The national-security state apparatus under which all of us have been born and raised was established for one and only one purpose: to wage the Cold War against the Soviet Union. From the inception of the country to the aftermath of World War II, the American people had lived without an enormous permanent peacetime military establishment, a CIA with the power to assassinate people, and a NSA to spy on people. With every war that the United States had been engaged in, there had been demobilization after the war.
That changed after World War II. Proclaiming that America’s World War II partner and ally, the Soviet Union, was now a new official enemy, one bent on conquering the world with communism rather than Nazism, U.S. officials maintained that it had become necessary to fundamentally alter America’s governmental system to provide for an enormous, permanent peacetime military industrial complex, an empire of foreign military bases, foreign aid to dictatorships and others, a permanent intelligence agency with the power to assassinate people and change regimes in other countries, and a NSA to maintain a gigantic surveillance system to keep Americans safe from the communists.
We can, of course, debate whether that was a wise and necessary course of action, especially given that a warfare state is inconsistent with the principles of a free and democratic society. But there is one thing that we can all agree on: The Cold War — the original justification for the national-security state — is over. It ended more than a decade ago.
So, why do we still have this fundamental change to America’s constitutional order? Why wasn’t it dismantled once the original justification for it disintegrated? Why weren’t the principles of a constitutional republic that characterized the United States from the inception of the country to World War II restored with the end of the Cold War?
Proponents of the national-security state say that once the original justification — the Cold War — disappeared, a new justification for continuing the national-security state popped up — terrorism. They say that the national-security state is essential for waging a “war on terrorism,” a war that, they say, is likely to last much longer than the Cold War.
But there is one big problem with that new justification: The root cause of anti-American terrorism is the national-security state itself.
That’s what the big debate was over after the 9/11 attacks. The interventionists said that the attacks were motivated by the terrorists’ hatred for America’s freedom and values.
It simply wasn’t true. The anger and hatred that motivated those attacks were the horrific things that the national-security state had been doing during the 12-year period between the end of the Cold War and the 9/11 attacks, the period when lots of people were questioning why we still needed a gigantic military establishment given that the Cold War justification for it was now over. It was a 12-year period when national-security state officials were desperately looking for a new official justification for continuing the national-security state.
It was during that 12-year period of time that the national-security state was doing everything it could to provoke hornets’ nests in the Middle East. The partnership with Saddam Hussein and other Middle East dictators. The Persian Gulf intervention and no-fly zones that killed countless Iraqi people. The stationing of troops near Islamic holy lands. The brutal sanctions on Iraq. UN Ambassador Madeleine Albright’s statement that the deaths of half-a-million Iraqi children from the sanctions were “worth it.” The unconditional financial and military aid provided the Israeli government.
With every anti-U.S. terrorist attack after the end of the Cold War — e.g., the 1993 attack on the World Trade Center, the attack on the USS Cole, the attack on the U.S. embassies in East Africa, 9/11, Detroit, Ft. Hood, and others — the people committing the terrorism all made it clear that their anger was driven by what the U.S. national-security state had been doing in the Middle East after the end of the Cold War.
Consider the previously secret massive surveillance scheme of the NSA. What is their justification for it? Originally, it was to protect us from the communists, who were supposedly coming to get us. After 9/11 — and 12 years after the end of the Cold War, the justification switched to keeping us safe from the terrorists.
But the terrorist threat is a direct consequence of what the other two branches of the national-security state — the military and the CIA — have been doing to people overseas. If those two branches weren’t doing those things, there would be no anti-U.S. terrorist threat and, therefore, no need for an NSA.
Thus, the national-security state apparatus is not only nonessential, it’s actually highly destructive. Not only has the national-security state created the conditions for its own continuation, it also serves as a grave threat to the freedom and economic well-being of American people and to our constitutional order, as Presidents Eisenhower and Truman said they would.
The best thing we could ever do for ourselves and our posterity is shut the entire apparatus down, as our ancestors did at the end of every war.