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Perpetual Wars & the Permanent Wartime Presidency
With almost a decade under its belt, our multi-front war on a vaguely defined notion of terrorism targeting never-really-defined enemies across the world and here in the newly rephrased ‘homeland’ has come to define the state of our nation. Even the meager limitations on presidential powers of the last six decades have in effect been nullified and replaced with a newly declared and interpreted authority mirroring those of past emperors and kings, and of any classic authoritarian regimes’ rulers. One look at the last decade’s successfully won legal arguments on behalf of the executive, the presidency, is enough to establish the common theme that ‘the war on terror is global and indefinite in scope, and that it effectively removes all traditional limits of wartime authority to the times and places of imminent or actual battle.’
Whether it is illegal domestic eavesdropping or unlawful detention and torture, these newly claimed and boldly practiced presidential entitlements rely on one factor, and that is the extraordinary claims of presidential war-making power. Here is a perfect example of the new permanent wartime presidency in action; boldly, loudly, and unfortunately thus far successfully:
On occasion the Bush administration has explicitly rejected the authority of courts and Congress to impose boundaries on the power of the commander in chief, describing the president’s war-making powers in legal briefs as “plenary” — a term defined as “full,” “complete,” and “absolute.”
The current status of our nation’s president’s war-making powers is defined, recognized, and has been practiced as ‘plenary;’ complete and absolute. Now, let’s add to this the fact that our multi-fronted war on terror is global and indefinite, a war open-ended in time and with no national boundaries. What do we have with this equation? A permanent wartime presidency with absolute powers. The Constitution indeed granted the president the power to fight with any resources Congress makes available in wartime, and accordingly the executive is expected to do whatever it takes to protect the nation, even if it leaves some room for abuse of this power. But did our founders factor in the notion of indefinite, open-ended, perpetual wars, and with them, a permanent wartime presidency status? The Constitution gave presidents the freedom to defend the nation, but what about the nation’s need to protect itself against the abuses of this freedom, including the creation of perpetual wars accompanied with indefinite and absolute presidential powers?
The following excerpts are from the Devil’s Advocate, John Yoo:
Critics of presidential war powers exaggerate the benefits of declarations or authorizations of war, and they also fail to examine the potential costs of congressional participation: delay, inflexibility, and lack of secrecy. Legislative deliberation may breed consensus in the best of cases, but it also may inhibit speed and decisiveness. In the post-Cold War era, the United States confronts several new threats to its national security: proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, the emergence of rogue nations, and the rise of international terrorism. Each of these threats may require pre-emptive action best undertaken by the president and approved by Congress only afterward.
The Constitution creates a presidency that can respond forcefully and independently to pre-empt serious threats to our national security. Instead of demanding a legalistic process to begin war, the framers left war to politics. Presidents can take the initiative and Congress would use their funding power to check him. As we confront terrorism, rogue nations, and WMD proliferation, now is not the time to engage in a radical change in the way our government has waged war for decades.
Mr. Yoo considers a thorough congressional review and authorization based on findings and careful review as tending to ‘exaggerate the benefits of declarations or authorizations of war.’ If put in an appropriate context, this exaggeration could probably have prevented a preemptive attack on Iraq based on false and made-up intelligence on nonexistent WMD, and we may have saved thousands of American soldiers’ lives, tens of billions of dollars of taxpayers’ hard-earned money, and would have prevented the loss of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians’ lives. Only in John Yoo’s book of ‘cost & benefits analysis’ would this make it to the ‘exaggerated cost column.’
As for ‘Congress would use their funding power to check him,’ his pretend innocence would not get a pass from even the most naïve or ignorant. Considering where the real funding of the inhabitants of our congress comes from, taking into consideration the old adage ‘thou shall not bite the hand that feeds you,’ and understanding the power of ‘bacon sent home,’ who is Mr. Yoo kidding here; really?
Let’s look at it from the other side of the fence. What executive office wouldn’t want to possess this level of power? How many presidents would resist gravitating towards the enormous powers granted to a Commander in Chief in practice? How many of today’s ‘viable’ presidential candidate’s bread is heavily buttered by the war industry? Here is how Richard Norton Smith put it during an interview:
However you define national emergency, whether it’s a foreign war, whether it’s a civil war, whether it’s an economic depression, whether it’s a Cold War or the current war on terror, the fact is power gravitates towards the president…It’s a tug of war, Jim, that’s been going on, a constitutional tug of war between the executive and the legislative branch. And what I was picking up off what Ellen said I think the last 75 years has, if anything, distorted what the founders intended. Because of the Great Depression, because of World War II, because of the Cold War, now the war on terror, the fact is that that tug of war has actually been very one-sided. I don’t think this is the presidency that the founders really envisioned.
A Little Bit of History
On November 19, 1973, the Special Committee on the Termination of the National Emergency presented Senate Report 93-549 at the first session of the 93rd Congress. The Introduction to the report, an examination of existing War and Emergency Powers Acts, states:
Since March 9, 1933, the United States has been in a state of declared national emergency. In fact, there are now in effect four presidentially-proclaimed states of national emergency: In addition to the national emergency declared by President Roosevelt in 1933, there are also the national emergency proclaimed by President Truman in 1950, during the Korean conflict, and the states of national emergency declared by President Nixon in1970 and 1971.
These proclamations give force to 470 provisions of Federal law. These hundreds of statutes delegate to the President extraordinary powers, ordinarily exercised by the Congress, which affect the lives of American citizens in a host of all-encompassing manners. These vast ranges of powers, taken together, confer enough authority to rule the country without reference to normal Constitutional processes.
