The National Security State: 75 Years of Unaccountable Failure
If history is allowed to look back at present America, it will be studied as an era of political decline. The democratic processes of the republic will be chronicled completely dysfunctional. The personalities populating the public square weighed entirely unexceptional. And, if politics at its historical best is a sort of high art, today's will be recorded as the equivalent of some sordid professional wrestling match.
History reveals periods of political decline can be long, drawn out affairs, barely perceptible to their times until critically advanced. Take for example the Roman republic. The republic's peak might be considered its exhausting victory over Hannibal's Carthage. Hannibal and his elephants perpetrated havoc across Italy for sixteen years, until Scipio Africanus (his defeat of Hannibal gave him the Africanus title), figured out the way to rid Italy of Hannibal was make him return to Africa and defend Carthage.
In regards to republican virtue, after Carthage's defeat, it might be said Rome plateaued for a half-century as the rot slowly set in. With the gratuitous destruction of Carthage five decades later, followed shortly thereafter by the assassinations of the reforming Gracchi brothers, the republic's decline was well in place. Yet, from the point of the second brother's death until Octavian's victory over Antony and the establishment of the Princeps, another century would pass. It's doubtful eighty years after Gaius Gracchus demise, as the Senate conspirators plunged their daggers into Caesar at Pompey’s opulent new theater, most Romans had any idea the republic too, was soon to expire.
Where history places the start of the decline of the American republic will be fodder for endless discussion. One act for certain will bear plenty of fault; the establishment of the National Security State (NSS) in 1947. Instead of the great World War II American war machine being dismantled, a permanent war budget was established, and the CIA and National Security Council were instituted, all without a shred of republican accountability.
History will perceive the establishment of the National Security State as a novel creation, an unprecedented instituting of unchecked executive power. What will likely bemuse future historians is the National Security State’s 75 years of failure. A process by which unaccountable power was allowed to make mistake after mistake with zero institutional or personal consequence.
A brief and by no means exhaustive look at these failures, call them the high points, would start in the early 1950s, at the creation to use Dean Acheson's infamous phrasing, with the overthrow of the democratically elected governments of Guatemala and Iran. The eventual tragic results of both would come to fruition twenty-five years later, offering a continued bitter harvest ever since.
Now, forty years after the Iranians 1979 removal of America's coup installed ruler, the Shah, the US still has negligible relations with Iran, the largest nation in the Middle East, a situation creating endless instability. Looking closely at the functioning of the National Security State, you'd be pretty convinced global instability is their mission. Unfortunately, Guatemala has shown the chaos doesn't end at the border. Central America's waves of immigration have grown incessantly with each decade's failed American meddling.
With specificity provided in volumes elsewhere, the 1960s and 1970s saw the complete travesty of the war in Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos. And let's not forget the Congo and the 1960 overthrow of the elected Patrice Lumumba and his CIA replacement Mobutu, the Congo still flows with blood.
In the 1980s Central America and the Middle East burned bright once again. The Security State would help create and arm Osama Bin Laden to fight the perceived Soviet menace in Afghanistan. It turned out, as anyone who understood any Afghan history, though in 2002 the National Security State became determined to learn anew, the Afghanis can create a bloody quagmire for anyone foolishly wanting to violently insert themselves, with no need for help from any outside forces.
Across the 1980s, the NSS helped supply Saddam Hussein weapons for his eight year war against Iran, and remember, Iraq invaded Iran. Out of this mess came Iran-Contra, a demonstration of how completely unaccountable the power of the National Security State had grown domestically. Meddling in the Middle East, seven American hostages were taken in Lebanon. For the Reagan administration, who greatly owed their ascension to power to the previous administration's hapless dealings for hostages in Iran, behind the scenes dealings for the hostages' release became paramount.
The Reagan administration agreed to send arms to the Iranians if they'd help gain release of the Lebanese hostages, remember the US is simultaneously helping arm Saddam on the other side of the war. This is your big time global war politics, not for amateurs they'll assure you, just experienced knuckleheads.
Best in this two for one deal, being America no enemy was getting American weaponry for free, the Iranian arms money was funneled back to buy weapons to fight the overthrow of the recent revolutionary government of Nicaragua, who had just thrown out Anastasio Somoza, the brutal American backed dictator. Arming the opposition Contras was sort of a bigger, better operation than Guatemala thirty years before. Problem was the Congress, legislatively, had explicitly banned the President from sending weapons to Nicaragua.
