The NY TIMES today devotes its premier placement [Front Page, far right column, above the fold] to the revelation that, in the words of their headline, "Key Harzai Aide in Graft Inquiry Linked to C.I.A. Said to be on Payroll. Conflicting Goals Seen for U.S. in Its Call to Fight Corruption."
A little historical perspective is useful in processing this somewhat less than astonishing bit of information. In the seventeenth century, France was far and away the richest and most powerful state in Europe. Louis XIV secretly underwrote many of the dynastic and territorial squabbles that had the various Kings, Princes, Electors, and Dukes of Europe at one another's throats. It was not uncommon for Louis actually to funnel cash to both sides of a conflict, as a way of ensuring that however the local struggle came out, France would retain its influence.
This is what empires do. Questions of justice, rectitude, honesty, and even ideology are always secondary to considerations of power. The imperial players tell themselves comforting bedtime stories about their commitment to some high purpose, whether that be the proselytizing of a religion, the bearing of The White Man's Burden, the spread of civilization, or the building of constitutional democracies among the benighted. I have no doubt that George W. Bush believed those stories, and I think it is becoming painfully clear that Barack Obama does as well.
What is needed is not a new story, but the forsaking of the underlying imperial ambitions. The United States has been on full wartime footing for seventy-five years now, ever more determinately pursuing those imperial goals. The much maligned C.I.A. is simply doing what it was created to do. One might as well criticize professional wrestlers for playing dirty.