Under the powers delegated by these statutes, the President may: seize property; organize and control the means of production; seize commodities; assign military forces abroad; institute martial law; seize and control all transportation and communication; regulate the operation of private enterprise; restrict travel; and, in a plethora of particular ways, control the lives of all American citizens.
With the melting of the Cold War-the developing détente, with the Soviet Union and China, the stable truce of over 20 years duration between North and South Korea, and the end of U.S. involvement in the war in Indochina-there is no present need for the United States Government to continue to function under emergency conditions.
As we all know the establishment did not let the ‘melting Cold War’ argument stand. During the Reagan era the Cold War reached new heights, with a massive military buildup in an arms race with the USSR, before it came to an end. It wouldn’t be difficult to imagine the panic experienced by the real powers as the Berlin wall and with it the several-decade Cold War came crumbling down. How could the massive Military Industrial Complex, and those feeding upon it, survive this ‘ending,’ and find a way to sustain itself? How about maintaining the role and power of the Executive Intelligence Complex? The creation, existence, and practices of these agencies were based on and justified by the ‘Evil Empire,’ and with it gone, so was the justification sold to the public for the existence of many dependent upon it here in the States.
Sure there were other wars; Gulf War, Kosovo… But those were mini-wars; peanuts. What was needed, that is for the sustainability, survival, and even the fantasy of expansion, was another long-lasting war. Not a dingy little country or two, and certainly not a clear-cut enemy and pinpointable target to hit and be done with. No. In fact, learning from experience, it had to be something that could not end with some darn wall coming down, or a massive regime being taken out. An open ended war; a war with undefined enemies in many colors, with many tongues, and scattered across the world; a war that could be pointed at one place, then at another, and yet another without having to fit any military definition of target or strategy; a war with no boundaries; a war with no possible end. A war that couldn’t even be defined as a war, yet could act as the mother of all wars – a Perpetual War.
If anyone laughed at even the fantasy of such an absurd objective, they certainly weren’t the ones who had the last laugh. All that was needed to make it happen was the creation of a state of emergency. After all, it had been done for a long time, and done so very successfully. People were used to it – living under various degrees of a state of emergency for many decades. Just take it up a notch or two, then sit back and watch the panic take root and spring into full bloom. Jazz it up with a disaster-loving and panic-driving media, and the state of emergency will go into full effect. And from there – hello Perpetual War.
Here is more on the report by the Special Committee on the Termination of the National Emergency:
A majority of the people of the United States have lived all of their lives under emergency rule. For 40 years, freedoms and governmental procedures guaranteed by the Constitution have, in varying degrees, been abridged by laws brought into force by states of national emergency. The problem of how a constitutional democracy reacts to great crises, however, far antedates the Great Depression. As a philosophical issue, its origins reach back to the Greek city-states and the Roman Republic. And, in the United States, actions taken by the Government in times of great crises have-from, at least, the Civil War-in important ways, shaped the present phenomenon of a permanent state of national emergency.
Because Congress and the public are unaware of the extent of emergency powers, there has never been any notable congressional or public objection made to this state of affairs. Nor have the courts imposed significant limitations … the temporary states of emergency declared in 1938, 1939, 1941, 1950, 1970, and 1971 would become what are now regarded collectively as virtually permanent states of emergency (the 1939 and 1941 emergencies were terminated in 1952). Forty years can, in no way, be defined as a temporary emergency.
‘Forty years can, in no way, be defined as a temporary emergency;’ really? Obviously it can, and it was. Not only that, it actually got worse. Today they don’t even bother adding ‘temporary,’ and leave it out completely. How could you win or lose, and declare the end of the ‘war on terror’? Is it possible to capture and neutralize that one last boogie man, announce that the last of the terrorists has been terminated, and then go about dissolving Homeland Security, Motherland Security, Fatherland Agency, Intelligence Czars, Domestic Eavesdropping…? How about the entire industry, the thriving many trillion dollar industry, with the ‘war on terror’ as their sole reason for existence? Obviously this would not fit the vision put in place by the few who matter, and the many grown dependent on them.
The Mother of all perpetual wars, War on Terror, followed by unjustified and undeclared wars: Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Iran… Who are the enemies? Bad Taliban, Semi-bad Taliban, Al-Qaeda, Al-Qaeda Supporters, Possible Al-Qaeda, Islamists, Fanatics, semi-fanatics, fanatic-looking dudes, Iran-ists, and with them all the civilians ‘just our collateral damage.’; babies, women, elderly…Kidnapping, torture, assassinations, black sites, black operations, black budgets…
Here at home: airport security check-points, no-fly list, semi-no-fly-list, many secret lists, tapping all phone calls, monitoring all e-mails, billions of secret documents, thousands of secret operations & plans.
For the winners in the Perpetual War, the military-intelligence-surveillance industrial complexes, the empire presidency and its advocates, and the parasitic class who lives beneath and off of them…the state of Perpetual War is a long-held dream coming true.
For the losers, we, the public majority, the mothers losing their sons and daughters to wars, the spouses left to deal with their returning amputated loved ones, many in need of medical care but with no coverage or assistance, the hard-working class dutifully parting with needed dollars and foregoing all expectations, the seekers of liberties…the realities of these made-up emergencies, and the real consequences of these vague wars are either not registering, or are being accepted and paid for silently.
This applicable quote comes to mind: “Inter arma silent leges: in time of war the laws are silent.” And, I feel like extending the line by adding”…for as long as the people wish to remain silent.”