Well, this caused a brouhaha when exposed as the decorated marine who became the administration's face of the scandal, sent money from the White House basement to the wrong Swiss bank account. In the National Security State, incompetence is a virtue. The Congressional Hearings were a fiasco, the fix was in. The Marine, in dress uniform chess ablaze with medals, soldier erect swearing an oath of truth, told the Congress he thought it his duty as an American to ignore the laws of the Congress from the basement of the White House. In Colonel North's words,
“The National Security Council is, in essence, the President's staff...My authority to act always flowed, I believed, from my superiors. My military training inculcated me -- in me a strong belief in the chain of command...I worked hard on the political military strategy for restoring and sustaining democracy in Central America and in particular El Salvador.
“One thing is, I think, for certain: that you will not investigate yourselves in this matter. There is not much chance that you will conclude at the end of these hearings that the Boland Amendments and the frequent policy changes therefore were unwise, that -- or that your restrictions should not have been imposed on the Executive Branch. You are not likely to conclude that the Administration acted properly by trying to sustain the freedom fighters in Nicaragua when they were abandoned.”
Such were the soldiers produced by four decades of the National Security State's unaccountable regime. But much worse, each time the hearings brought the unconstitutional Iran-Contra deeds to the President's and Vice-President's doors, the questions ended. The Congress had just brought down a President a dozen years before, it was clear they weren't going to do it again. A better lesson might have been learned — the republic had increasingly severe, some would say, existential problems.
For anyone paying attention, Iran-Contra made clear holding power accountable inside DC was dead, particularly, but as time would show by no means exclusively, in regards to the National Security State. Owing to this lack of accountability, Yale Man, Iran-Contra Vice-President George H.W. Bush would be elected president, pardoning all his Iran-Contra underlings on his way out the door, and most detrimentally somehow paving the way for the election to the presidency of his ne'er-do-well son eight years later.
Learning from dad, with a series of lies and deceptions to the Congress, United Nations, and last but not least the American people, George W. Bush would precede to blowup and occupy Afghanistan and Iraq, remember, both regimes had previously been armed by the NSS not twenty years before. His successor would blowup Libya and Syria, again creating and leaving perpetual chaos across the Middle East.
Now, let's back track a little to get to the current war in the Ukraine. The National Security State was founded specifically in opposition to the Soviet Union. For forty years, they spent trillions of dollars building institutional and structural war making capabilities, while the American citizenry was kept ignorant and propagandized into perpetual fear. Then, stunningly, completely unforeseen by all the NSS institutions filled with tens of thousands of highly paid analysts and scholars, the enemy walked off the field. The Soviet Union dismantled itself.
Nothing was learned. The institutions of the so-called Cold War were not dismantled, military spending was again increased, and NATO, founded as an anti-Soviet alliance was not disbanded but greatly expanded, even though the Soviet Union no longer existed! Most atrocious was American policy toward Post-Soviet Russia. In 2000, the great and wise American historian Stephen Cohen called the decade of post-Soviet American policy toward Russia an “unmitigated disaster.” It got no better over the next twenty years.
But the first decade of policy failure and the resulting ascent of Vladimir Putin to power is most crucial. Americans, who had been fed a forty year diet of endless NSS propaganda and disinformation on the Soviet Union, paid no attention to America’s Post-Soviet Russia policies. Backing the incompetent and drunk Boris Yeltsin, American policy promoted a series of “reforms” that helped completely devastate the Russian economy, creating the infamous Russian oligarchs.
In 1995, knowing his reelection was in trouble, the Washington Post reports Yeltsin pleaded to then President Good-Times Bill Clinton,
"Then there is the matter of finances, which is not proceeding very well,” Yeltsin said in early May, before dropping all pretenses and urging Clinton to interfere in the contest directly. “Bill, for my election campaign, I urgently need for Russia a loan of $2.5 billion.” Clinton suggested an alternative approach: getting the IMF, a third-party institution, to quicken its payments to Russia. “I’ll check on this with the IMF and with some of our friends and see what can be done,” he said. “I think this is the only way it can be done.”
Mr. Bill did more than check, six months before the election the New York Times giddily reports,
“In a major election-year boost for President Boris N. Yeltsin, the International Monetary Fund and Russia agreed today on a $10.2 billion loan to carry forward the country's free-market reforms.”
