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Control+Freedom+Delete

Do Americans realize their privacy rights have been obliterated?

For a generation of Americans, it is hard to imagine a tragedy more gut-wrenching than the slow-motion horrors we watched on the morning of September 11, 2001. The violation and shock of the planes' impact into the twin towers. The spreading flames and smoke and the desperate souls who plummeted to their deaths rather than face an even more horrifying end in the offices in which they were trapped. And then the crumbling of the towers themselves.

Yet despite the fact that this nightmare still haunts many of us, we have come to learn that the violence done by terrorists that day to the United States and to the world would subsequently be compounded and in many ways exceeded as a consequence of our own responses to the attacks. Because in reaction to the disaster were wrought new disasters, each of which touched more lives and cut us again to the quick, eviscerating crucial elements of who we were or aspired to be.

The invasion of Iraq. The violation of international laws and the public trust that were the prerequisites for that catastrophe. Guantanamo. Government-sanctioned torture. Abu Ghraib. Kill lists. The serial violation of the sovereignty of foreign states in the name of self-defense. Atrocities. Wasted resources. Literally hundreds of thousands of dead and wounded falling in a bloody swath across the Middle East and into South Asia.

Each has amplified the initial losses of 9/11. Each has reaffirmed that the greatest ally of the terrorist is the terrorized victim who becomes a victimizer.

Now, yet again, with the revelations of the surveillance techniques that the U.S. government has embraced in the past decade, we discover yet another casualty of 9/11, yet another piece of stark evidence that those wounds cut so deep that they led us to take leave of our senses and our values and that which is best about America -- indeed, that which is essential to the very ideas on which this country was established.

Democrats and Republicans, Bush and Obama, the public sector and its apparently willing partners in the private sector (some very well compensated, if apparently not well equipped to do their job in the secure manner that was required), all joined together to rationalize away centuries of laws and hard-won personal freedoms.

It is popular among certain cool, tough policy realists to shrug off these recent revelations about the National Security Agency as "old news," "the kind of thing we need to do to protect ourselves," a "cost of doing business in the modern world." How else, they ask, are we to protect ourselves from future attacks?

That such attacks seldom come is not relevant to them. That there are many other and better ways to stop or impede or detect such attacks seems not to matter. Nor apparently do the more important elements of the proper cost-benefit analysis that should have been conducted before the executive branch sought and the Congress approved these intrusive, over-reaching programs.

Because of course, the crucial question to ask is what do we sacrifice when we embrace the kind of pre-emptive, all-encompassing programs for collecting telephone call meta-data or email traffic that have been revealed to be going on for years in post-9/11 America, during the PTSD Era in U.S. policy-making.

In the first instance, we have the utter obliteration of basic and assumed privacy rights that are a foundation of our social order and were a goal of the system our forefathers imagined. Doubt it? What if government officials came to your home and said that they would collect all of your papers and hold onto them for safe-keeping, just in case they needed them in the future. But don't worry, they would offer not so very comfortingly, they wouldn't open the boxes until they had a secret government court order ... sometime, unbeknownst to you. You would and should consider that a gross violation of your rights.

You might also ask why the basic principles that once applied to wire taps -- a judge had to approve a narrowly construed warrant based on specific evidence that eavesdropping was necessary -- had been suspended? Or, if you were somewhat more sophisticated, you would ask why the government made the leap that somehow telephone metadata was not protected under the Fourth Amendment or why emails would be treated differently from phone calls or posted letters. (See Shane Harris' very good piece from today's FP on this subject.) You would be right to ask, of course. How doubly dangerous it is for us not only to break with the past, but to make up new law with enormous (and poorly understood) implications thanks to the quiet, rapid, and secret adoption of new information technologies without adequate forethought or national debate.

Finally, we have failed to ask how these policies will impact our efforts to promote U.S. interests worldwide. Imagine how relieved Xi Jinping and his delegation must have been to learn that President Obama and the other Americans who were going to lecture them in California were on the hot seat for a national surveillance program that would have made any autocrat anywhere jealous.

