One of the most mystifying aspects of the Donald Trump presidency has been his caving in to the U.S. national-security establishment. Among the biggest expectations that people had for Trump was that he would be the first president since John F. Kennedy to stand up to the military, the CIA, and the NSA. There were even some hopes that he would significantly diminish U.S. interventionism abroad, including withdrawing all U.S. troops from the 16-year-old war in Afghanistan.
Trump’s early hostile relations with the CIA was so bad that New York Congressman Charles Schumer was even motivated to warn, “Let me tell you, you take on the intelligence community, they have six ways from Sunday at getting back at you.” Trump’s adverse relationship with the CIA caused former senior CIA official Paul Pillar to exclaim, “The relationship is the worst of any incoming administration ever.”
Not anymore. Surrounding himself with generals and giving the national-security establishment carte blanche to do anything it wants to protect “national security,” Trump, for all practical purposes, has been absorbed by the national-security establishment, even permitting the CIA to continue keeping its long-secret, 50-year-old JFK-assassination records secret from the American people.
It is safe to say that for the balance of Trump’s term in office, his actions in foreign affairs will be no different than anything that Hillary Clinton, who undoubtedly would have been a loyal servant of the national-security establishment, would have done with respect to foreign affairs.
What gives? Why the dramatic shift in Trump? Why didn’t he stick to his guns, like Kennedy did?
The reason is found in the excellent book National Security and Double Government by Michael J. Glennon. This is a book I highly recommend reading, as it provides the best explanation for the consequences that followed the federal government’s conversion to a national-security state.
Glennon has credentials. He is a professor in the law school at Tufts University. From 1977-1980, he was counsel to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
The reason that Trump ended up caving to the national-security establishment is that it quickly dawned on him, primarily owing to the massive attacks leveled on him relating to supposed “collusion” with Russia, that it’s the Pentagon, the CIA, and the NSA that are in charge of the federal government, not the president, not Congress, and not the federal judiciary. Trump came to the realization that for all practical purposes, he, like everyone else in the executive, legislative, and judicial branches, works for the national-security section of the government, not the other way around.
What is a national security state? It’s a particular type of governmental structure, one that is inherent to totalitarian regimes. North Korea is a national-security state. So is China. So is Egypt. So is the United States.
A national-security state consists of three primary components, all of which can be centralized into one entity or divided into separate departments and agencies.
One component is a massive military establishment, one that plays a dominant role in society, both economically and sociologically. Another component consists of covert state-sponsored assassinations and cover-ups. The third component is secret monitoring of the citizenry — e.g., secretly listening in on telephone conversations, secretly reading people’s emails, secretly watching what people do on the Internet, and keeping secret files on people.
In the United States, these three components are divided into three entities — the military establishment, the CIA, and the NSA.
It’s interesting to compare the Egyptian national-security state with the U.S. national-security state. When Mohamad Morsi was elected president of Egypt, the big mistake he made was in thinking that he was in charge and that the military establishment answered to him since he was president. Morsi learned what Trump has learned: that it was actually the Egyptian military, which had long controlled the country (with the full support of the U.S. government) that was simply permitting Morsi to be president. Once he got out of line and became a bit too independent, they simply ousted him, arrested him, and incarcerated him, while restoring full military control over the country, with U.S. foreign aid, especially armaments, continuing to flood into the country.
It’s easy to recognize Egypt as a full-fledged national-security state because the military-intelligence establishment fully controls the government and, like the U.S. military-establishment plays a major role in the Egyptian economy and society.
It appears to be different here. That’s because when the federal government was converted into a national-security state, the national-security establishment decided that it would be expedient to continue permitting the other three branches of the federal government to continue operating, even to the point of letting them continue the illusion that they were the ones actually in charge of the government. That is, it has never mattered to the Pentagon, the CIA, and the NSA that people perceive that the other three branches are in control of the federal government. What has mattered to the Pentagon, the CIA, and the NSA is the realty of the situation — that they are the ones who are really in charge, even if the citizenry don’t recognize it.
That’s the thesis of Glennon’s book. America has double government — one that maintains the façade of being in control and the other being the part of the government that is actually in control, just like in Egypt and other societies that are based on a national-security state type of governmental structure.
Why was the federal government converted into a national-security state after World War II? U.S. officials said that such a revolutionary change in America’s governmental system was necessary in order to combat the Soviet Union, which also was a national-security state.
Ironically, however, when the Cold War ended some 45 years later, the U.S. national-security establishment didn’t voluntarily self-dissolve. Why should it have? Who’s going to make it do so?