In a truly remarkable bit of honesty and candor regarding the U.S. national-security establishment, new Senate minority leader Charles Schumer has accused President-elect Trump of “being really dumb.”
Was Schumer referring to Trump’s ideology, philosophy, or knowledge about economics or foreign policy?
None of the above. According to an article in The Hill, he told Rachel Maddow on her show that Trump was dumb for taking on the CIA and questioning its conclusions regarding Russia.
“Let me tell you, you take on the intelligence community, they have six ways from Sunday at getting back at you…. He’s being really dumb to do this.”
Maddow then asked Schumer what he thought the intelligence community might do to Trump to get back at him.
Schumer’s response was fascinating and revealing. He responded, “I don’t know.”
So, Schumer knows that there are six ways from Sunday for the intelligence community to get back at Trump but then, a few seconds later, can’t enumerate even one of those ways? That makes no sense unless he was a bit scared to go into the details for fear that one of those “six ways from Sunday” might be employed against him.
In any event, Schumer’s point is a good one, even if he is reluctant to clarify it. No president since John F. Kennedy has dared to take on the CIA or the rest of the national security establishment or to operate outside the bounds of permissible parameters within the paradigm of the national-security state.
That might have been because post-JFK presidents just happened to find themselves on the same page as the Pentagon, the CIA, and the NSA.
But another possibility is that the one mentioned by Schumer: They knew that if they opposed the national-security establishment at a fundamental level, they would be subjected to retaliatory measures.
Kennedy had come into office as a standard Cold Warrior and as a supporter of the national-security state system, the totalitarian-like apparatus that was grafted onto America’s federal governmental system after World War II. But after he was set up and betrayed by the CIA with respect to the Bay of Pigs invasion, he was at loggerheads with that agency for the rest of his presidency. After the Bay of Pigs, he vowed to tear the CIA into a thousand pieces and scatter them to the winds. He also fired CIA Director Allen Dulles, who, in a rather unusual twist of fate, would later be appointed to the Warren Commission to investigate Kennedy’s murder.
Kennedy’s antipathy toward the CIA gradually extended to what President Eisenhower had termed the military-industrial complex, especially when it proposed Operation Northwoods, which called for fraudulent terrorist attacks to serve as a pretext for invading Cuba, and when it suggested that Kennedy initiate a surprise nuclear attack on the Soviet Union. (The latter suggestion caused Kennedy to indignantly leave the meeting of the Joint Chiefs of Staff when the suggestion was made and remark to an aide, “And we call ourselves the human race.”
The feeling was mutual. The CIA considered Kennedy to be a traitor for refusing to provide U.S. air support for the CIA’s invaders at the Bay of Pigs. One member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff considered the way Kennedy handled the Cuban Missile Crisis to be the biggest defeat in U.S. history and compared the president’s actions to Neville Chamberlain’s capitulation at Munich in 1938.
After the Cuban Missile Crisis, Kennedy’s war with his national-security establishment got even worse. That’s because Kennedy concluded that the Cold War was bunk, that it should be ended, and that the United States could peacefully coexist with the communist world. That’s when he delivered his famous Peace Speech at American University, which was broadcast all across the Soviet Union. He had failed to consult with the Pentagon or the CIA in preparing the speech. He also entered into a Nuclear Test Ban Treaty with the Soviets, over the fierce objections of his national-security establishment. He also ordered a partial withdrawal of troops from Vietnam and told close associates that he would order a complete withdrawal after defeating Barry Goldwater in the 1964 election. Worst of all, from the standpoint of the national-security establishment, he initiated secret personal negotiations with Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev and Cuban leader Fidel Castro, both of whom, by this time, were on the same page as Kennedy.
But that wasn’t the page that the CIA and the Pentagon were on. They were convinced that Kennedy was surrendering America to the communists. As far as they were concerned, there could never be peaceful coexistence with the communist world. There was only one way that the Cold War could end — by finishing off the Soviet Union once and for all.
It’s worth pointing out that Kennedy’s actions constituted a direct threat to the trillions of dollars in military and intelligence largess that would end up flowing into the coffers of the “defense” industry if the Cold War and hot wars (e.g., Vietnam) were to continue.
Kennedy was fully aware of the danger he faced by taking on such a formidable enemy. He understood precisely what Schumer just pointed out about the national-security establishment — that they have “six ways from Sunday” to retaliate.
One possibility, of course, was a military coup, the same type that the U.S. national-security establishment would initiate in Chile some ten years later to save the country from a democratically elected president who was deemed to be a threat to national security, especially owing to his desire to establish friendly relations with the Soviet Union and Cuba. Kennedy was so concerned about that possibility that he persuaded a friend in Hollywood to turn the novel Seven Days in May into a movie (I highly recommend it—it stars Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas) to serve as a warning to the American people. The movie was an echo of the warning that President Eisenhower had given to the American people in his 1961 Farewell Address, when he pointed out that the military-industrial complex, which was new to the American way of life, posed a grave threat to the freedoms and democratic processes of the people. Also, at the height of the Cuban Missile Crisis, JFK’s brother Bobby told the Russians that there was a grave danger of a U.S. military takeover if the matter wasn’t settled soon.
Another possibility, of course, was assassination, thereby elevating to the president the vice-president, Lyndon Johnson, who just happened to reject Kennedy’s view on the Cold War and who just happened to embrace the Pentagon’s and CIA’s views on the Cold War. Once he assumed the presidency, Johnson, immediately canceled JFK’s plans to withdraw from Vietnam and, working with the Pentagon, came up with the bogus Gulf of Tonkin attack that served as a pretext to expand U.S. involvement in the war. More than 58,000 American men would ultimately die for nothing in Vietnam.
Ever since the Kennedy assassination, no president has dared to tangle with the national-security establishment at a fundamental level. Everyone in Washington knows where the real power of the federal government is centered. (See the excellent book National Security and Double Government by Michael Glennon.) Every president knows that he is expected to operate within the parameters set forth by the national-security establishment and every president since Kennedy has dutifully complied.
Once he assumes the presidency, Donald Trump might be the first president since Kennedy to violate that sacred rule of the national-security establishment. If he does and if he refuses to do what previous presidents have done, it will be interesting to see the outcome. As Sen. Schumer has pointed out, the CIA and other intelligence agencies have “six ways from Sunday” by which to retaliate.