Monday, May 18, 2015

Who Are We?

Back in the days when Bush “W” cronies, Paul Wolfowitz and Dick Cheney, argued that the United States must be and remain the world’s policeman, even before 9/11/01. The priority: our military and the ability of the President of the United States to deploy such forces instantly. It was a policy that was built over the Cold War decades and even after the fall of the Soviet Union. Cheney, himself a child of the military industrial complex (as head of Halliburton), argued for an ancient Roman concept (a Caesar appointed from the Senate to rule dictatorily during times of crisis) – the “unitary executive” – able to move an iron hammer at the drop of a hat.
After 9/11, Cheney, having enlisted a gullible president, had to manufacture a war – hence a WMD ruse to invade Iraq – to get Congress to reverse the restrictions they imposed on a post-Vietnam-War-debacle presidency to contain precisely the kind of rapid-deployment flexibility he envisioned. If Congress felt the threat great enough, he correctly reasoned, they would gladly cede power back to the president to deal with it. The Iraq invasion produced the necessary document. The PATRIOT Act. And Congress was tripping all over itself to pass appropriations bills to support the war. Ka-ching.
The military industrial complex was cheering. Over the years, these companies had strategically placed military contractors all over the United States… in key Congressional voting districts. They knew that this war would send their stocks skyrocketing, and with Cheney’s philosophy ruling the roost, they couldn’t loose. Congress was feeding at their trough, and they were hooked.
Apparently, our elected leadership chose completely to ignore the parting words, uttered in his farewell presidential speech on January 17, 1961, of Republican Dwight David Eisenhower… a president who rose to being a five star general during World War II: “In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist. We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.” Sorry, Mr. President, your worst fears have defined American policy for a very, very long time.
So Republicans broke from the advice of their esteemed, exceptionally militarily-experienced president, and gnawed fiercely at the forbidden fruit. Military budgets, which feed those local constituencies, have become sacrosanct, even as our general infrastructure continues to fall apart, education becomes morbidly expensive for lack of government support and job-creating government supported scientific research vaporizes.
We’ve employed waterboarding and other enhanced interrogation techniques, spied on ourselves and our allies under the guise of national security, invaded countries and deployed murderous “contractors” to do our dirty work and become a perceived “bully/king of the hill.” We have become a government based on secrecy. ISIS is a reaction to the instability we created in Iraq by substituting a Shiite government for a Sunni dictator: ISIS arose to protect the deposed Sunnis, now victims of the new Shiite powers in the region. They just went a bit overboard!
After trillions of dollars and way too many casualties, we failed to get the governments and stabilities we promised in both Iraq and Afghanistan. In both venues, violence and instability only escalated. We only have failure and new horrific consequences to deal with. As the global bully/king of the hill, we are always going to be a primary target for insurgencies trying to prove their machismo on the global stage. Likewise, because of the level of our surveillance capacities and ultra-sophisticated military technology, whenever there is a global challenge, somebody always wants us to lend our support. We are often the only game in town because of that taxpayer-supported massive military… still greater than the military budgets of the next 10 largest military powers combined.
The battle over the relative cost of our military budget versus the rest of the government programs continues to be a hot button debate… all the time. Strangely, the Democrats seem to have become Eisenhower Republicans, and the Republicans have become the “spend, spend, spend” Democrats on this facet of government. “Key Democrats on [May 14th] said they opposed Republican efforts to circumvent broad, congressionally mandated cuts in military spending as lawmakers considered the annual Pentagon budget.
“As the House began voting on amendments to the National Defense Authorization Act, members debated whether to dedicate about $39 billion to go into a fund insulated from the across-the-board spending cuts known as sequestration, which took effect in 2013. That fund, the Overseas Contingency Operations account, is intended to be used for emergency military operations.
“Representative Nancy Pelosi of California, the Democratic leader, said Republicans were willing to let nonmilitary spending bear the brunt of the cuts… ‘Republicans are trying to use war funding as a virtual slush fund for one part of the budget while letting the ax fall on everything else, leaving priorities essential to the strength of our country — the veterans’ budget, infrastructure, education, innovation — grievously underfunded,’ she said. ‘The Republican defense authorization bill is not only disingenuous, it is dangerous.’” New York Times, May 14th.
Indeed, to support all of these military priorities, to protect our “king of the hill” (read: primary global target) status, we have adopted some pretty ugly habits, characteristics that these new enemies use to recruit their “soldiers” and invite sympathizers to apply “lone wolf” attacks against us and our allies. We are making their recruiting efforts way too easy, and in a strange way, we are becoming an un-transparent, undemocratic and highly economically polarized nation as a result. Even our struggles to deal with electronic surveillance that is completely out of control suggest who and what we have become. The PATRIOT Act turned out to be deeply un-American.
“Secrecy has always been traditional and accepted in wartime, but traditional wars have an end. Under two administrations now, as the United States has remained on a permanent war footing against Al Qaeda and its splintering, morphing progeny, tensions over fighting battles in the shadows have steadily escalated. If this is a forever war, can a democracy wage it in secret?
“[In early May], the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, in New York, suggested that it could not… In a unanimous ruling that roiled the political debate in Congress over the phone records program, a three-judge panel said that the existing program was illegal… The heart of the ruling was the principle of self-government: A program of that magnitude cannot be created in secret and without public debate.” Charlie Savage writing for the May 14th New York Times.
We mount drone strikes without oversight. The Surveillance Courts operate behind closed doors. Whistle blowers are treated as traitors. Cheney’s dream has placed too much control in the hands of the executive branch, and the current Congress seems to have great difficulty trying to embrace reasonable controls over the inherent massive potential for abuse of power.
“Last year, a different three-judge panel on the Second Circuit ruled that the Obama administration had to make public Justice Department memos about the scope and limits of the executive branch’s claimed power to target and kill an American citizen deemed a terrorist.
“In Congress, Democrats on the Senate Intelligence Committee pushed last year to declassify a 500-page summary of its investigation into the C.I.A. torture program, even as executive branch officials warned that its publication would endanger Americans’ lives.
“Individual leakers have also taken matters into their own hands with two bulk leaks of hundreds of thousands of secret government documents… The leakers were the Army private now known as Chelsea Manning, who is serving a 35-year military prison sentence, and the former intelligence contractor Edward Snowden, who has been charged under the Espionage Act and whose disclosures included the bulk phone program that the appeals court found to be illegal.” Savage. Think of what would have continued without those whistleblowers.
Who are we? What and whom do we care about? What are our priorities? What is that massive military protecting anyway? Can we even get back to an open, democratic and transparent government that, while protecting its own people, can actually act in the best interests of the country as a whole? Or is this government hopelessly deadlocked, hell-bent on remaining a global cop, hated by so much of the rest of the world as a result (except when it is accepted as a necessary evil) and willing to allow our own quality of life to continue to deteriorate and encumber our future into stagnation? I’m not advocating that we become isolationist in our actions, just that we balance those aspirations with a re-prioritization of our needs here at home, engaging with global partners to shoulder the burdens we seem to have taken on alone in the recent past.
I’m Peter Dekom, and if we keep moving in this direction, the immutable patterns of history will reward us with a continuous unraveling of all we hold dear.

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