The New Cheney-Obama Doctrine

Former Vice President Dick Cheney called Edward Snowden a ‘traitor’ on Sunday during an interview on ‘Fox News Sunday,’ saying the leak was ‘one of the worst occasions in my memory of somebody with access to classified information doing enormous damage to the national security interests of the United States.’

Edward Snowden is the former government contractor who leaked information about NSA surveillance programs. 

Cheney’s error is revealing. His premise is that regardless of what the government is doing, it’s wrong to leak classified information. 

To Cheney, the principle above all others is that of national security. If national security is the motive, then government action is warranted and justified, according to what his reasoning implies.

It doesn’t matter if what Snowden discovered or revealed involves violations of individual rights or even the law as we know it.

Think about this for a moment. Once the government does something in secret, ‘national security’ requires that it be kept a secret—no matter how wrong, illegal or even monstrous the action of the government might be. I label this the new Cheney-Obama Doctrine.

I recognize a reasonable person might say, ‘We can’t have officials in the government revealing national secrets. To do so makes one a traitor.’

Yes, of course that’s true. But it frankly depends on what those national secrets are.

If a member of the government (or a government contractor) discovered that the Obama (or Bush) administration had been murdering members of their political opposition, would it be morally right for such a person to blow the whistle? Or would the Cheney-Obama principle—that national security must be protected, no matter what—have to be honored?

This is the question both Cheney and Obama now evade, in the matter of making records of private citizens’ phone conversations.

I recognize that what Snowden discovered is not as abominable as the government murdering innocent people. However, the principle at stake is the same. If American citizens give their government a free pass on this one, then where will it stop? Communists and Nazis justified everything they did in the name of national security too. True, they had no freedom of speech in those nations. But what’s the point of free speech if we, in effect, tell our government officials they can do anything they wish outside the normal parameters of law, so long as ‘national security’ is the motive?

SiriusXM radio talk show host Mike Church made a good point in a recent broadcast. Go back to the pre-Internet days when ‘snail mail’ was the only major form of written communication. Imagine if the government had gone to every house, taken the mail from the mailbox, unsealed the letters, stored the material in a file somewhere, and then put the letters back in the mailbox. Imagine that the government, once caught, simply said, ‘No worries. We’re storing the information, but we promise not to read it.’

This is essentially what our federal government has been doing with the phone records of private, law-abiding citizens. ‘Well, you could be a criminal. Anyone could be.’ So why not open your mail?

Cheney’s dismissal of a government whistle blower as a traitor plays into Obama’s power grab. But in a way this makes sense. All of our mainstream politicians are so lost in their awe of government power, that they cannot conceive of the government being wrong. They have forgotten that the government can become the enemy, too.

Missing in Cheney’s diatribe, not to mention Obama’s typically petulant and narcissistic outbursts of indignant self-defense since this scandal erupted, is any recognition that government itself must also be held in check. 

Does a rational and proper government hold terrorists and other initiators of force in check? Of course. A state of anarchy would be a state in which criminals of all kinds would rule. At the same time, government does not have the right—in the name of protecting us from criminals—to do whatever it wants. If we allow that, government itself becomes the criminal.

Cheney and Obama both speak as if it doesn’t even occur to them that government itself can be the source of evil, as much as the criminals themselves. Potentially, government can be even more dangerous than our enemies. Government enjoys the unlimited and unchecked ability to do whatever it wishes with untold resources that no criminal will ever possess. Unchecked government, that is.

Unchecked government is the type of system that thinkers like Jefferson, Adams, Madison and Washington all warned us against. Yet it’s the kind of government men like Obama, Cheney and most of our contemporary politicians embrace with uncritical arrogance.


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