Monday, September 4, 2023

Mark Mazzetti's The Way of the Knife


Mark Mazzetti’s The Way of the Knife

Peter Schultz


            Why is it that proposals to do away with the CIA are met with disbelief, while keeping the CIA, even fortifying it, is treated as utterly rational? In other words, what makes American elites, and the American people just assume the CIA is rational, acceptable, legitimate to an extent that the question of its existence is never or rarely raised? And if raised, why is it treated as an utterly irrational question?


            Mark Mazzetti’s book, The Way of the Knife raises lots of questions about the CIA and how it has operated and how it operates, but he doesn’t raise “the why” question. The result is that Mazzetti blurs or even disappears the deeper issues about the CIA while delving into more superficial ones. For example: Mazzetti takes note of the disagreements over the issue “Whether the CIA or the JSOC would be in charge of secret operations” in particular countries. But this debate assumes (a) that one of them should be in charge and (b) that such secret operations, that is, those in countries the US is not at war with, are legitimate. The assumption that such secret operations are legitimate is never questioned. And, of course, as “the special ops” conducted by al Qaeda on 9/11 illustrated, such special operations should be considered controversial, even illegitimate or evil.


            Mazzetti also focuses on the transition made in how the CIA functions, noting that “Armed drones and targeted killing in general, offered a new direction for a spy agency” away from “the detention-and-interrogation business.” But, again, his analysis skates on the surface of things, lacking the depth that would have been available had he raised the question of the legitimacy of armed drones and targeted killings generally. As enlightening as Mazzetti’s analysis is, it is as superficial as analyses that revolved around the question, What mistakes led the US to make war in Vietnam or Iraq. Analyzing those “mistakes” will not get to the roots of US policies; in fact, such analyses often obscure the deepest assumptions that underlie US policies.


            US foreign policies cannot be understood unless we uncover the deepest assumptions held by American elites and non-elites. Because Mazzetti’s book doesn’t attempt to lay bare those assumptions, despite its insightful analysis of the shortcomings of the CIA as a killing machine, and they are many, the book’s analysis is in the service of the status quo. Some of those shortcomings may be corrected, but fundamental flaws of the CIA and our national security state will continue to corrupt US policies, with dangerous consequences.  

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