In this one over-reaction to 9/11 alone we have violated not only our values and the rights of our citizens, we have undercut our international standing and leverage with oppressive regimes worldwide. Whether this has been business as usual is irrelevant. What we should focus on now is how we stop it and force the government once again place our national character and the fundamental rights of Americans and ahead of the expedients offered up by hysterics and their allies among the disconnected and complacent.

LEON NEAL/AFP/Getty Images

David Rothkopf

Donilon's Legacy

Obama's outgoing national security advisor leaves behind a U.S. foreign policy in much better shape than he found it. Can Susan Rice build on his success?

Later today, President Obama will announce that National Security Advisor Thomas Donilon will step down from that post in July and be replaced by current U.N. ambassador Susan Rice. While much of the coverage of the announcement will no doubt focus on Rice's controversial associations with the Benghazi debacle of Sept. 11, 2012, the real story is likely to be whether and how Rice can assume the central and effective role Donilon has played since becoming national security advisor in October 2010.

Donilon has very deliberately pursued his tenure by embracing the style of his most successful predecessor in the job, Brent Scowcroft, who is the only man to have served twice in the post, first for President Gerald Ford and then later for President George H.W. Bush. Like Scowcroft, Donilon has played a low-key but thoughtful, strategic, and activist role. He approached the job studiously, bringing with it perspectives from his time as a top aide to former Secretary of State Warren Christopher, as a campaign and transition advisor to President Obama, and from the first two years of this administration as deputy national security advisor serving under Gen. James Jones. But he also read voraciously and spoke regularly with many of his predecessors in the post, actively seeking out historical models. In a recent conversation with him, he cited Scowcroft as well as the Eisenhower era as an inspiration, with an equal emphasis on providing sound advice to the president and managing the process of developing policy options for the president and then ensuring that they are implemented appropriately by all the relevant agencies of the executive branch.

Donilon has consciously sought to play, as did Scowcroft, the role of honest broker among the many senior national security voices clamoring for the president's ear. And, much as Scowcroft did not shy away from engaging himself in international travel and direct exchanges with officials of other governments, Donilon has played an absolutely central role in relations with a number of key governments worldwide. Notably, he has effectively been the Obama team's lead interlocutor on many issues with China, most recently visiting that country in preparation for Obama's upcoming California meetings with Chinese President Xi Jinping. He has also engaged personally at the head-of-state or government level with Russia, Israel, and the Gulf states as part of his core portfolio.

The trick that Donilon achieved that may be a challenge for Rice is that he did so while carefully remaining in the background whenever possible. While he sat directly at Obama's side in National Security Council meetings, he never sought cabinet rank -- as have some of his predecessors -- explaining that he felt it would be easier to do his job if he were not seen as a rival by other top national security policymakers. He also instituted regular weekly meetings with the secretaries of state and defense and with the leadership of the intelligence community, including the heads and deputies from the CIA, the Directorate of National Intelligence, and the Defense Intelligence Agency. And he consulted not only with them: His policy process included, I'm told, more than 1,000 Deputies Committee meetings, at which key policy choices were debated by senior officials in preparation for meetings of the NSC principals. Those policy processes were rigorous as were the processes within meetings chaired by Donilon, which often began with him enumerating the handful of key administration objectives that needed to be served.

Under Donilon not only did the influence of the NSC grow, so too did its size. Today, according to its own estimate, the National Security Staff is over 370, its biggest in history. Donilon is unapologetic about the growth, arguing that the staff needs to be that big to support the needs of the president.

Ultimately, however, the true measure of a national security advisor is not the size of the National Security Staff or the number of meetings or even the level of his or her active interaction with foreign leaders, it is the nature and success of the policies initiated. It is by this measure that in my estimation as a historian of the NSC Donilon will be ranked as one of the most successful individuals to have served in that capacity. Because under Donilon -- and during the period of his very considerable influence as the principal deputy to Jones -- there took place a very deliberate and sweeping strategic shift unlike many seen in recent history.

