A Great Opportunity to Restore the Republic

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With the debacle in Afghanistan, the American people have been presented with one of the greatest opportunities in our lifetime — an opportunity to dismantle the national-security establishment and restore our founding system of a limited-government republic. Opportunities like this do not often present themselves. Now is time to seize the day, before the national-security establishment is able to provoke a new crisis that could serve as a justification to keep it.

Most Americans living today, I think it’s fair to say, honestly think that the United States has the same type of governmental system it has always had. The reality is different. Our nation’s founding system was a limited-government republic, which is a type of system that is totally different from a national-security state.

What is a national-security state? By looking at some examples, we can get a good idea. North Korea is a national-security state. So is China. Cuba. Russia. Vietnam. Egypt. Pakistan. The United States. And many more.

A national-security state is characterized by an enormous and permanent military-intelligence establishment, one that wields omnipotent powers that are ostensibly intended to keep the citizenry safe and secure. Customarily, the intelligence apparatus is simply part of the overall military establishment.

In the United States, the national-security establishment consists primarily of the Pentagon, the vast military establishment, the Central Intelligence Agency, the National Security Administration, various national-security agencies, and, to a certain extent, the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

The powers of the national-security branch of the federal government are widespread. The military and the CIA, for example, wield the power of assassination, the same power wielded by officials in North Korea, Cuba, China, and other national-security states. The federal courts have made it clear that when it comes to assassination, the decision of national-security officials is final. The federal courts will never second-guess their decision, at least not when the assassination is based on protecting “national security.” The Supreme Court calls this the “political question doctrine,” which holds that the federal judiciary lacks the competence to review whether a state-sponsored assassination is warranted or not.

A national-security state also wields vast powers of secret surveillance. That’s what the NSA is all about, as well as the CIA. While the CIA is supposed to limit its operation to other countries, the fact is that it does embroil itself in domestic affairs when it deems it in the interests of “national security.”

Both the military and the CIA wield the power of instigating coups, imposing sanctions, and initiating other regime-change operations, including assassination, in foreign countries. Within the 20-year period after becoming a national-security state after World War II, U.S. officials initiated regime-change operations in Syria, Iran, Guatemala, Cuba, Congo, Indonesia, and Chile.

Omnipotent power

If one were to do a survey asking Americans how many branches there are in the federal government, my hunch is that most people would answer three — the executive (the president), the legislative (the Congress), and the judiciary (the Supreme Court). The common assumption is that the military-intelligence establishment is part and parcel of the executive branch.

A book that every American should read and ponder is National Security and Double Government by Michael J. Glennon. The author is not some crackpot writer, and the book is not just some screed. Glennon is professor of international law at The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University and served as counsel to the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Glennon’s book, while scholarly in nature, is easily readable by educated laymen.

The thesis that Glennon sets forth would undoubtedly shock most Americans. He argues that the national-security part of the government — that is, the military, the CIA, and the NSA — is actually running the government, with the other three parts deferring to its power.

But here is the interesting twist that Glennon sets forth: The national-security establishment permits the other three parts of the federal government to maintain the appearance of being in charge, with the national-security part ostensibly just a subservient part of the executive branch. The idea is that the national-security part doesn’t care about appearances. It only cares about power. So long is it’s running the show and the other three parts are deferring to it, that’s all that matters, even if people have the false impression that it’s the other three parts that are actually in charge.

There is a very simple reason for this phenomenon: power. Within the federal governmental structure, the national-security branch is the most powerful. That’s because it has a vast army of soldiers and an enormous array of weaponry at its disposal, not to mention the fact that it wields omnipotent powers, including the powers of secret surveillance and assassination. The other three branches are fully aware of that phenomenon and defer to it, even while maintaining the appearance of their control over the national-security branch.

Deference to power

Let’s consider some examples.

Nations that are national-security states are usually characterized by what is called a “state-secrets doctrine.” It permits the government to keep certain matters secret from the citizenry if they relate to “national security.”

Ordinarily, however, in a democratic national-security state, the legislative branch of the government, after discussion and debate, enacts the law that brings the state-secrets doctrine into effect, after which the president signs it into law.

As a national-security state, the U.S. government has a state-secrets doctrine too, but it did not come into existence through an act of Congress. Instead, the U.S. Supreme Court, bowing to the demand of the military in a civil lawsuit, brought America’s state-secrets doctrine into existence. The case involved a lawsuit against the Air Force, and the government told the court that if the plaintiff’s case were to be permitted to proceed, the exposure of state secrets would jeopardize national security. The court passively accepted the military’s representations and held that the suit could not proceed. Many years later, it was discovered that the military had defrauded the court. The secret that was being protected had nothing to do with national security and everything to do with protecting the Air Force from liability. Needless to say, the court nonetheless has left the state-secrets doctrine intact, notwithstanding that it was admittedly procured through fraud.

