Like Dirty Harry said: “A man’s got to know his limitations.” The same can be said for governments. While the United States Federal Government takes an unfair rap that it can’t run anything properly, that’s just not true. Social Security and Medicare are models of efficiency. The National Park system is outstandingly well maintained. Our armed forces are the best trained and most lethal on the planet. Our system of interstate roads is the most extensive anywhere. Even the much-maligned Post Office, in financial trouble recently, does a remarkable job processing and delivering 667 million pieces of mail every day. It’s not like America is some chaotic backwater where nothing gets done properly. For the most part, our government does just fine in doing the things that citizens can reasonably expect of their government.
There are those other areas, however, where the U.S. government is not exactly world class. Take diplomacy, for example. We’ve never been much good at that. Back in the 1920’s, the famous comic and social critic Will Rogers was fond of saying that “America never lost a war or won a peace,” referring to the disastrous Treaty of Versailles that ended World War 1 and pretty much ensured there would be a World War 2. Even though America’s entry into that war was the decisive factor in the victory of the Allies over Germany, President Wilson and our assembled ambassadorial contingent could not convince Britain and especially France to be less rapacious in their peace terms, dooming Germany to crippling poverty and Hitler. America even refused to join the League of Nations, which was Wilson’s idea in the first place and rendered completely irrelevant by our refusal to participate.
Well, we’ve lost some little wars since those days but still have yet to catch up to European diplomats with their centuries of experience and hard-earned realism when it comes to big time diplomacy on the world stage. To our credit, we have not become as vengeful in victory as the Versailles Treaty-era diplomats, but we could have been a little more assertive in preventing the Soviet Union from grabbing half of Eastern Europe following World War 2, setting up a Cold War that cost untold trillions of dollars in a nuclear arms race and terrorized the entire world for almost 50 years. Our diplomats were taken to the cleaners by their Soviet counterparts.
Another thing we’re not so good at is espionage and intelligence gathering. When the same Soviet Union collapsed of is own weight in the early 1990’s, the people our government hired to keep track of these things as their only job read about it in the newspapers the same time as the rest of us did, and were just as dumbfounded. Thats not a good thing, and made us wonder what the CIA (the too-generously named Central Intelligence Agency) was doing with all the dough we paid them out of our hard-earned taxes. And that was 30 years after the CIA fiasco of an operation to retake Cuba from Castro called The Bay of Pigs Invasion that was a miserable failure and a black eye to an agency that had been up to all sorts of similar shenanigans all over South America. Supposedly the Agency was reformed after that, but subsequent South American adventures under President Reagan led to the Iran-Contra Scandal, another beaut of a shiner for our covert intelligence operations.
And guess who trained and armed Osama bin Laden to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan? Bingo, the CIA! How did that brainstorm work out for us on September 11, 2001? Since that time, they have been unable to locate their former client and protege, the tallest man in Afghanistan and an Arab living among the distinctly non-Arab looking ethnic Pashtun people. So at this point, even the CIA started to recognize that they didn’t have much talent for covert operations. Well, no shit Sherlocks! When the dictionary definition of covert is “not openly acknowledged or displayed, unseen,” and your covert operations have been a source of derisive newspaper headlines for decades, you pretty much have to concede that maybe espionage isn’t really your long suit after all.
But you’re the CIA and you’re in a bind here; to catch the monster you helped create before he does even more catastrophic damage than he already has without screwing the pooch big time. For once you really, really don’t want to blow it, but can’t trust anybody in-house not to make matters worse. This would have been a good time to approach the president and tell him, “Hey, maybe there’s some other branch of government you can use for this operation so it doesn’t turn into even more embarrassing headlines, maybe someone who can actually catch this guy and his buddies. We really blew it big time when we had a lot of information on his plans before the attack but forgot to share it with anybody else. My bad.” Only they notice that President Bush The Younger was too busy at the time squandering the unprecedented good will the entire world had showered on America immediately following 9/11 and clearing brush at his Texas ranch. It was full plate time for the Nincompoop-In-Chief so they went back to the the drawing board.
Not wanting to interfere with the massive international diplomacy failures that are a cornerstone of American foreign policy, they decided to hire someone else out of their own pocket (our pockets) to catch bin Laden and his henchmen, figuring maybe they’ll be able to give the president some much-needed good news for a change during a very traumatic time for America, what with us getting so devastatingly attacked and having a nincompoop for a president to boot. So, who do they hire? James Bond maybe? Nero Wolfe, deductive genius? Nah, too expensive and not native-born Americans, but still there was much support for both of them in the agency. After careful consideration in staff meetings of each man’s qualifications and their stellar track records, the fact that they were both fictional characters finally tipped the scales against them. It was decided to hire the Blackwater Handy-Dandy Mercenary & Assassin Company instead, a private army corporation staffed by (you guessed it!) many former CIA operatives.
Well, as it turns out, they might as well have hired the Susquehanna Hat Company or Wiley Coyote’s personal fovorite, The Acme Do-It-Yourself Home Assassination Kit Company. Just like the still-at-large Road Runner, nobody was tracked down and assassinated or captured and brought to justice. Hell, they weren’t even located, when a third grader would tell you to look in Afghanistan and just across the border in Pakistan. Not only that, they listened the president’s boss, Shotgun Dick Cheney, who told them this would our little secret, so let’s keep it on the QT. All those Number 2 men in al Qaeda killed or captured? The Army did that, not even trying to be at all covert or clever about it. In some very public and straightforward operations, they just sort of barged right in, shot the place up and captured whoever wasn’t dead. And they did it for their regular Army wages, not the millions given to the Blackwater Handy-Dandy Mercenary & Assassin Company.
This annoyed the CIA no end since now they were deprived of concocting some convoluted scheme involving guys dressed in black turtlenecks dropping though skylights and popping out of wedding cakes with machine guns and getting the drop on the bad guys. See, there were still a lot of pro-James Bond guys on the planning committee as opposed to Nero Wolfe adherents, who just would have figured out where these guys were and sent his right hand man Archie Goodwin to pick them up while he tended to his orchids, no fun at all. The Army option or the figuring-stuff-out option just weren’t romantic and exciting enough for them so they went ahead with the multi-million dollar mercenary option and got nothing done.
Mercifully, at least the mercenary option didn’t make matters worse. The CIA is managing the making-things-worse option just fine with their Robot Predator Drone air strikes that have killed far more civilians than terrorists, the robots not being overly concerned with the identities of the two-legged living organisms they are programmed to terminate. Both programs have resulted in the requisite negative headlines, once again cementing the CIA’s reputation as the most ham-handed intelligence agency anywhere and the most overt of covert operatives. So, like good old Dirty Harry says, knowing one’s limitations is important, but so is doing something about them. Having a set of diplomats and a spy agency that can’t find their own asses with both hands is getting pretty old and stale. Can’t we bring in some British tutors, who have been doing these things quite successfully for six centuries? Either that or fire everybody in the CIA and replace them with the efficient clerks who run the Social Security Administration. Just add a letter to the Agency and call it CIAO.