Writer and National Security expert
Grazing airy electron opinion, the firing of Denny Blair — especially him of most High Court title — is surely a blog-seduction most likely to touch-off tremulous surface fanning and gasps, whetting unfettered gossip: All fluttering to those inmost whisperings and intimate doings in the sacred precincts of our Imperial Court.
Well what I get is all Imperial Court. I feel like I am channeling Constantinople in 1043 dealing with Irini Doukaina (Cafavy, here). Oh, you did not know how much power women marshaled in 11th and 12th century Byzantium? Perhaps you might want to consider how advanced a “medieval” civilization could be.
Yet they were dealt a bad hand. The Latin West (our ancestors!) seeded such infamous defamation of everything Byzantine that Byzantine reputation still has not recovered. Truth is that Romaioi (what Byzantines called themselves) were an amazingly compassionate and complex civilization compared to every other place on earth. They invented the hospital, social welfare, equal judicial rights for all … and the fork! And only in Constantinople could a woman be emperor. Really.
What I am trying to say is that we begin to look a lot like late modern Byzantines.
In this sense:
We are also compassionate and complex, sophisticated and advanced, and yet we are also plagued by what above all plagued Byzantines: Court politics. Vicious and divisive politics in the 11th century imperial court so undercut the ability of Constantinople to meet non-state threats that the Empire almost fell.
But we are worse than Byzantines. The politics of America’s Imperial Court makes the world of Constantinople look prudent, modest, and restrained.
Think about the entire little Denny Blair blog-tiff. What does it really represent? Is there something important here: a pressing, even urgent national security issue that we must mobilize to address?
Or is this instead a fulsome tissue of gossip and intrigue, an excuse for the luxuriant indulgence of endless bickering in the guise of stainless policy-solution?
I would never suggest that my colleagues are in any way party to such a jaded social compass. My critique is different: It is about America’s collective obsession with the surface in life. Yet beneath thinly woven layers in our daily conversation there are also great depths:
Without conscious recognition the United States has become not merely an imperial power but an imperial institution.
This is an important recognition that the Blair tiff helps us uncover.
America is no Victorian colonial empire, but rather something greater: It is a universalistic enterprise that has staked out world-goals that it can no longer achieve.
Moreover in the evolution of this universalistic enterprise from 1945-2010 we have unthinkingly nurtured all the necessary elements of a great imperial establishment. Foremost in what we have established is that burnished and embellished core — The imperial center: Our American Imperial Court.
“All roads lead to Terminus, because that is where all roads end.”
Was it not so of Baghdad and Constantinople and Alexandria and Rome and more recently, Berlin and London and Paris: In their unbounded imperial dreams?
Can we possibly even pretend to be in any way different?
So what is the essence of this tiny tiff? The key — tying us again to Byzantium — is how our ritual use of court titles reveals the true dynamics of this Imperial Court and its abiding rules — Rules also anointed by our Roman-Byzantine ancestors.
How our life-energy races always to the prize of face-time with the Emperor! It is the blood-BTU of Washington DC. Moreover this is how it has always been. This is what it is has always been all about: This is imperial civilization.
Intelligence? What is that? Why do we have so many “intelligence agencies?” What real intelligence is going on? Or is what is going on just another deadly game at Court? Why is the Director of Central Intelligence now a Hobbit Führer kneeling before the supreme majesty of a Defense Department-anointed DNI — who himself has just been garroted at Basileus command?
If we want good intelligence we could just do it (We did it before). Instead because of court politics we do not have not an intelligence community but rather a competition for imperial favor, which takes the form of seigniorial grants, whose very granting as beneficium becomes both prize and token of imperial blessing.
Hence everything is about a ritual competition for status that defines the grand theater of the Imperial Court. The prize in this dance is always the same: To claim within the brutal arena of bureaucratic war the High Place at the right hand of the emperor.
However evanescent our short lives, we desperately throw ourselves into the race. Admiral Blair is no exception.
But like him, having admirals in charge speaks to an intelligence ecology that is 90% Defense Department-owned. Surely this also speaks to our Iliad 9-year war.
Hence the term-of-art “DNI” itself represents a court title endowed by the last emperor to advantage the military and reduce your father’s CIA to indentured status. This is such ordinary and even typical emperor-behavior as to be unworthy of discussion, let alone debate. The emperor must and will have his favorites. In the 9-11 Iliad-War the Defense World ruled the roost. There was no place for Felix Leiter in a world of steel-iris digital camo (Sorry Jack Lord!).
If we could replay the morphing of Byzantine court titles over the centuries so as to position them within changing notions of the Roman state, we could see so much more clearly how things work in the American imperial court.
Here it is: Strategy in a great empire is always at heart, Imperial Court strategy. Above all “Intelligence” most prized is court intelligence. The stakes are no less real and no less desperate than those of a firebase firefight in Helmond. But Imperial Court battles matter more. Those who sacrifice and die are the excuse: Those who seize advantage at Court are the true heroes. This chilling apprehension should be our “Doors of Perception” for every committed American citizen.
This should be our takeaway, our bottom-line:
The United States is now a universalistic enterprise which has no interest any longer in the universal — meaning humanity — but rather represents an imperial enterprise wholly-self-referent, and as such consumed by narcissistic politics within its Imperial Court. If nothing else this is — as Rod Serling would say — “The signpost up ahead.”
It is the signpost planted by a once-magnificent enterprise. American religious nationalism of old has lost its way. We have lost our way in part because we can no longer see things as they really are, but equally because our American enterprise has forgotten what is most important to our life as a nation — and what is most important to us is what we can give to humanity.
Imperial court politics gives the lie to a once-stainless charge of American mission. Read that signpost up ahead. Ignore it at your peril.