On September 21, 2001 Congress passed the Authorization to Use Military Force act, the legislation that essentially allowed the President and military to wage war on “terrorism” anywhere, anytime and seemingly forever. In an impressive imitation of the German parliament under Hitler Congress, after virtually no debate, approved the act with an almost unanimous vote; apart from a few abstentions there was only a single nay cast in both houses. That no vote was cast by Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Cal), who is now sponsoring a bill, HR 198, that would repeal the AUMF.
The Patriot Act, another demonstration of incredible political cowardice, is of course much more pernicious domestically, with its constitutionally dubious provisions for dramatically enhancing the powers of the country’s security apparatus while undermining civil liberties. The Patriot Act (always be suspicious of legislation with the word “patriot” in the title) immediately reminded me of the Enabling Act of 1933, which essentially allowed Hitler to henceforth govern by decree: both were justified by “threats” to national security (9/11, the burning of the Reichstag) and both increased the power of the state and undermined the democratic constitution. And since no government will voluntarily surrender power the life of the Patriot Act, like the Enabling Act, has been constantly extended, most recently by that defender of freedom, Barack Obama, whom we now know is collecting information on Americans on a scale unmatched by any dictatorship in history.
In some ways the AUMF is the foreign affairs counterpart to the Patriot Act. It dramatically increases the power and scope of the executive, military and CIA in waging war overseas and obviously allows the transgression of international covenants we are pledged to defend, once again in the name of national security, the favorite excuse of every authoritarian state. Even better than the Patriot Act, the AUMF has no sunset clause, presumably because the war against terror will last so long as there is even a single individual contemplating violence against the United State, which is to say, forever.
President Obama, who was apparently awarded the Nobel Peace Prize simply for replacing George Bush, is now using the AUMF to “wage war,” i.e., assassinate people, to an extent the Bush administration could only dream of. Obama thus joins such notables as Henry Kissinger, Menachim Begin and Yasser Arafat in the contest to see which Nobel Peace laureate has the most blood on his hands. And his administration has just made it clear, at least in White House language, that the war is likely to continue for another ten or twenty years. We could be going for a record here.
Lee’s bill is doomed to failure, because the forces perpetuating the forever war are simply too strong for Congress to resist, not that it takes that much to cow our noble leaders. Unlike the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, however, it is not economic pressures that play a major role, since drone warfare is relatively cheap, and for Haliburton, Blackwater Mercs, Amalgamated Latrine Diggers, et al. there is in this case little “money to be made, supplying the army with the tools of the trade.” Instead, the forces behind the forever war are institutional: the Presidency, federal security and intelligence agencies and the military.
Governments are the ultimate beneficiaries of wars, assuming they win them. Threats to national security, particularly those that are seen as internal to the country, have always been a grand justification for the state, especially the executive, to accumulate more power, and the security threat is most obvious and useful when the country is actually at war, whether or not the enemy is seriously a threat. The beauty of the forever war, of course, is that is in fact forever. Crises need not be invented, because inasmuch as the country is always in a state of war, it is also always in the midst of a politically useful crisis. Further, not only can we not lose the war on terror but it also does not need to be won, so long as terrorists (or reasonable facsimiles) are being blown up. Even a failure, such as a successful serious terror attack in the country, provides a platform for seeking more authority and more leeway in the exercise of that authority. It’s a politician’s dream come true.
The Executive branch clearly benefits, certainly in its relationship to the Congress. The President of the United States now has more power, both in domestic and foreign affairs, than he has ever had, even, I would suggest, during the Second World War. Governments do not willingly surrender power. Much of the power accumulated during the war against Germany and Japan was retained by the Presidency, and more was added by the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, a fine example of war – or shadow war – playing into the hands of the executive and military. Some of that authority was rescinded by the War Powers Act, but not all, and the measure in fact enshrines the idea that the President can commit the country to war without getting anyone’s approval by granting an exception: in case of “a national emergency created by attack upon the United States, its territories or possessions, or its armed forces.”
Presidential authority and the mechanisms for exercising that authority clearly skyrocketed after 9/11, leading to two costly wars that really did not involve the American public. Barack Obama has now dramatically underscored the point that all governments crave power; the putative liberal and one time critic of the Bush administration’s abuses has preserved all those emergency powers, which are now being used on a whole new scale. The obsession with secrecy and leaks, which has resulted in an administration even more opaque than the previous one, obviously has a lot to do with preventing the public from realizing just how extensive and questionable the government’s activities are.
The forever war is a bonanza for the FBI, the CIA, the NSA and whatever other security and intelligence groups that are mucking about the country. Since the war against terrorism has a domestic component our secret police, the FBI, has an unending excuse for enhanced activities, even those of constitutional questionable nature, and a basis for demanding more money. Nobody, probably not even members of Congress, really knows exactly what the mandate and powers of the NSA are since this set of spooks makes the CIA look positively transparent, but clearly it is involved in domestic affairs, whether legally or illegally, who knows? Intelligence agencies always do well in times of war, and we can expect the NSA to see increases in its funding, though we will not see them, since the agency’s budget is also secret.
The big winner in the forever war is the CIA (probably; who knows what the NSA is doing?), inasmuch as it is directly involved in foreign affairs and external threats to the US. Such agencies inevitably grow larger in times of war, and in this regard the forever war is perfect, since it is against shadowy individuals scattered around the planet. Consequently, the CIA becomes more important and plays a bigger role than the military, and the organization that was formally prohibited from assassination in 1975 now does so openly and with heavy weapons. Why drone warfare and serious weaponry was put in the hands of an intelligence agency, particularly one with a history of incompetence and law-breaking, rather than the military is not at all clear. Perhaps because they were considered better at secrecy and deception than the military.
While the forever war is essentially in the hands of its competitors, the military still benefits, since a war is a war, even one in which traditional armed forces have only a limited role. Any war means budget increases for the Pentagon and provides them squealing points should any traitorous politician suggest their budget be cut. Besides, the forever war is everywhere, which means more military personnel planted around the world. And those aircraft carriers will be real handy for launching drones.
None of these people have any serious reason to see the war on terror end; it is simply too good for business. And it will not end, since it is unlikely there will ever come a moment when nobody is interested in killing Americans, especially since every drone strike, every violation of others’ national sovereignty is creating more jihadists. So, the war on terror can even be good for terrorists.
The only real losers are the American people and their Constitution.