Consider the Pentagon’s and CIA’s torture and prison center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The aim of the national-security establishment was to make the center a Constitution-free zone, one in which the Pentagon and the CIA would not have any interference from the federal judiciary. While the Supreme Court held otherwise, establishing that it did have jurisdiction over the center, the court’s ruling simply reflected Glennon’s point about letting the judiciary maintain the veneer of power. After all, there are people who have been incarcerated at Gitmo for more than 20 years without trial, a direct violation of the speedy trial provision of the U.S. Constitution. The Supreme Court and the rest of the federal judiciary have done nothing to stop that, once again reflecting the fact that the Pentagon, the CIA, and the NSA are sovereign and supreme within the federal governmental structure.

A national-security state

It’s worth reflecting on how the U.S. government became a national-security state, especially if we are to have a chance of ridding our nation of it.

When the delegates met at the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, it was with the aim of simply modifying the Articles of Confederation, which was a third type of governmental system. The Articles brought the states together in a confederation of sovereign and independent states. Under the Articles, there was a federal government, but its powers were extremely weak. In fact, the federal government did even have the power to tax.

That’s the way the American people wanted it. The last thing they wanted was a government with a large amount of power over their lives, liberty, and fortunes. Based both on personal experience and on their study of history, they believed the greatest threat to their freedom and well-being lay not with some foreign threat but rather with their very own government. By vesting the federal government with very few powers, people could ensure that the federal government would not be able to do very many bad things to them.

After about 10 years, however, problems arose with the Articles. Thus, delegates from the states met at the Constitutional Convention to come up with revisions to the Articles that, it was hoped, would fix the problems. Instead, the delegates came up with a different type of governmental system, a limited-government republic.

If the delegates to the Constitutional Convention had proposed a national-security state type of governmental system, the American people would have just laughed. They would have thought it was a joke. When they finally would have realized that it was a serious proposal, they would have rejected it immediately and simply continued operating under the Articles.

The last thing our American ancestors wanted was a governmental structure in which governmental officials wielded omnipotent powers. As it was, they were even leery of the limited-government republic that the Constitution was proposing. Under this governmental system, the federal government wielded much more power than it did under the Articles. For example, under this system, the federal government had the power to tax.

Proponents of the new system assured people that they needn’t be concerned. This was not going to be a government of general powers, they said. That is, it would not have the power to do whatever it wanted in the interests of the nation. Instead, its powers would be set forth expressly in the Constitution itself. If a power wasn’t enumerated, then it simply could not be exercised.

For example, people were concerned about the possibility that the government would attempt to seize their weapons. They knew that governments do that so that the citizenry will lack the ability to resist the tyrannical acts of the government. If government forces are the only ones who can have weapons, it’s much easier for government to have an obedient and compliant citizenry.

The solution to that problem? The Constitution does not delegate the power to seize arms from people. Therefore, that power cannot be exercised.

A limited-government republic

On the basis of this enumerated-powers doctrine, the American people finally decided to go along with the deal, but only on the condition that the document be amended immediately after ratification. That’s where the Bill of Rights comes into play, which really should have been called instead the Bill of Prohibitions, given that it doesn’t give people rights. Instead, it prohibits the federal government from infringing on rights.

With the Bill of Rights, the American people simply wanted to make it clear that the federal government lacked the power to infringe on their fundamental, God-given, preexisting rights, such as freedom of speech, freedom of religion, right to assemble, and right to keep and bear arms.

People were especially concerned with the possibility that the federal government would begin exercising the power of assassination or execution without trial. Even though the original document provided for no such power, Americans wanted the point to be made clear. That’s what the Fifth Amendment is all about. It expressly prohibits the federal government from killing people without “due process of law.”

Due process of law was a phrase that extended all the way back to the Magna Carta, when the great barons of England forced King John, at the point of a sword, to acknowledge that his powers over them were limited in nature rather than omnipotent. Over the centuries, due process came to entail formal notice of charges, such as an indictment, and a trial. Since our American ancestors didn’t trust judges or tribunals, they included in the Bill of Rights an option of a jury trial for people the federal government was accusing of a crime. To ensure that people could not be incarcerated indefinitely, the Sixth Amendment guaranteed a speedy trial. Other restrictions included no cruel and unusual punishments, right to counsel, and the right to confront adverse witnesses.

Our American ancestors understood from their study of history that large military establishments were the time-honored way that governments had enforced their tyrannies on their own citizens. Thus, early Americans were fiercely opposed to what they called “standing armies.” That’s the reason that throughout the 19th century, there was only a relatively small, basic army, one that could defend people from attacks by native Americans but not powerful enough to threaten the people themselves.

That was our nation’s founding governmental system for some 150 years. We all know it wasn’t perfect by any means. Slavery, for example, was part of this system. But there is no doubt that this type of governmental system was one of the reasons for the tremendous liberty and prosperity of the nation, especially in the period from 1870 to 1910.

Watershed transformations

With the adoption of a welfare-state type of economic system in the 1930s, the country underwent a gigantic change in economic systems, but it paled in comparison to the conversion of the federal government to a national-security state.

