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Forever War and The New American Police State

by Steven D Wed May 17th, 2006 at 02:12:15 PM EST

(Front paged at Booman Tribune and also posted at Daily Kos)

If any country is always at war, perpetually threatened by one enemy or another, what once seemed impossible soon becomes inevitable.  Justin Raimondo at Antiwar.com has it exactly right when he writes:

The price of perpetual war is a police state, one in which a permanent state of "emergency" - the threat of a terrorist attack - is utilized to break down institutional safeguards, the system of constitutional checks and balances, that protect us from dictatorship.

A foreign policy driven by the imperial impulse is bound to have grave domestic consequences, none of them conducive to the American form of government. . .

Some may think the Bush administration is an extreme aberration brought on by an overreaction to the 9/11 attacks, and Bush's willingness to exploit that event to garner more power, both for his own Party electorally, and for the Executive Branch of the Federal Government of which he is the head.  However, nothing could be farther from the truth.  Bush is merely the culmination of a trend that began a half century ago upon the conclusion of the World War II, and with the beginning of the US/Soviet conflict.

(cont. below the fold)


The Republican Party first began to fixate on the use of smear campaigns and charges of treason by Democrats and liberals at the beginning of the Cold War.  What had once been a party of isolationist fervor, determined enough to deny President Wilson his dream of a strong League of Nations at the end of World War I, took the opportunity the Cold War handed it to create fear and generate the myth of Democratic weakness in the area of National Defense.  GOP leaders who had once railed against foreign entanglements and international intervention now raised the specter of Communism as a cudgel to browbeat Democrats and accuse them of being soft, weak and ill prepared to defend America against the Satanic menace of an all powerful International Communist Movement.

Thus, we saw the rise in the GOP of smear merchants, fear mongers and rank opportunists like Nixon, Roy Cohn, the House Unamerican Activities Committee members and, most of all, Senator Joseph McCarthy.  It is no surprise that the height of their power came  during the Korean War when many innocent men and women in the State Department and elsewhere in the Federal Government had their careers ruined through the judicious use of slander, innuendo and outright lies by these political assassins.  Even the great General George Marshall, the man who had successfully led our armed forces during World War II, and then conceived and executed the Marshall Plan to rebuild Europe was accused of being a traitor and of assisting the Communist drive for world domination.

For the next 40 years, it was a standard refrain of the Republicans that Democrats could not be trusted to protect our National Security from the monolithic and monstrous  enemy of International Communism.  Democrats were blamed for Soviet domination in Eastern Europe, for losing China to Mao's Red Army and for the resurgence of Communist parties in Europe and across the Third World.  That these charges had no basis in fact made no difference to those shameless Republican politicians who proclaimed that at every opportunity.

It mattered little that it had been the Democratic Party, under the stewardship of Franklin Roosevelt, that had foreseen the menace of the Nazis and Japanese militarism, and led us through a difficult and brutal world war to ultimate victory.  Nor did it matter that Truman's policy of containment through the use of defensive alliances and a host of international institutions (originally proposed by FDR and Churchill) formed after the war to aid and assist developing countries, ultimately proved to be the means by which Soviet imperialism was held in check.  The slander proved to be so successful that it led the  Kennedy and Johnson administrations to pursue a disastrous policy in Vietnam, a war that would end up killing thousands of Americans and millions of Vietnamese, in large part to prove their anticommunist bona fides.

The fear of Communist bogeymen also led to abuses by the FBI at home, and by the CIA abroad.

Democratically elected governments in Greece, Iran,  Chile, Ecuador, Guatemala, Brazil,  the Dominican Republic, Indonesia, Cambodia, the Congo and Nicaragua were overturned by CIA backed military coups and armed rebellions.  We supported military dictators around the world by supplying them with arms and other forms of aid so long as they claimed to be opposed to communism, and permitted our largest American corporations to reap economic benefits from the exploitation of their cheap labor and plentiful natural resources.  The crimes these "authoritarian" regimes committed against their own people were swept under the rug and ignored, all in the name of fighting the advance of communism.