Indeed, Donilon's greatest contribution was his strategic mindset, leading to a conscious shift away from the issues that preoccupied the NSC under George W. Bush in Iraq, Afghanistan, and the broader post-9/11 "Global War on Terror" to one that centered on next generation issues: China, cyber issues, the strategic consequences of America's energy revolution, introducing new economic initiatives in the Atlantic and Pacific that have broad geopolitical consequences, moving to a next generation Mideast strategy focused on regional stability, along with new partnerships with regional and global players and addressing emerging threats in places like Africa. Donilon's term for the renewed interest in Asia is "strategic rebalancing" -- not the "pivot" to Asia first used by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton -- but what has really happened on his watch is a restoration of balance to the U.S. national security agenda, a move away from the conflict-dominated view of the years right after 9/11 to one that is more global and has room to consider opportunities, new alliances, and new challenges more effectively. He has had his share of fights and detractors, periodically frosty relations with the military, and overseas outcomes have been a mixed bag, to be sure. But there is no denying the broadened focus is a great step forward from the perspective of the first years of this century.

For Rice, it is going to be a tough act to follow. She has some very obvious strengths that play in her favor. For one, she is close to the president. In fact, it was Rice who was national security passenger number one on the Obama campaign bandwagon, who was the organizing force behind the 2008 campaign's national security team and later behind the transition. She has the single most essential attribute seen in all successful national security advisors -- the trust of her boss. Indeed, given what she has been through since Benghazi, it is safe to say she has more than his trust: She has his loyalty.

But closeness has its drawbacks too: Remember that Condoleezza Rice was extremely close to President Bush, and while this helped her during her time as Bush's second-term secretary of state, it may have been an impediment when she was his first-term national security advisor. She literally was drawn too close to him, become so engaged in staffing him personally, spending as much as 6 or 7 hours with him on many days, that she was unable to address the management and governance functions of the job -- a task made tougher by the inclination of Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld to backdoor the process altogether.

The secret to managing the process, as Donilon found, is winning the trust of the other principals. It is already fair to say that while Susan Rice is widely respected for her intellect and drive, some of her potential counterparts (according to senior officials at State and DoD especially) are wary that her personality and strong views will lead her to want to play an out-front role that may soon make her a rival unable to be seen as an honest broker. This problem is easy enough to address. Both Scowcroft and Donilon went directly to their counterparts and said from the get-go that they knew their role was in the background, that the secretary of state was the administration's principal spokesperson, and that they would not get out in front of the message or the messengers from Foggy Bottom or in the Pentagon.

Rice also has another advantage in that process -- Donilon's former deputy and now White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough. McDonough is one of the architects of the successful processes and approaches embraced by Donilon and, knowing Rice as well as he does, can be a very useful guide to help ensuring that the new national security advisor lives up to and ideally builds upon the achievements of her predecessor.

That said, of course, the greatest challenges that Rice and the Obama national security team will face emanate not from within the bureaucracy but from beyond our borders. For all the successes of Obama and Donilon policy management -- including the not inconsiderable feats of managing two major withdrawals of troops and materiel from two theaters of war, the Osama bin Laden raid and other anti-terror wins, and the return to the strategic view outlined above -- many open questions and complex challenges remain. The Middle East is arguably more complex and dangerous than at any time in recent memory, it is unclear whether our efforts to stop Iran's nuclear program will be successful, Russia is more difficult than ever to deal with, the climate is more at risk than ever, our allies are fragile and often irresolute, and the Pakistans, North Koreas, Malis, and Nigerias of this world are poised to flare up at any moment. Donilon therefore may well be viewed as a successful steward of the policy process but it will be up to Rice and the rest of the new U.S. national security team to actually determine what the lasting legacy of the Obama administration's foreign policy will be.

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