Means and Ends: Seymour Hersh and Bin Laden
May 23, 2015
Seymour Hersh’s article on the killing of bin Laden raises the question: Just what happened? That is, what is it that we witnessed? Was it as presented in the movie Zero Dark Thirty or was it as presented by Hersh?
Some have argued that it really doesn’t matter whether Hersh’s account is correct or not insofar as, however it happened, bin Laden is dead, justice has been served, and the ends justifies the means, whatever the means employed. And, of course, the latter “thought,” that the ends justify the means is usually labeled “Machiavellian” and, so, given the “realist” seal of approval.
But what Machiavelli knew, I suspect, is that “the means” become “the ends.” That is, this phenomenon is not utilitarian; at least not in the way we usually understand it. “The means” have a “value,” and not only “a value” but are actually what is valued and “the end” to be achieved.
Assuming this to be true, what was the value of the means used as described by our official organs rather than as described by Hersh? That is, who benefitted and how?
Well, it is safe to say that “Obama” benefitted, with “Obama” representing the authority of the presidency as well as representing this particular president. And, of course, because the presidency benefitted, so too did the much maligned political order/system/regime of which it is a part. And this means that the “ruling class,” those who control this regime, benefitted, and this regardless of whether these people were Republican or Democratic, “liberal” or “conservative.” The ruling class is, of course, “bipartisan” in its attachment to maintaining its power.
And, so, “the means” used can easily be seen as “the end,” viz., the end or goal being that of fortifying the power of the ruling class, the “establishment,” or the “oligarchy.”
[And, I would wager, Pakistan’s collusion in this event served to fortify the power of its ruling class, its “establishment,” its “oligarchy,” an end which required that establishment to pretend to be powerless against the America’s clandestine military. But then if this were so, it would merely be a reflection of the broader relationship between the US and Pakistan, where the latter pretends to necessarily be serving as an ally in the war on terror.]
Confirmation that this was “the event” we witnessed comes by way of two other phenomena. First, the bipartisan acceptance and even praise of “Obama” illustrates that this was an event that fortified the power of the ruling class, that made it look competent and, most importantly, powerful. No fiasco in the desert, ala’ Jimmy Carter during the Iranian hostage crisis. No, in this instance the establishment was “all in,” as perhaps it was not for Carter as he was not of the establishment.
Second, there was the movie, Zero Dark Thirty, made with the help – to put it mildly – of the CIA, which made this event into a Hollywood thriller, starring a somewhat “rogue” bureaucrat who, like Jimmy Stewart in “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,” tenaciously takes on not only bin Laden but also the bureaucracy and its head honchos, who are of course men. Now that is “the right stuff,” no?
The movie, however, helps underline how “means” become “ends,” because it is obvious in the movie – and meant to be – that the female agent, Maya, is a hero doing heroic things. That bin Laden was killed only confirms her heroism and, so, it is her heroism – and by implication the heroism of the ruling class of which she is part – that is the end, just as in our war on terror, our “heroism” in fighting it is the end, and this whether we “win” or not. War is the end, not the means.
And this helps to explain why the powers that be cannot just dismiss Hersh’s account as irrelevant, because after all bin Laden is dead. His death was not the end. And if Hersh’s account is allowed to stand, then the end, the real end, the fortification of the ruling class, fails insofar as we will see that class as little more than what it actually is, a clique that keeps itself in power, not by means of its virtue but merely by pulling strings like puppeteers, its virtue mere “virtu,” ala’ Machiavelli but without his insight into the limitations of “virtu.” One might even say that they “fiddle while Rome burns,” but don’t know they are fiddling or even that Rome is burning. And those like Hersh, who look behind the curtain as it were, must be marginalized.