But the American government's excesses were not restricted to CIA's activities abroad.  In the 50's, 60's and 70's, the FBI, under J. Edgar Hoover and his successors, ran rampant over the constitutional rights of American citizens whose only crime was to support civil rights or oppose the Vietnam War.  Civil rights and antiwar leaders were illegally  wiretapped and their mail opened.  Under the COINTELPRO program, FBI agents infiltrated antiwar and civil rights groups violating a number of criminal statutes in the process, including, among other things, the use of "dirty tricks", illegal surveillance, threats and "extralegal violence" against such groups. The host of illegal and unconstitutional practices the FBI and CIA pursued against ordinary Americans was exposed in the wake of Watergate by the Church Commission, and led to many of the laws to guard our fourth amendment rights from such egregious governmental intrusion, such as FISA, that our current President so willfully ignores under his claim of absolute executive power in time of war.

The Cold War ended with the collapse of the Soviet Union and China's capitalist reforms ushered in under the rule of Deng Xiaoping.  Most Americans breathed a sigh of relief and looked forward to the promised "peace dividend" which would include a reduction in international tensions and reduced expenditures on Defense.  Many Republicans, however, never abandoned their Cold War attitudes, and Manichean geopolitical outlooks.  Prominent members of the Republican Party and the Conservative Movement formed the Project for a New American Century to advocate for the use of US military might to impose and maintain an American global hegemony.  Its members included a host of former Nixon and Reagan administration officials, and other Republican and conservative luminaries as Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Elliot Abrams, John Negroponte, Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Perle, William Bennett, Gary Bauer, James Woolsey, Charles Krauthammer, William Kristol, Jeanne Kirkpatrick, Vin Weber, Dan Quayle, John Bolten, Lewis (Scooter) Libby, and Norman Podheretz.

No doubt you recognize many of these names.  Some of them play prominent roles in the current administration, and others are familiar voices on TV and radio, or widely syndicated columnists and pundits.  All of them have played a major role in Republican politics over the last 30-40 years.  They came of age during the tumultuous years of the 50's and 60's when the Cold War was at its height.  Their attitudes were shaped by their anticommunist zeal, and by their reaction against the tremendous social and political changes wrought by the civil rights movement, the Vietnam War and the downfall of their idol (and in many cases mentor), Richard Nixon as a result of the Watergate scandals.

Many of them are deeply suspicious of civil liberties, and have what can only be described as a "black and white" outlook toward international relations and America's role in the world.  The Cold War paranoia that drove defense budgets into the upper stratosphere and led to the creation of tens of thousands of dangerous and unnecessary nuclear weapons in the Soviet and US arsenals (more than enough to blow up the world several times over) still pervades their thinking today.  They came into office with concerns about "rogue states" like Iraq, Iran and North Korea, a desire to dominate the volatile Middle East and secure its supplies of crude oil and natural gas, and to increase the power and authority of the Presidency.  The terrorist attacks of 9/11 handed them a golden opportunity to achieve all of these goals.

However, doing so has led to an unprecedented accumulation of power in the Executive Office, and  unprecedented abuses of that power by the President, the Vice President and their many minions.  Abuses far worse than those of Nixon in Watergate, and far worse than those of J. Edgar Hoover's FBI (which, for all their excess, did not affect the vast majority of Americans).  Under Bush, all of us have been swept up into the National Security State's need for an ever increasing control and accumulation of information about its citizens.  Information regarding the private lives of every American, from our telephone call records, our email exchanges, our political affiliations and even our medical records, are all now subject to warrantless seizures by the Federal Government acting under the guise of investigating threats of terrorism or espionage.

Sadly, there has been no organized resistance to these excesses. Indeed, quite the opposite. The institutions, corporations and political factions that enable the Bush administration in its march toward a police state are varied, but each of them has a vested interest in staying the course. Right Wing Dominionist Christians such as James Dobson have no concern about eliminating the right to privacy, because they view that as a potential tool in their efforts to eliminate access to abortion and contraception, to demonize and discriminate against homosexuals, and to re-criminalize sexual behaviors which fall outside the norms of their Christian belief system.

