America’s national security and foreign policy establishment — what you might call ‘the deep state’ — has never warmed to Joe Biden.
“I think he [Joe Biden] has been wrong on nearly every major foreign policy and national security issue over the past four decades,” wrote George W. Bush and Barack Obama’s defence secretary, Robert Gates, in his 2014 memoir, ‘Duty’. At the time, Gates’ remarks were interpreted in some quarters as intentionally cutting Biden down in favour of Hillary Clinton, who he boosted in the same book.
“We disagreed, significantly, on Afghanistan,” Gates clarified to Face the Nation in 2019, when the presidential campaign was kicking off. Perhaps most interestingly, Gates, also a former CIA director, remarked: “I think the vice president has some issues with the military.”
As the brass turned against Donald Trump in 2020, Gates clarified in the Wall Street Journal that he long believed Biden “was a man of genuine integrity and character,” while spelling out that he did not feel the same about the 45th President. But the wholesale dumping of the occupant of the Oval Office by almost every major institution in America belied Biden’s longtime, below-the-radar feud with a militarist mind-meld in Washington.
Now President, Biden overruled his generals and his Cabinet to get out of Afghanistan, or as the uber-hawkish senator Lindsey Graham, an ex-Biden friend, put it: the president “ignored sound advice” from the national security establishment and most importantly, “he’s been this way for forty years.”
And on Tuesday, President Biden delivered a speech his predecessor never did: an emboldened “America First” defence of why the United States left Afghanistan. “The decision about Afghanistan isn’t just about Afghanistan,” the president declared. “It’s about ending an era of major military operations to remake other countries.”
Across the river in Northern Virginia, land of the defence contractor, you could hear a pin drop.
The headline in the Washington famous Politico Playbook on Wednesday was crystal clear: “Biden vs. the Blob,” in reference to the coinage of Obama speech writer Ben Rhodes. “The Blob includes Hillary Clinton, Robert Gates and other Iraq-war promoters from both parties who now whine incessantly about the collapse of the American security order in Europe and the Middle East,” Rhodes was said to explain in a notorious New York Times Magazine profile that probably ended his career in government.
‘The Blob,’ and its ally in government, ‘the deep state,’ is a multi-tentacled thing. So far, only crankish Republicans in the defence sphere have demanded scalps from Biden’s political team over the withdrawal from Afghanistan.
Challenging the hidden high command is not exactly unprecedented, but it is rare and startling when the gauntlet is thrown down so forcefully, as Biden did this week. Ex-presidents such as Dwight Eisenhower and Harry Truman sounded the alarm on “the military industrial complex” (in Eisenhower’s farewell address) and the Central Intelligence Agency (as Truman did in a letter to the editor in 1963).
The defence establishment and its adherents have deep pockets, and even deeper relations in the media sphere. It’s been a parade of horribles in mainstream media as of late — great umbrage has been taken by a cast of former officers, national security officials and war on terror intellectuals that the U.S. would change a thing after twenty years.
Democratic defences of the President have been tepid in recent weeks. A Senate candidate told me on Wednesday he pitched himself to the major morning shows, including liberal mainstays like “Morning Joe,” to defend President Biden. The response was ice cold.
So as Biden shuts down one war, it’s clear he’s opened up another: with a dangerous foe at home.