The idea of a deep state running the show in foreign policy is not solely a Trump-era phenomenon.
IN POLITICAL science, the “deep state” concept has been used to describe politics in countries like Turkey and Pakistan. In these places, deep-state theorists claim shadowy networks engage in extralegal and illegal activities, including bombings and assassinations, to advance their parochial interests or protect their vision of the regime. Given this context, the term “deep state” surely doesn’t fit an established liberal democracy like the United States.
And yet “deep state” language has been adopted by legitimate commentators in America, trying to analyze our politics today. While usages vary, the basic idea behind these deep-state arguments is that well-placed elements inside the permanent national-security bureaucracy, and those tightly connected to them in industry and think tanks, have been able to dominate—or even control—U.S. foreign policy. They allegedly do so through various mechanisms, including inside and outside pressure; control of vast resources and capabilities; leveraging information asymmetries to their advantage; engaging in threat inflation and selective leaking; and replicating, reinforcing and policing the ideas and culture within key institutions to produce a “groupthink” mentality.
Some consider secrecy an essential component of the deep state. For example, ABC News, in a 2017 poll about the existence and power of the deep state, defined it as “military, intelligence and government officials who try to secretly manipulate government policy.” But the most cogent theories posit that the deep state is operating in the open and without any central direction.
The end result of all these machinations? According to deep-state theorists, the preferences of elected officials and political appointees are subverted, undermining the will of the people and our republican form of government. To prove their case, theorists point to the continuity of our foreign policy despite new leaders taking office with an alleged commitment to change.