The defense and energy industries favor the war policy since it enormously boosts their profits while concomitantly reducing their risks.  Lobbyists and Republican politicians support the war, since they gain clients and campaign contributions from those very same companies in need Congressional largesse and other favors.  The Telecommunication companies simply don't want their monopolistic practices disturbed, or the promised deregulation of their businesses from federal restrictions, by opposing government requests for information on their customers.  In addition, the mainstream media is afraid of losing access to administration sources, while their corporate bosses are afraid of political retaliation, should they raise too much of a stink in their news broadcasts and newspapers regarding the power grab that Bush and Cheney have engineered, and the trashing of the Constitution that has happened on their watch.

Worst of all has been the failure of the Democratic Party's elected officials and other leaders to unite in opposition to the Constitutional crisis the Bush administration has engineered.  Individual politicians have spoken out, yes, but when push comes to shove, all too often these brave souls have been abandoned by their colleagues, left to twist in the wind and forced to endure the massive assault of the Right Wing Wurlitzer alone.  Remember Conyers on the Ohio election fraud and the Downing Street Memos; Feingold on his censure motion; Kerry's attempt to filibuster Alito's nomination to the Supreme Court; and John Murtha on Iraq?  Again and again, too many Democratic officials have adopted a passive approach, hoping that Republican actions alone will bring them victory in the coming mid-term elections.  Too many of them have tempered their criticism of, and opposition to, Bush's policies on the war, torture, unlawful detentions, the environment, tax cuts for the wealthy, the Medicare drug scam, attacks on gay marriage, women's health issues, etc., out of fear of offending that illusive and nebulous independent voter, and thus their cherished sinecures in Congress.

Perhaps now, in the light of these recent revelations, and Bush's extremely low approval ratings, they will find their collective voice and stand as one to oppose this massive invasion of our civil liberties.  I for one hope that they do, and that it is already not too late.  As Justin Raimondo concludes the time is now to act before the next war of Bush's choice is already underway:

[T]he price of interventionism is liberty itself. With each war, the power of government increases, until, at some point, it spills over the dike of the Constitution, washes away the Bill of Rights, and drowns us all in a flood tide of tyranny.

As recent events have shown, the danger is not theoretical or postponed to some future time: we are not speaking here of some dark dystopia as a kind of "what if" experiment. The danger is imminent: the dystopia is here and now. The only question is: will the American people stand for it?

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I know it's long, but I hope you'll read it anyway, and get some value from it as well.
by Steven D on Wed May 17th, 2006 at 02:22:00 PM EST
Didn't seem long at all to me.  Very good overview of the whole scary mess.  I have no idea when, hopefully when, the American public is somehow going to get shook out of it's terror induced stupor and realize just how much of a police state we've become under bush and company and that it is not unpatriotic to question what your government does.

"People never do evil so throughly and happily as when they do it from moral conviction."-Blaise Pascal
by chocolate ink on Wed May 17th, 2006 at 02:47:46 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Thanks, this is a very well put and comprehensive diary.

Just this :

The slander proved to be so successful that it led the  Kennedy and Johnson administrations to pursue a disastrous policy in Vietnam, ..., in large part to prove their anticommunist bona fides.

How would you substantiate this?

As to how this tragedy will unfold, my own prediction is that everything will just crash down when either

  • the perpetual war is lost, because they will eventually overstrain their military resources, or
  • they overstrain the economy and/or the currency and the US will just go broke.
by balbuz on Wed May 17th, 2006 at 04:22:46 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I think both Kennedy and Johnson veered to the right on issues involving confrontations with Communist regimes in order to defuse the standard right wing attack that Dems (FDR, Truman, Stevenson, etc.) had been soft on communism.

As for going broke, my country is halfway there.  Debt levels (trade, government, personal) are at all time highs.

That's why I put money in gold last year.  I've nearly doubled my investment.

by Steven D on Wed May 17th, 2006 at 04:34:32 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Very thoughtful analysis.

I suspect the roots of the problem goes back further into American history than you have followed it. I seem to recall reading that when America took over Spanish colonies after the Spanish-American War there were those who claimed that an empire was inconsistent with the institutions of the Republic.

