hears from the preeminent intelligence agency which acted on behalf of this false narrative is: we think Russia helped you win the election. If you were Mr Trump, what would be your reaction? More importantly, what would your reaction be if the CIA went not to you to tell you about all this, but went straight to the media, looking for all the world like they were trying to politicise their intelligence? And what would you think if the agency then had the gall to turn around and feign indignation when Mr Trump says he's sceptical?

Washington is not a simple place. The first step is not to believe what you hear in the media because the media is best described as the extended civil service. There are real geopolitical rivalries between nations. No one is disputing that. What people don't seem to realise is that the only game every branch and agency in the US is playing is to win influence over Washington.

Just like in Roman times, generals and senators framed their foreign actions as "quelling a rebellion" in Gaul or "border protection" in Germany. But their every action was about influencing politics back in Rome. In an empire, the only city that matters is the capital. And the US is an empire, whether it wants to admit that or not.

If you can't see the same thing happening in Washington today, then you won't understand why events play out as they do. And you certainly won't understand why you're seeing certain events, but not others. The game in Washington is always about who has access to policy-making power. The Trump vs CIA debacle is actually the oldest game in the Western world - politics vs government. Elected officials barely ever win fights with permanent government officials.

The CIA doesn't trust Mr Trump because he's an outsider. Not a political outsider on the pretend "other side" of the ruling class, but a member of the ruled class. He's not supposed to be there. So he has to be shown his place. The agency used its opening move to call in the media shock troops to prove to him who is boss. You can expect every other agency and department in the Washington to work on him in similar ways.

Mr Trump is not even president yet and he's already being shown the score. If he pays attention, he will learn the weakness of the presidency and how the score will never be in his favour. Then, if he's smart, he will turn over and let the tide carry him. No elected official can swim against the wrenching current of the civil service forever.

It's not pretty to watch, but he will learn his place. Even if he has to do it the hard way.

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