How Partisan Opportunism is Eroding Civilian Control Over National Security

Recently, the Obama administration apparently cooperated with reporters working on a story about the Stuxnet virus inflicted on Iran, essentially confirming that the United States is now launching cyberattacks against other countries. The blowback from this has been immense, with even senior Senate Democrats attacking the leak as reckless and harmful to the interests of the United States. (Hat tip: Instapundit.)

This follows after an earlier episode in which the Obama team claimed credit for stopping the latest underwear-bomber plot in Yemen, antagonizing British intelligence and blowing the cover of at least one agent who had managed to infiltrate al-Qaida. In general, the Obama team seems to have utterly ignored the maxim about loose lips sinking ships.

The partisan implication of this have been well hashed over by other blogs. What I want to focus on is how such behavior by the civilian leadership will tend to encourage the military and intelligence services to simply stop telling the White House what they are doing.

At the beginning of President Obama's term I had lunch with someone who would know, who told me that the military was being very careful with what information they were giving the White House, until they could verify that he could be trusted. The reasoning is simple: if a politician is going to reveal all of your secrets for personal gain, then your duty to the civilian leadership may well be outweighed by your larger duty to the personnel you command, the objectives of your mission, and the greater interests of the United States as a whole. (Something like, "We had to deceive the village in order to save it.")

So now that President Obama is getting desperate, in the face of an electoral defeat that seems more and more likely as time goes on, the national security establishment is going to be mighty tempted to cut the White House out of the loop altogether for anything important. In the short term I can't blame them; the danger is that for the long term, this kind of behavior could well lead to the defense establishment forming its own independent policy, free of civilian oversight. (More so than they already do, of course.)

This is why public-spirited politicians generally don't shoot their mouth off about national-security secrets. President Obama is doing real damage to the authority of the Presidency, and our elected government in general.

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