Was Cheney right?

by Lorenzo Piccoli


After Barack Obama was elected to his first term as President but before he took the oath of office, Vice-President Dick Cheney gave an exit interview to Rush Limbaugh. Under George W. Bush, Cheney was the architect, along with his legal counsel, David Addington, of a dramatic expansion of executive authority—a power grab that Obama criticized, fiercely, on the campaign trail, and promised to “reverse.” But when Limbaugh inquired about this criticism Cheney swatted it aside, saying, “My guess is that, once they get here and they’re faced with the same problems we deal with every day, they will appreciate some of the things we’ve put in place.”

What is happening on the other shore of the ocean is intriguing. This post by the New Yorker is just one out of many provocations that will ignite debate on such a broad range of issues. First about Obama’s presidency: is Obama is risking political damage that will get in the way of the rest of his term in office? Is his second term in the office going to be killed stone dead by issues of security and intelligence? thus far, all the major scandals, from Benghazi to the datagate, including the very recent cover-ups of internal investigations, have involved security services and intelligence. Also, I find it somehow fascinating that the political narrative has switched so quickly from security (between 2001 and, say, 2008) to economy (2008-2013) and now it seems we are back with security again as the most important issue on the agenda.

There is, obviously, much more than that. People may blame an administration for wire-taping calls and email, but at times they seem to forget that this is the price you have to pay if you want to fight terrorism. Surveillance and such techniques, although invasive and potentially dangerous, have prevented several terrorism attacks. But are these “modest encroachments on privacy” a fair price to pay? This, I believe, is a fascinating debate which is about terrorism, privacy, and trust in government.

And then there’s the whole discussion about transparency and use of the data. As Juliane Assange, Edward Snowden is a fascinating guy. He definitely has some charisma, doesn’t he? And, of course, he makes a point, which makes me think of Michael Focault’s Surveiller et Punir (Discipline and Punish). As suggested by the New Yorker, surveillance technologies are like a loaded weapon—one that may not have been misused so far, but that could be any day.

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