05/09/2006 12:40 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Hayden's Un-American and Incompetent, Feinstein's Betraying the Constitution, and Chait Needs a Civics Lesson


Here are four related thoughts - on Hayden's betrayal of his sworn duty, his incompetence, ditching Dianne Feinstein, and Civics 101 for people who can't distinguish the democratic process from extremism.

Hayden's Un-American

The Air Force describes Gen. Michael Hayden as "the highest-ranking military intelligence officer in the armed forces ... responsible for overseeing the day-to-day activities of the national intelligence program." That means that the US military's illegal and unconstitutional spying on American citizens happened on his watch.

And I'm NOT referring to the illegal NSA wiretaps. Hayden's Pentagon intelligence apparatus has also spied on Quakers and other American anti-war groups (and that's only what's been made public so far). There is no constitutional authority for the U.S. military to spy on peaceful and law-abiding citizens, as Hayden and his staff have done.

It was before assuming his current military intelligence role that Hayden served as NSA Director and oversaw illegal warrantless wiretapping, a practice he has vociferously defended. I asked Russ Feingold at the recent "blogger lunch" whether there was any way to confirm that the NSA program didn't also cross the line to targeting peace groups and other law-abiding Americans, or - for that matter - whether Democrats might have been targeted Watergate-style.

His answer was this: "Even though I'm a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, and therefore one of a handful of Americans authorized to know the answer to that question, we haven't been given any information either way on that." (I didn't write it up at the time because it was inconclusive; in this context, the lack of information is itself significant.)

Here's the un-American part: It's a military officer's sworn duty to refuse to obey illegal orders. As an auther wrote in the Navy Times (warning: doc file):

According to military legal studies, a lawful order must be reasonably linked to military needs, be specific and not be contrary to established law -- the Constitution, United States or other laws -- or be beyond the authority of the person issuing the command.

In other words, Hayden had a legal, Constitutional, and moral obligation not to conduct the illegal spying that's characterized his recent career. He's a disgrace to his uniform, and unworthy of any position of public responsibility. Someone who betrays the Constitution as Hayden has done deserves the label "un-American."

Tough words? Yes - because I love my country and its Constitution, and because I hate to see the honor of our fighting men and women compromised by officers like Hayden.

Hayden's a Lousy Manager

Due to Hayden's managerial incompetence, billion of taxpayer dollars have been wasted on Trailblazer, an intelligence-modernization tech project he's been supervising. It's way over budget, and - even worse - way behind schedule, compromising America's security at a critical time.

Trailblazer is an unmitigated disaster, the kind that usually end's a manager's career. Anybody in the corporate world would find their upward job trajectory coming to a sudden, unceremonious halt after a screwup like this - and they'd usually be fired.

Not so in the GOP's world of cronyism and managerial incompetence. Loyalty, and the willingness to bend the rules (or the law) for one's fellow cronies trumps managerial competence every time.

Feinstein Endorses Hayden, Not the Constitution

Despite the above issues of competence and ethics, Dianne Feinstein rushed to endorse Hayden's nomination, saying in a statement that

We need a respected, competent intelligence professional who can command respect and manage this growing agency. Based on what I know so far, General Michael Hayden appears to fit that bill. ... while he might not have had experience directly supervising human operations, he has been effective.

"Respected"? By whom? And "effective"? Um, Dianne, billion-dollar overruns for systems that don't work - that's "effective"? Regarding the Constitution, she adds:

General Hayden will also face some serious questions about the warrantless surveillance program ... I am on the Intelligence Subcommittee that is being briefed on the program. In my view, it appears all of this surveillance could be done under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act if we simply make some minor timing adjustments and I look forward to asking General Hayden about it.

"Minor timing adjustments"? Dianne, you don't know any more about what this program's really about than Feingold does. A vote to confirm Hayden condones behavior that's clearly illegal - and may be far more insidious than any of us can know at this point.

Feinstein's a disaster. This statement is an unequivocal endorsement of illegal wiretapping. Somebody PLEASE run against her in the primaries. She has to go. And that leads me to ...

A Civics Lesson for Chait

It was Jon Chait who, as Greg Sargent points out, opposed a primary challenge to Lieberman by calling Lamont's supporters "left wing ...fanatics" who "refuse to tolerate any ideological dissent."

(Why is it that I, and people who think like me, can be called these kinds of names with impunity, but if some blogger or commenter uses what we once called "cuss words" we're the uncivil ones? Joe Klein can say I "hate America," Ann Coulter can say I should be beaten with a baseball bat, half of America circa 2003 can call me a "traitor" - but if some guy drops an "f" bomb in defense of our shared position we're the rude ones.)

Oh, well, never mind. I've prepared this civics lesson just for you, Jon:

We Americans have what is known as a "democratic system of government." That means that if people don't like the leadership of their government they can support candidates with different viewpoints to run against them. A "general election" is held which decides which candidate will hold office.

Before the "general election," political parties hold what are called "primaries." If members of a Party don't agree with a candidate for the party's nomination, they are free to support a candidate whose policies they like better.

The overall membership of the party then votes to decide which candidate will run in the general election. The "primary" candidate who gets the most votes becomes the party's candidate in the general election.

Get it now? It's not a "refusal to tolerate any ideological dissent." It's called democracy.

A Night Light