After World War II was over, U.S. officials told the American people that, unfortunately, they could not rest. Although the United States had just defeated the Nazi regime, they now faced an enemy, U.S officials said, that arguably was more dangerous than the Nazis. That enemy was the Soviet Union, which ironically had been a partner and ally of the United States during World War II.

U.S. officials maintained that there was an international communist conspiracy to take over the world, including the United States, that was based in Moscow, Russia — yes, the same Russia that figures prominently today as an “enemy,” “adversary,” “rival,” or “opponent.” Since the Soviet Union was a national-security state, it could exercise omnipotent powers in its purported attempt to conquer the world. In order to defeat the threat of “godless communism,” it would be necessary, U.S. officials maintained, for the United States to be a national-security state as well.

In this way, U.S. officials would wage a “Cold War” against the communist enemy, as well as hot wars like Korea and Vietnam. The idea was that once the Cold War was over, the American people could have their limited-government republic back.

An interesting aspect of the conversion to a national-security state is that it was done without even the semblance of a constitutional amendment, notwithstanding the fact that the conversion clearly nullified parts of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

For example, almost from the time the CIA came into existence, it began plotting assassinations. One can find online an early version of an assassination manual that the CIA was using to train its assassins. Of course, this violated the Fifth Amendment’s prohibition against the taking of life without due process of law.

The CIA and the Pentagon also acquired the power of torture, notwithstanding the express prohibition in the Sixth Amendment against cruel and unusual punishments.

The NSA also acquired the power to conduct secret surveillance on the citizens, with the purported aim of protecting them from the communist threat.

There was no longer a small, basic military force. Instead, America became characterized by an enormous and permanent military-intelligence establishment, which President Eisenhower even warned about in his farewell address in 1961. He said that this new form of government structure posed a grave threat to the liberties and democratic processes of the American people.

The end of the Cold War

Everyone assumed that the Cold War would continue forever, which would mean that the conversion to a national-security state would be permanent.

Yet, in June 1963, in a remarkable speech at American University, President Kennedy declared an end to the Cold War and announced that America would move in a direction of peaceful and friendly coexistence with the communist world. Since he was assassinated just five months later, the Cold War continued, along with ever-increasing budgets and power for the national-security establishment.

Suddenly and unexpectedly, however, in 1989, the Cold War came to an end. The Soviet Union declared it over and dismantled itself. East and West Germany were united. Soviet troops exited Eastern Europe.

The obvious question arose: Now that the Cold War was over, don’t Americans get their limited-government republic back? That would have meant, of course, a dismantling or abolition of the Pentagon, the vast military establishment, the CIA, and the NSA. It would have meant the restoration of a relatively small, basic military force.

That was when governmental officials went into the Middle East and began killing, injuring, maiming, and humiliating people. There was the Gulf War intervention against Iraq’s Saddam Hussein, who ironically had been a partner and ally of the U.S. government during the 1980s, when Iraq was waging war against Iran. There were the brutal sanctions against the Iraqi people, which contributed to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children. There was the infamous declaration by U.S. ambassador to the UN Madeleine Albright that the deaths of half a million Iraqi children from the sanctions was “worth it.” There was the stationing of U.S. troops near Islamic holy lands, with U.S. officials knowing full well the effect that that would have on Muslim sensitivities. There was also the unconditional support that the U.S government provided the Israeli government.

Throughout all this, there were people warning U.S. officials that all this deadly and destructive interventionism would produce such a large amount of anger and rage that a major terrorist attack on American soil was inevitable. U.S. officials knowingly disregarded the warnings.

Even after the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in 1993, the attack on the USS Cole, and the attacks on the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, U.S. officials refused to change course. They simply doubled down with the interventions.

Then came the 9/11 attacks, which were motivated, U.S. officials maintained with straight faces, not by U.S. interventionism but rather by hatred for American freedom and values.

As everyone knows, U.S. officials used the 9/11 attacks as a justification for engaging in even more interventionism, that is, through their invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. Those interventions naturally produced a constant threat of new terrorist attacks.

A new official enemy

Thus, the U.S. national-security state had found a new official enemy — terrorism, which in some ways was even better than godless communism and the Soviet Union. Instead of the Cold War, the Pentagon, the CIA, and the NSA would now be waging a “Global War on Terrorism,” which, needless to say, would guarantee more years of existence as well as soaring budgets and power for the national-security establishment.

Today, with the defeat of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, the American people are in a position similar to that in 1989 when the Cold War ended. Even though the Pentagon and the CIA continue to kill people overseas in their Global War on Terror, it hasn’t been enough to generate another major terrorist attack on American soil — yet.

But make no mistake about it: If foreign interventionism generates another such attack, the national-security establishment will seize on it to justify ever-increasing power, money, and influence, just as it did with the 9/11 attacks.

That’s why the American people should seize the day and use this opportunity to restore our nation’s founding governmental system — a limited-government republic — to our land. They should do so now because the window of opportunity might not be there tomorrow.

This article was originally published in the December 2022 edition of Future of Freedom.

The post A Great Opportunity to Restore the Republic appeared first on The Future of Freedom Foundation.

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