Indeed the way American troops treated the Filipinos a century or so ago seems to be more ruthless than the methods being used today, although in the early 20th century no one saw the need to turn the United States itself into a national security state.

by Gary J on Wed May 17th, 2006 at 02:58:04 PM EST
True.

I'd say it goes back to the very founding of the Republic and the refusal to face the slavery issue and to even consider the Native Americans as citizens or persons of equal worth.

That said, the issue with the Republicans in particular begins with the Cold War.  Before then, the party was primarily isolationist, and pro small government.  The Cold War jump started the worst elements of their party which had been out of power for 20 years until Eisenhower's election.  Eisenhower was a moderate, but he also acquiesced in much of the rhethoric directed at Democrats, including his refusal to disown McCarthy's remarks about George Marshall, his mentor and superior in WW2.

by Steven D on Wed May 17th, 2006 at 03:25:10 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Bush is merely the culmination of a trend that began a half century ago upon the conclusion of the World War II, and with the beginning of the US/Soviet conflict.

Lets just take the past century

 - US gets involved in WWI, mass persecution of pacifists and German Americans, on a far greater scale in both numbers and severity than anything going on today.

  • US freaks out about left wing radicalism after WWI, mass persecution of leftists on a far greater scale in both numbers and severity than anything going on today

  • US gets involved in WWII, mass persecution of Japanese Americans on a far greater scale in both numbers and severity than anything going on today

  • US freaks out about communism after WWII, mass persecution of anyone remotely associated with communism on a far greater scale in both numbers and severity than anything going on today but less than in the previous instances.

  • US faces mass political turmoil in the late sixties, somewhat more surveillance and persecution of opponents than today.

No police state, at least as its commonly understood - we're talking stuff on the order of Germany in the seventies or France under de Gaulle, at worst.  What's going on today is worrying, it should be fought and denounced, but hyperbole is not helpful. This is the left wing equivalent of Al Qaeda (or whatever the enemy de jour is) equals Hitler/Nazi Germany.  
by MarekNYC on Wed May 17th, 2006 at 03:52:48 PM EST
If I'm guilty of hyperbole, I'm not alone: Link
by Steven D on Wed May 17th, 2006 at 05:44:21 PM EST
[ Parent ]
First off, I think comparisons to other governments & countries in order to prove the point that "at least we aren't this bad" is not productive.  Each situation is bound to be unique and thus not entirely comparable, plus, just because it's been tolerated before does not mean it should be tolerated again.

Secondly, no one doubts our past.  But Guantanamo, secret prisons thrughout the world used for torture, mass ... not even targetted, but mass surveilance (which has much different psychological repercussions) ... no fly lists, Patriot Act ... these things are new and their implications cannot be brushed aside using the assumption that we have continuously marched forward toward progress so nothing can be as bad as the past.  

Note, in each of the previous instances you mention, a particular group is the "enemy": Japanese, Socialists, Peace groups, Hippies, Democrats, Communists.  What we see today is different and I believe even more dangerous because aside from the Al Quaida, which we must all admit represent the slimmest of minorities in America, if there are any in the country at all, everyone is held under suspicion.  

You might compare it to McCarthyism, but I'd remind you that that was one man with an agenda and he was brought down easily enough.  We are now talking about the enactment of laws, the Executive branch, the military, the media and private corporations actively taking part in police state tactics without our knowledge and with few or no ways to stop them.  

Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities. -Voltaire

by p------- on Wed May 17th, 2006 at 06:48:08 PM EST
[ Parent ]
First off, I think comparisons to other governments & countries in order to prove the point that "at least we aren't this bad" is not productive

What I am trying to say is that the diary is over the top. The comparisons are there to point out that we don't think of those places in that way and similarly we shouldn't think of America today in such a manner.

just because it's been tolerated before does not mean it should be tolerated again.

And I said it shouldn't be tolerated, so we agree.

