The U.S. mainstream press can easily recognize the dominant and influential role that the military plays in society, so long as they are referring to countries like Pakistan and Egypt. Unfortunately, the same reporters and commentators turn a blind eye to the similar phenomenon here in the United States.
For example, the Washington Post writes: “When not in power, [Pakistan’s generals] have exerted outsize control over foreign policy, the economy, and local politics.” The New York Times writes: “Even during civilian rule, the country’s generals have wielded enormous power, setting the agenda for the country’s foreign and security policies…. As prime minister, Mr. Sharif ran afoul of the military early on by trying to assert control over foreign and defense policy, which is seen as the army’s domain.”
It’s the same in Egypt. Newsweek points out that after the military coup that ousted democratically elected President Mohammed Morsi from office, “The army stepped in…. Five years on from the coup, the military government — led by general-turned-president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi — has established a firm grip on the nation….”
Meanwhile, not surprisingly, the U.S. government is flooding the Egyptian military with hundreds of millions of dollars that the IRS has forcibly taken from the American people.
What the mainstream media and, unfortunately, all too many Americans, fail to recognize is that the Egyptian, Pakistani, and American governments all have a fundamental governmental principle in common: All three are national-security states and, consequently, in all three regimes the military and intelligence sections of the government play the dominant role within the government and within society.
What is a national-security state? It is a type of government that has a vast and permanent military-intelligence establishment. Secrecy is a core element, with threats of severe punishment on anyone who discloses secrets of the regime.
The most important principle of a national-security state is, not surprisingly, a concept called “national security.” Everything revolves around recognizing and eradicating threats to “national security.” There is no established definition of “national security.” The military and the intelligence forces wield the omnipotent and non-reviewable power to determine who and what constitutes a threat to ”national security” and the omnipotent and non-reviewable power to eradicate it.
In Pakistan and Egypt, the entire national-security establishment is subsumed in what is simply referred to as “the military.” In the United States, the national-security establishment is divided principally into three parts: the vast military establishment, led by the Pentagon, the CIA, and the NSA. I say “principally” because to a certain extent the FBI, over time, has been absorbed into the national-security establishment.
What many Americans fail to realize is that the United States wasn’t always a national-security state. When the Constitution called the federal government into existence, the federal government was a limited-government republic, which is the opposite of a national-security state. The size of the army was extremely small and there was no CIA, NSA, or FBI. There was no concept of “national security.” Transparency, not secrecy, characterized the republic.
That all changed after World War II. Americans were told that in order to successfully confront America’s World War II partner and ally, the Soviet Union, in a “cold war,” it would be necessary to convert the federal government from a limited-government republic into a national-security state, which is what the Soviet Union was.
That’s how America ended up with essentially the same type of governmental system that exists in Pakistan and Egypt. It’s also how the country ended up with such programs as assassination, torture, indefinite detention, mass surveillance, and denial of due process, none of which existed when the federal government was a limited-government republic.
What many Americans also fail to recognize is that it’s the national-security establishment that is really the part of the federal government that is in charge, especially when it comes to foreign policy. That’s why President Trump was unable to pull U.S. troops out of Syria after expressing a desire to do so — the Pentagon wouldn’t permit it. It’s also why he was unable to release the CIA’s long-secret JFK records last fall, as he announced he was going to do and as the law required — the CIA wouldn’t permit it. It’s why Americans continue to be saddled under a regime that engages in mass secret surveillance, no different in principle from that which exists in Pakistan and Egypt — the NSA will not permit the federal courts to interfere with its surveillance operations. It’s why no congressional candidate would ever dare to call for a dismantling of military installations or projects in his district — the Pentagon as well as the local press would skewer him.
When it comes to enforcing the Constitution, the U.S. Supreme Court and the federal judiciary are permitted to maintain an appearance of being ultimately in charge but only up to a certain point. That’s why there are people in Guantanamo Bay who have now been incarcerated by the Pentagon and the CIA for 14 years without a trial.
A book that every American should read is National Security and Double Government by Michael J. Glennon, professor of law at Tufts University. Glennon explains perfectly how the U.S. national-security state works compared to nations like Pakistan and Egypt.
In those countries, the control of the national-security establishment is direct, while in the United States it is indirect. Here, the Pentagon, the CIA, and the NSA permit the president, the Congress, and the judiciary to appear to be in control of the federal government. But as Glennon shows, it’s just a veneer. The real control lies with the part of the government that wields the largest amount of force, and that part consists of the Pentagon, the CIA, and the NSA.
Recall what George Washington is reputed to have said, “Government is not reason. It is not eloquence. It is force.” But not all parts of the government are equal. Some wield more force than others. It is undeniable that the national-security part of the government wields the most force of all.
If anyone in Washington, D.C., had doubts about the overwhelming power of the U.S. national-security establishment, such doubts came to an end on November 22, 1963, when President Kennedy was assassinated after taking on the military and the CIA. (See FFF’s book JFK’s War with the National Security Establishment: Why Kennedy Was Assassinated by Douglas Horne and my new video-podcast series “The National-Security State’s Assassination of John F. Kennedy.) Kennedy had reputedly vowed to tear the CIA into a thousand pieces, to end the racket of the Cold War, to withdraw all U.S. troops from Vietnam, and to normalize relations with Russia, Cuba, and the rest of the communist world, all of which, needless to say, was considered heresy to the national-security establishment. Suddenly, after Dallas, it dawned on everyone in Washington that there was a new sheriff in town, one that would not countenance any threat to the power of the national-security establishment and, of course, to its existence, just like in Pakistan and Egypt. That’s undoubtedly a lesson that President Trump himself is now learning.