Monday, May 24, 2010

Dangers of Perpetual War

Dialogue between Publius and his war hawk friend, Mithras. Mithras argued that the projection of American power abroad has nothing to do with limiting government power at home and poses no threat to American liberty. Mithras asserted that the projection of military might abroad was necessary to meet the threat of militant Islam and that he failed to see any logical contradiction between that and limiting government power domestically. Mithras also argued that limited government was not a desirable end in and of itself, but rather necessary only because human beings (and governments comprised of human beings) are corruptible, " If men were omniscient, not corruptible and innately good, I would want the biggest government possible." Publius responds:

“If men where omniscient, not corruptible and innately good, I would want the biggest government possible." Reminiscent of Plato and Orwell (FREEDOM IS SLAVERY, IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH). I would argue that such a government would still be immoral as it would have the power to subjugate an individual’s reason and an individual’s will to some other notion of the common good or the individual’s good. In fact, a government that is both omniscient and innately good would be required to do so whenever any individual acted, in accordance with his or her personal desires, in ways that may not be in his or her long term best interest (such as smoking a cigarette or eating a Big Mac, for example). A gilded cage is still a cage. Besides if men were innately beneficent, we wouldn’t need government for, as Mr. Jefferson put it, “It is to secure our rights that we resort to government at all.” (or as James Madison put it in Federalist 51, “If men were angels, no government would be necessary.”).

I agree that we need to maintain a strong national defense and reserve the right to take action when our interests and security our threatened. As much of a mess as it is now, I supported the invasion of Afghanistan to get those that attacked us (although we only partially succeeded in that objective and it is hard to see what our continued national security interest is there....). But, the Founding Fathers never envisioned this sort of global empire with military bases all over the world. Washington and Jefferson, on opposite ends of the political spectrum for most things, both eschewed entangling alliances.

Most of the Founders were distrustful of even having a standing army as in and of itself a threat to domestic liberty. Madison wrote in Federalist 46, “To these would be opposed a militia amounting to near half a million of citizens with arms in their hands, officered by men chosen from among themselves, fighting for their common liberties, and united and conducted by governments possessing their affections and confidence. It may well be doubted, whether a militia thus circumstanced could ever be conquered by such a proportion of regular troops.”

So while I agree with maintaining a strong defense and taking action when it is, regrettably, necessary; I think it is critically important to limit and narrow our projection of military power overseas to really what is absolutely necessary. But, the real question here is, is there a threat to our domestic liberty posed by remaining perpetually at war? If you have not read Orwell's wonderful novel (1984), please do so. If you have, I think you have missed the salient point: Oceania is kept perpetually at war in the novel as a way for the government to control the people (WAR IS PEACE). There are several indirect threats posed to our liberty by remaining perpetually at war. The government can manipulate public opinion by fear-mongering at election time (raising the terror threat level before elections) and corrals opposition into, "free speech zones," (http://freemarkets-freeminds-freesociety.blogspot.com/2009/12/newspeak-in-21st-century.html). But the more insidious threat to liberty and prosperity by perpetual war (or empire maintenance) is the fact that such overseas military adventurism is incredibly costly. It has to be paid for. It can only be paid for one of three ways: 1) taxation, and if you ask me Americans are taxed excessively as it is, 2) borrowing, and we are already the world's largest debtor nation, in danger of collapse, Greece-style or 3) printing money which inflates the currency and robs us all of wealth.

More direct threats stem from the fact that we accept, and our Constitution provides, expanded powers for government during time of war. President Lincoln went as far as suspending habeas corpus (without an act of Congress), sending federal troops to prevent the meeting of a state legislature in a state that had not yet seceded (Maryland), and imprisoning pro-Southern journalists without trial. FDR rounded up American citizens of Japanese descent into camps. Many, but not all, historians give President Lincoln a pass and argue that his actions were justified by the national emergency of secession. Most historians feel FDR may have gone too far in his treatment of Japanese-Americans. Regardless, however, these infringements on American domestic liberty were temporary because both the Civil War and World War II had definitive end points. In an open ended war, Americans will accept infringements on their liberty in the name of national security that will end up being permanent because the war will never be over. There will always be terrorists. Always.

