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When Basic Trust of Our Government Has Been Eroded

Tantek Celik

Brantly Millegan - published on 08/06/13

I’m increasingly at least a little distrustful of even the most seemingly innocuous actions of the federal government, particularly regarding anything that relates to the nebulous “War on Terror.”

The Obama administration closed twenty-two U.S. embassies in countries throughout Africa and the Middle East on Sunday in response to a terrorist threat, according to US officials. Sunday afternoon, the State Department extended the closures of fifteen of the embassies and closed four new locations for the rest of the week. Officials cited evidence of a specific sort of terrorist attack planned by groups affiliated with Al Qaeda, but no information concerning a specific location.
Of course, there is no way for me to know for certain whether any of this is true. As is almost always the case with these kinds of situations, ordinary citizens don’t have all the facts. What is the intelligence information? How much do our government officials really know? How was the information acquired? And how does the official response – the closure of various embassies – relate to those facts? It’s in these sorts of situations that we have to trust the skills and judgment of our leaders.
Yet it is exactly that trust that has sadly collapsed in recent years. I wish I had more trust in our politicians, but I’m increasingly at least a little distrustful of even the most seemingly innocuous actions of the federal government, particularly regarding anything that relates to the nebulous “War on Terror.” Mind you, nothing about the current situation is obviously suspicious: it's not immediately clear what anyone would possibly have to gain by closing a number of US embassies in Africa and the Middle East and then lying to the American people that there is evidence of a terrorist threat.
But I do have reason to distrust what the government says in general, ample evidence having been provided by both the current Democratic administration and the previous Republican one. Sometimes the misinformation is due to what appears to be incompetence (namely, the faulty intelligence about Saddam Hussein’s nonexistent stockpile of WMDs, which led the US to invade and overthrow the government of another country. At least closing embassies won’t commit us to another decade of nation building). Other times, government officials intentionally deceive (most recently, National Intelligence director James Clapper publicly lying to Congress that the NSA does not “wittingly” collect data on “millions or hundreds of millions of Americans,” mere weeks before Edward Snowden proved that the NSA does that very thing). And of course, there’s the ubiquitous human experience that those in power tend to misuse it if they aren’t watched closely – and that they often try to get away with abuses even when they are watched.
So what do I think about the current terrorist threat on our foreign embassies? Not much, really, and not because I don’t care about our embassies or the safety of US personnel working overseas – I do – but because I simply don’t put too much stock in what our federal government says one way or another.
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