The money was released to a well established eminently corrupt Yeltsin administration. Certainly no one would ever accuse the Clintons of turning a blind eye to corruption, just the opposite, it was always, “Where's ours?”
Time Magazine, from way back in the days of its founder Henry Luce, a great promoter of the “American Century,” was so gleeful of Putin's reelection, they front covered the nonsense the election victory was engineered by a group of American political hacks, not bought and rigged by billions in IMF largess.
America's man in Moscow's second term was as disastrous as the first. A Congressional Committee reported in 2000,
“The Russian economy is 25 percent smaller than it was in 1992. Today, fewer than 40 percent of Russian babies are born healthy. Whereas 70 percent of the Russians had a favorable view of the United States in 1993, only 30 percent do today.”
The Committee would add,
“A clear sign that our policy was flawed was our support for the IMF's decision to loan billions of dollars to the Russian government while billions and billions more were being shipped out of Russia.”
Yeltsin, no longer able to stagger into any meetings, resigned the last day of 1999. Taking his place is Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who was brought to Moscow and backed in his rise to power by one of Yeltsin's right hand men, Anatoly Chubais, chief of the disastrous privatization effort and favorite of the Clinton administration. Treasury Secretary Larry Summers referred to Chubais as “my dear friend.”
The biggest reason Putin was brought to the top? His first act as president granted immunity to Yeltsin and his family due to extensive corruption from “prosecution, arrest, bodily search and interrogation.” On his ascension, Secretary of State Madeline Albright claimed Putin was, “A man we could work with.” And she was right, but the US then proceeded to do most everything it could not to.
Most importantly and by no means extraordinarily, the Russians considered their shared thousand year history and 1200 mile border with Ukraine essential to their security. The US National Security State not only ignored this, but facilitated insecurity by using Ukraine to continually poke at the Russians. From helping instigate a coup against the pro-Russian elected government in 2014 to pushing the Ukrainians away from making any sensible agreements in the interest of Ukraine, Russia, and Europe, the National Security State instead fostered Russian insecurity.
For domestic consumption, including the campaign dirty trick fairy tale created by the Clinton campaign and the NSS that Putin was responsible for her electoral loss, the National Security State turned Putin into their newest Hitler – Saddam, Osama, Qaddafi, and Assad all previously dubbed, the list continually grows. Unlike the original, who blitzkrieged across Ukraine in a couple months, this newest Hitler seems somewhat hard pressed gaining each kilometer.
So now we have Putin's criminal war, a war that reveals nothing greater than the complete incompetence of the American National Security State. There will be no winner in this war. The Ukrainians have already lost. The Russians have nothing to gain. Europe and the US will gain nothing. Any victory claimed by any participant will be the grandest Pyrrhic victory since the original two thousand years ago.
For all seventy-five years of continuous failure, the National Security State has remained completely unaccountable. Such unchecked power is not new to history and each previous case of such unaccountable power led to institutional idiocy. Egregiously for the world, this idiotically destructive militarism comes at time when environmental and other challenges for homo sapiens dominate, challenges both inescapable and existential.
Beside chaos creation, one thing the National Security State with their corporate media partners have proved particularly adapt is continuously overwhelming the public sphere with perpetual crisis. Doctor Martin Luther King Jr. pointed this out over a half-century ago in a speech he gave a year before his assassination. Speaking about the then raging Vietnam War, King insightfully and presciently notes,
“I believe this war has diverted attention from civil rights, it has strengthened the forces of reaction in our country, and brought to the forefront the military industrial complex, that even President Eisenhower warned us against. But one of the greatest things this war is doing to civil rights, it is allowing the Great Society to be shot down on the battlefields of Vietnam everyday.”
The bombs falling in the Ukraine are already exploding not just across the American landscape but throughout the global environment. It is an obscene indulgence humanity can no longer afford.
By no means least, in the last several months, I've heard more about using nuclear weapons than I've heard previously in my entire long life. Here's the deal my fellow Americans, nuclear weapons put each of your homes on the front line.
The end of the Roman republic taught a society dominated by militarism, eventually brings that militarism into domestic affairs. The sword plunged the fatal blow to the republic's diseased body politic. At its better moments, this republic stood, as poetically phrased by the American responsible for more American war deaths than any other in history, “touched by the better angels of our nature.” We're far, far from that today, ruled by a pathetically low lot, which I'm afraid doesn't speak well at all of We, the People.