Conservatives have a deep-seated suspicion of bureaucracy. We view it as cumbersome, expensive, intrusive, inefficient, sclerotic, often irrational, and not infrequently tyrannical. This distrust is mostly focused on domestic policy: for instance, Environmental Protection Agency rules that ban lightbulbs or stop building and development to protect some species. But the right has tended to play down the threat from the national-security bureaucracy.
That’s understandable in a way. There are many great patriots in our military and in the intelligence services. These organizations have done great things in the past.
Conservatives remember with fondness President Ronald Reagan’s military buildup that exorcized the ghost of Vietnam, and then won the Cold War and the first Gulf War. Many of us also remember 9/11—though it’s getting hard to recall just how insecure the nation felt in the immediate aftermath. When and where were the follow-on attacks that were sure to come? That question was on everyone’s lips. And when those attacks didn’t come, we were grateful to a security state that we were sure prevented them. And there were at least a few verifiable instances when it did.
Hence, in our gratitude (and fear), we gave that security state more powers. We came to think of them as embodiments of the nation. The “secret services are the only real measure of a nation’s political health, the only real expression of its subconscious,” opines Le Carré’s traitor Bill Haydon. If that’s true, Americans today should be very worried.