The Sudden Martyrdom of the Government Whistleblower
Few see the irony in the corporate mainstream media’s love affair with the anonymous whistleblower in President Trump’s alleged Ukraine-gate affair. Yet everyone should.
The whole impeachment charade, and that’s what it is, rests on the paradoxical and ahistorical assertions that 1) the president’s phone call with Ukraine’s leader is Trump’s worst crime, and 2) the “liberal” press has always supported government whistleblowers. Both are absurd claims, though fitting for this partisan political moment.
The inconvenient reality is that Trump and both his predecessors have committed far worse crimes against the Constitution by engaging in illegal wars. Certainly this is more serious than the shady Ukraine/Biden incident. And the mainstream media has a rather poor track record when it comes to whistleblowers, often demonizing leakers who expose nefarious government actions.
The only reason the Left—which historically has distrusted U.S. intelligence activities—has canonized this anonymous CIA whistleblower is that he or she, and the entire clandestine apparatus, has implicated Trump, the reflexive archenemy of the liberal elite. Trump’s actual crime, contrary to the prevailing yarn, was not his overriding of Congress on war policies (which he largely copied from Obama and Bush II), but that he dared to attack a longtime Democratic insider: Joe Biden.
Sure, Trump’s apparent threat to use aid as a cudgel to pressure the Ukrainian president to investigate Biden, and his son Hunter, is a serious matter. Far be it for me, or anyone else, to dispute that. Whether that meets the threshold for impeachment is debatable—and by the way, Hunter Biden’s $50,000 a month, unqualified position on a foreign corporate gas company’s board while his father was vice president doesn’t exactly pass the smell test either. But I’ll table that for now.
Notice that the Democratic leadership in Congress has declined to investigate the fact that this president, and others before him, overrode congressional authority to wage all sorts of military operations outside the Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) passed after 9/11, including the current assistance we are giving Saudi Arabia in its attacks on Yemen.
President Obama, for example, dropped 26,171 bombs on at least seven countries using an AUMF that has been extended well beyond those who attacked America on 9/11. He even executed American citizens overseas without due process. Meanwhile, Trump abets legitimate war crimes in Yemen to the tune of 100,000-plus dead—without evident remorse. But Obama started that war, providing U.S. aerial refueling, targeting support, and deadly munitions to the Saudis back in 2015. So the Democratic leadership stands down on the issue of Yemen, not wanting to implicate their hero in the process of impeaching The Donald.
Mainstream liberal hypocrisy runs even deeper, unfortunately. I’m just old enough to remember when the Left railed against the CIA, NSA, and spooks in general. And rightfully so. That, however, was before Mr. Trump shocked coastal elites and got himself elected president of their America. It was impressive watching media and Democratic insiders immediately turn on a dime. Suddenly every Obama- and Bush-era national security staffer and intelligence super-sleuth—John Brennan, James Clapper, Michael Hayden, etc.— was regularly appearing on CNN and MSNBC to attack Trump and pine for the status quo of U.S. military hyper-interventionism. It was as though all their sins—mass surveillance, drone assassination, illegal rendition, torture—had been collectively pushed down the memory hole, the entire intel apparatus born again as agents of truth and honor. The whole masquerade was bizarre, and beyond duplicitous.
The final insult was the recent canonization of the anonymous Ukraine-gate whistleblower(s). Even the language is instructive. They aren’t “leakers,” “traitors,” or “criminals,” but whistleblowers, surging with moral courage and exposing ostensibly unthinkable presidential wrongdoing. That’s funny: where were these folks when other, far more profound whistleblowers uncovered criminality during the Bush and Obama years? Either crickets or pejorative attacks were all they proffered back then.
Edward Snowden exposed the most extensive illegal domestic surveillance system in the history of man, a genuine “hacker state.” He was demonized, labeled treasonous, and forced to flee to Hong Kong and then Moscow. Chelsea Manning unmasked serious war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan and proved that senior Pentagon officials and generals had lied about the Iraq civil war as it unfolded. Her thanks was one of the longest federal prison sentences for a government leaker in American history. Meanwhile, Obama utilized the archaic 1917 Espionage Act to prosecute more whistleblowers than all previous presidents combined. The liberal press and most Democratic legislators barely made a peep. Barack was their guy, one of their own—the “leakers” must have been in the wrong, enemies, so to speak, of the people.
So while Trump is by no means without serious flaws, the Beltway elites and media personalities stuffing impeachment down our throats are hypocritical and dishonest enough to make one believe in a “deep state.” Ultimately it will amount to nothing. Each side remains entrenched. Either the Dem elites will hand Trump a second term with this impeachment charade, or, maybe just as likely, President Biden will take the helm. When he does, whistleblowers will revert, once again, to being traitors.
Danny Sjursen is a retired U.S. Army Major whose writing has appeared in The American Conservative, Harper’s, the Los Angeles Times, The Nation and Tom Dispatch. He served combat tours with reconnaissance units in Iraq and Afghanistan and later taught history at his alma mater, West Point. He is the author of a memoir and critical analysis of the Iraq war, Ghostriders of Baghdad: Soldiers, Civilians, and the Myth of the Surge. Follow him on Twitter @SkepticalVet.