Note, in each of the previous instances you mention, a particular group is the "enemy": Japanese, Socialists, Peace groups, Hippies, Democrats, Communists.  What we see today is different and I believe even more dangerous because aside from the Al Quaida, which we must all admit represent the slimmest of minorities in America, if there are any in the country at all, everyone is held under suspicion.

In the case of ethnic targeting you're right it's different, though I'm not sure that it is better - singling out people according to their ethnicity has its own ugliness.  

The rest I disagree - this admin is looking at everyone in search of those it considers dangerous, some genuinely so, most not. The same applies to the earlier political persecutions.

You might compare it to McCarthyism, but I'd remind you that that was one man with an agenda and he was brought down easily enough.  We are now talking about the enactment of laws, the Executive branch, the military, the media and private corporations actively taking part in police state tactics without our knowledge and with few or no ways to stop them.

The idea that McCarthyism was just about one man is a nice comforting illusion. It wasn't like that. He had the support of the bulk of the Republican party, and some conservative democrats and copy cats on both state and local levels. Laws galore were passed. The witch hunts lasted for years and affected schools, universities,  civil servants at all levels, journalists, unions, the arts - even the ACLU purged itself IIRC. Those targetted were mostly left wing, but also centrists -  anyone who at any point in their life had flirted ever so slightly with the far left and hadn't turned rabidly right wing. By the standards of the day pretty much the entire net-roots community would be in serioius trouble (they work against the Iraq War, extreme left wing groups play a big organizational role in the anti-war movement, ergo everyone's screwed - and the communists in the thirties played a key role in civil rights, trade unions, anti-Franco movements, anti-fascism, socio-economic reform discussions.)

The only thing that arguably makes it worse is technological change. But I don't find the idea of cops systematically going down lists of attendees at all sorts of meetings, then questioning them and their friends, reading my mail, being forced to solemnly swear that I wasn't involved in any of that sort of stuff and that I support the government's policies; more reassuring than the idea of the NSA reading my e-mail and listening to my phone calls.

Both now and then the apolitical or politically safe had nothing to fear. But the politically tainted Americans had a lot more to fear then than now.  

by MarekNYC on Wed May 17th, 2006 at 07:31:43 PM EST
[ Parent ]
call the National Enquirer, I'm going to agree with MarekNYC :-)

"Tail Gunner Joe" wasn't that easy to get rid of.  careers were wrecked and some lives were lost.  on a scale of one to peak Stalinism not so bad, admittedly, but I wouldn't, from our relatively safer vantage, underestimate the McCarthy putsch's viciousness and impact.  imho the US still hasn't recovered from that era;  red-baiting still works and socialism is still a dirty word.  which is exactly what the rentier classes wanted, so Joe M wasn't a failure from a longer POV.

OTOH it is also easy to underestimate the speed with which things can change, and I do think the right wing in the US is laying the groundwork for a potential crackdown, with their detention centres and erosion of posse comitatus and pan-surveillance and all the rest.

neither panic nor complacency seems to be in order...  unfortunately in the absence of clear and present panic we do tend to get complacent :-(

good diary, anyway.

The difference between theory and practise in practise ...

by DeAnander (de_at_daclarke_dot_org) on Thu May 18th, 2006 at 09:43:59 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I agree with all your points. Nonetheless it was my kind of hyperbole. :)

(Which probably makes it worse, I know.)


-----
sapere aude

by Number 6 on Fri May 19th, 2006 at 05:32:43 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Sort of tough to swallow that all the problems of the last half century are the fault of the Republicans, considering that the Demoncrats controlled the Supreme Court and Congress for most of that time and held the Presidency about half the time. How is it, exactly, that the Republicans were responsible for the Korean war? The war in Vietnam? Clinton's illegal war in the Balkans?

I'm not defending the Republicans, but suggesting that your analysis ignores the faults of the Democrats. The problem is America's relationship with the rest of the world, and it is not specific to either party.

by asdf on Wed May 17th, 2006 at 08:10:25 PM EST
"Demoncrats"! Ha, ha! Freudian slip!
(Actually just a typo...)
by asdf on Wed May 17th, 2006 at 08:11:14 PM EST
[ Parent ]


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