This evening to the splendid St. George’s bookstore here in Prenzlauer, which was hosting a discussion with New York Review of Books writer Thomas Powers, a longtime chronicler of intelligence agencies and their misdeeds.
It turned out to be wholly retrospective, covering again the role of the CIA in setting the stage for the Iraq war. Powers argues, as have others, that the agency was coopted by a White House with an agenda; the CIA is in business to provide information, and its political employees tend to provide the information wanted by its employer, he said.
Probably true, if not surprising; but I was hoping for more. Perhaps an analysis of how the intelligence on Iran is being used or abused by the administration, or whether the CIA is subject to the same pressures today, with a discredited White House, a neoconservative cabal in disarray, but an unrepentant Cheneybush. In Powers’ defense, the questioning was directed almost wholly at the past; audience members all with their own analysis of how today’s disaster could have happened. Up to and including one questioner sticking on points of ridiculous conspiracy: Was Bush responsible for 9/11, did he know, why were the holes in the Pentagon not the same size as the plane…
It’s all distraction. It’s true on the larger political scale as well as in the microcosm of an expatriate bookstore discussion. People want to punish Bush for the past, which, fair enough, he deserves it. Heartily. But conspiracy and too much looking back are distractions from what’s happening today. We’re in a disasterous situation, with no good way out. Almost no one is venturing serious ideas, because people are frightened of being blamed for the catastrophe that is certain to happen.
The next president is going to have a harder time of things than Bush. I’m as eager as anyone to see Cheney et al behind bars, impeached, tarred and feathered, but on balance, I’d prefer some solid ideas about the future.