Criticisms of the “military-industrial complex” are becoming more common on the populist right as well as the progressive left, a reflection of growing disillusionment with US foreign policy. These critics tend to speak of the military-industrial complex as a unified, monomaniacal set of special interests that seeks to escalate the war in Ukraine and prepare the way for the direct deployment of NATO troops. But there is one set of institutions that has repudiated the way hawkish politicians and their media delegates talk about the war. It has accepted that Ukrainian battlefield victory is impossible and distanced itself from triumphalist narratives promoted by American and Ukrainian leadership. Fearing Russia’s power to escalate, it has insisted on constraint and hints at negotiation. This set of institutions is the American military bureaucracies and intelligence agencies, otherwise known as the Deep State.

The proposition that the American security services are a force for restraint in Ukraine might sound outlandish. These services supposedly incarnate the “Blob,” the military, intelligence, media, and other nongovernmental institutions that are united in bellicose conformity. With Donald Trump out of power, the Blob’s unity is thought to extend to the White House. 

“The intelligence agencies act to preserve the status quo.”

But after two years, it has become clear that a different dynamic is at work. Under President Biden, bureaucratic conflicts between the political appointees and the security services may be more muted than they were under Trump. But that doesn’t mean they don’t exist. These bureaucratic conflicts show that far from seeking escalation, the intelligence agencies act to preserve the status quo and contain America’s proxy war with Russia.

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