Spookism: A dissent.

Isn’t the fact that so many in the CIA are telling the media that only one of theirs counts as a legitimate boss the single best reason for appointing from outside? The same goes for the military, in fact.

Isn’t the fact that so many in the CIA are telling a receptive Washington press that only one of their own counts as a legitimate boss the single best reason for appointing a Director from outside? Last I checked, the metric for choosing the leaders of the State was supposed to be votes, not kills.

A skeptic might ask whether I’d also prefer that Secretaries of Defense lack military experience. Actually, yes. Such a norm should be seriously considered, now that Vietnam is long enough past that the norm would rule out few qualified candidates (almost no women and a shrinking proportion of men).

I have a dream that someday a Secretary of Defense who’s never worn a uniform will seem no more exceptional than a Secretary of State who’s never been in the Foreign Service. Why does the former seem odder? Only because of the unjustified moral and psychic status that soldiering–and in some quarters, it seems, spying–are able to command over all other forms of government service. This is nothing more than militarism, and its strange offshoot, spookism. Let’s start saying no to both.

Update: Oops. Reader “Alex R” diplomatically but devastatingly points out something about the SecDef:

I agree with your comments about the CIA director, but I’m a bit puzzled by the remarks about whether the Secretary of Defense should have military experience. In fact, it is not at all uncommon for the US Secretary of Defense not to have served in the military.

Starting somewhat arbitrarily with James Schlesinger under Nixon and Ford, the first Secretary of Defense too young to have served in World War II, there have been 10 different Defense secretaries, counting Rumsfeld only once even though he served twice. Of these, half — Schlesinger, Harold Brown, Dick Cheney (who somewhat famously had “other priorities” than military service as seen by his numerous draft deferments), William Perry, and William Cohen — had no military service, at least that I could see on their official DoD bios (see http://www.defenselink.mil/specials/secdef_histories/ ). The others all served for less than 4 years.

Also, notably, even those with (commissioned) military service history are required by law to have been inactive for at least 10 years — so the presumption *against* direct military ties for the Defense secretary are actually somewhat strong. Of course, this all only supports your argument about the CIA director, with which, as I said, I agree.

I wasn’t surprised to hear that few Secretaries of Defense have served in the military for more than four years (that’s normal for draftees), but I was very surprised at the facts about how many never wore a uniform at all. Perhaps my memory had transformed ideological disputes (e.g. the Clinton-era military’s quasi-insubordination) into facts; after all, when Les Aspin was being ignored by the military he was still a civilian. And of course, many CIA directors have also been from outside the intelligence community; there seems little correlation between that and success.

Of course, the correction in the end only makes the original argument stronger. Secretaries of Defense aren’t expected to have served as soldiers. Why should CIA directors be expected to have served as analysts or spies?

And just to clarify; I’m not denying for a minute that lower-level CIA appointees should have detailed organizational and technical experience–just that this means that the person on top should share the experience and worldview of field agents. Only the latter is spookism and is an antonym of civilian control. And if this piece by Jeff Stein (h/t: I forgot, sorry) is right, there seems in the reaction to Panetta to be a clear distinction between spookism and concerns with management expertise: former civilian CIA managers favor Panetta.

Author: Andrew Sabl

Andrew Sabl, a political theorist, is Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Toronto. He is the author of Ruling Passions: Political Offices and Democratic Ethics and Hume’s Politics: Coordination and Crisis in the History of England, both from Princeton University Press. His research interests include political ethics, liberal and democratic theory, toleration, the work of David Hume, and the realist school of contemporary political thought. He is currently finishing a book for Harvard University Press titled The Uses of Hypocrisy: An Essay on Toleration. He divides his time between Toronto and Brooklyn.