In the current climate, we have accepted a number of infringements. We accept ever invasive airport screening, by a new federal police service (the Transportation Security Authority), that probably doesn't make us safer and failed horrendously on Christmas Day 2009 (http://freemarkets-freeminds-freesociety.blogspot.com/2010/01/find-terrorist.html). We have the PATRIOT Act (which has some good provisions and some ridiculous ones, like allowing the government to monitor what books people check out of the library), a carbon copy of Bill Clinton's 1995 anti-terrorism bill that Republicans opposed and defeated on the grounds that it threatened civil liberties. When the Bush administration began, illegally, listening to cell phone calls made overseas they simply admitted to it and President Bush said he did it because he would do anything to keep Americans safe. So, rather than be impeached or prosecuted, Congress simply said, "how would you like us to change the law to make it easier for you to spy on people?" and did so with the vote of then-Senator Obama (http://www.slate.com/id/2194254/pagenum/all/). You may argue all you want that you're not a foreign terrorist, so why should you care? The problem is, there is nothing to stop the U.S. Government from using such powers to investigate U.S. citizens. More disturbing is the tampering with the presumption of innocence that is currently in vogue in this perpetual war on terror. The U.S. Constitution mandates that no citizen should be deprived of, "life, liberty or property," without due process of law (Amendment 5) and yet we are now talking about further curtailing the Miranda rights of U.S. citizens charged with terrorism, solely based on the fact that they were charged (not that anything was proven) and preemptively stripping terror suspects that are U.S. citizens apprehended in the U.S. of their citizenship prior to trial to circumvent such due process! (http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5jAz5HTbaFcgiGhmbogdxlE2QCDzQD9FJFQLO0). So what of cases of mistaken identity? What if your name or appearance is similar to the real perpetrator? Do you then preemptively lose your rights as an American citizen because the government thinks, but hasn't proven, it has the right person? If so, why should an American citizen that practices Islam, most of whom do so peacefully, have less rights than a practicing Christian, Jew, or atheist? What is to stop the definition of terrorist from expanding from jihadist, to right-wing militia, to opposition party? More chilling is that the Obama administration reserves the right to be judge, jury, and executioner for American citizens that it believes (again hasn't proven) are involved with terrorism (http://abcnews.go.com/Politics/license-kill-intelligence-chief-us-american-terrorist/story?id=9740491&page=1). Talk about circumventing the fifth amendment! Talk about the danger of a mistaken identity and a government that isn't required to meet a burden of proof before sentencing.

These are the threats to American liberty that have accrued over the last eight and a half years fighting a "war on terror." As the war goes on, there will be more. Since the war has no end in sight, I see no end in sight to the erosion of American liberty. Sure, our troops are, "over there" but the permanent war footing has ramifications for domestic policy at home. In October 2002, when Congressman Ron Paul (R-TX) introduced a resolution for Congress to actually declare war on Iraq, Congressman Ed Royce (R-CA) opposed the measure stating, "...we have got to contemplate that it [declaring war] is going to have the effect of transferring power, conferring power to the President and Attorney General and to the Pentagon that they cannot otherwise exercise. One of those powers is going to be the power to wiretap, notwithstanding what we do here in Congress, once there is a declaration of war, they are automatically going to be able to wiretap." He was right about the danger war poses to domestic liberty, but as we have seen, the Bush administration was already wiretapping and Congressman Royce was, in reality, arguing in favour of Congress abdicating power to the executive by not exercising its role in deciding when we do and do not go to war. How can you fail to see that fighting a war indefinitely threatens our liberty at home? Our liberty has been eroding for eight and a half years and will continue to erode for as long as we remain at war.

2 comments:

zymurgist said...

It is difficult to imagine a scenario where overseas power projection can be curtailed in the foreseeable future, given that much of the USA's military assets are and have been deployed to keep oil flowing to the market. There seems very little will to get off of the oil teat... tax breaks are offered for gasoline-electric hybrid cars, but little thought is given to building a natural gas infrastructure (a la T. Boone Pickens's plan) or, heaven forfend, what comes next, 20 or 30 years down the road.

Publius said...

I don't think we're getting off oil anytime soon - it's too efficient a fuel and too convenient for motor vehicles. That said, the majority of our foreign oil comes from Canada. We hardly need an overseas empire to buy Canadian oil. Furthermore, I seriously doubt middle eastern countries would stop selling us their oil just because we don't have military bases there.