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The Change of Official Enemies under George H.W. Bush

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Missing from all the accolades heaped on former President H.W. Bush, who passed away a few weeks ago, was the fact that Bush presided over the biggest transition of official enemies of our country in the 70-year-old  history of the U.S. national-security state.

From the time the U.S. government was converted from a limited-government republic to a national-security state after World War II, the official enemy of the United States was the Soviet Union, a confederation of nations led by Russia. The reason given for selecting the Soviet Union as America’s official enemy was that it was led by a communist regime that was supposedly hell-bent on conquering and ruling the world, including the United States.From their early beginnings, the Pentagon, CIA, NSA, and FBI inculcated Americans with a deep fear of the Soviets and the so-called communist threat. Americans were told that there was a worldwide communist conspiracy to take over the United States and the world and that the conspiracy was based in Moscow, which was the capital of Russia. While supposedly based in Moscow, this worldwide communist conspiracy had already succeeded in converting China, North Korea, North Vietnam, and other nations to communism. It was just a matter of time, Americans were convinced, before the conspirators did the same to the United States and the rest of the world.

In fact, it was the so-called communist threat that was the reason that the federal government was converted from a limited-government republic to a national-security state in the first place. The argument was that since communist countries had governments that were national-security states, it was necessary for the United States to adopt the same type of governmental system to prevent the communists from taking over our nation.

During the Cold War, Americans were made to believe that communists were everywhere. Of course, they were in the Communist Party and the Fair Play for Cuba Committee, which the Pentagon, CIA, and FBI were doing their best to infiltrate and destroy. They were also in Hollywood, which was what the infamous criminal prosecutions of Dalton Trumbo and the Hollywood 10 were all about. Also, the blacklisting of other Hollywood figures who had had any relationship with communism in their backgrounds. Communists were said to be in the State Department. The army too. There were the McCarthy hearings. Martin Luther King and the civil-rights movement were believed to be a spearhead of the communist movement to take over the United States. Cuba was a communist dagger pointed at America’s neck. The dominoes in Southeast Asia were in danger of falling to the Reds. Some Cold Warriors were even convinced that President Eisenhower was a communist agent. In fact, for some reason, the only openly and publicly self-declared “communist” who they never harassed, harangued, abused, subpoenaed, indicted, tortured, or assassinated in the entire history of the Cold War was Lee Harvey Oswald, the accused assassin of President John F. Kennedy.

During the Cold War, the watchword on everyone’s minds was “security.” To get a good sense of the Cold War “security” environment, see this collection of posters distributed by the NSA to American society.

During the entire Cold War, there was never any fear expressed about the terrorists (unless they were communists) or Muslims. That’s because communism and communists were the official bugaboo. In fact, when U.S. national-security state officials partnered with and supported radical Muslims in Afghanistan during the 1980s, when it was the Soviet Union doing the occupying of that country, both conservatives and liberals cheered.

Not surprisingly, during the 45 years of the Cold War, the tax-funded largess flowed into the coffers of the Pentagon, CIA, NSA, and FBI. No amount of tax-money largess was too much to prevent America from falling to the Reds.

In the months before he was assassinated in 1963, President Kennedy declared that he was bringing the Cold War to an early end and that he intended to establish peaceful and friendly relations with the Soviet Union and the rest of the communist world. That would almost certainly have spelled the end of the national-security state and the restoration of a limited-government republic, given that there were still lots of Americans living at that time who remembered what life was like under a republic. But Kennedy was assassinated and his successor Lyndon Johnson proceeded in the standard Cold War direction. See FFF’s ebook JFK’s War with the National Security Establishment: Why Kennedy Was Assassinated by Douglas Horne.

In 1989, however, the Soviet Union suddenly and unexpectedly declared an end to the Cold War. Soviet troops exited East Germany and Eastern Europe, where they had been since World War II, a war in which, ironically, the Soviet Union and the United States had been partners and allies. In fact, it was continued postwar control over Eastern Europe and East Germany that President Truman used to justify the conversion of the federal government to a national-security state in the first place. Another irony is that it was his predecessor, President Franklin Roosevelt, who had willingly delivered Eastern Europe into the control of the Soviet Union during the war.

In any event, in 1989 the U.S. national-security establishment lost its official enemy, and it was panicked. It knew that it needed an official enemy to keep Americans scared. If Americans weren’t scared of some official enemy, they might start asking an uncomfortable question:  Why do we need a national-security state and why can’t we have our limited-government republic back?

That’s when H.W. came to the rescue. When Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi forces invaded Kuwait to settle an oil-drilling dispute, Bush declared that the United States now had a new official enemy, one who Bush and his national-security establishment said was as another Adolf Hitler. Amidst much pomp, fanfare, and fear, Bush ordered his army to invade Iraq to reverse Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait.

But Bush stopped short of removing Saddam from power, which enabled the U.S. national-security establishment to have a new official enemy for the next 11 years. “Saddam! Saddam! Saddam!” That’s all that Americans exclaimed during the entire 1990s. U.S. officials made certain that Americans were convinced that Saddam was coming to get them, especially with mustard gas, Anthrax, mushroom clouds, and other weapons of mass destruction. Americans were as afraid of Saddam as they had been of the communists.

Of course, in the process everyone forgot that Saddam had been a close partner and ally of the Pentagon and the CIA during the 1980s, when they were partnering together to kill Iranians in the Iran-Iraq War. Everyone also forgot that it was the United States that furnished Saddam with those WMDs in the first place, so that he could kill Iranians with them. See here and here.

To oust Saddam from power during the 1990s, U.S. officials instituted one of the most brutal sanctions schemes in history, which succeeded in killing hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children. U.S. Ambassador to the UN Madeleine Albright went on Sixty Minutes and openly declared that the deaths of half-a-million Iraqi children from the sanctions were worth it. U.S. troops were stationed near Islamic holy lands. There was unconditional support given the Israeli government.

All that interventionism produced terrorist blowback, beginning in 1993 with a terrorist attack on the World Trade Center, followed by the terrorist attacks on U.S. embassies in East Africa and the USS Cole in Yemen, and then the 9/11 attacks.

With the 9/11 blowback, new life was breathed into the Pentagon, CIA, NSA, and FBI. America now had a new official enemy — terrorism, especially after the 9/11 attacks were used as the justification for invading Iraq and removing Saddam from power (which H.W. had failed to do more than a decade earlier). In some ways, terrorism and terrorists were better official enemies than communism and communists. As long as U.S. officials continued killing people in the Middle East and Afghanistan, they could be assured of a constant, never-ending stream of official enemies. That in turn would guarantee the perpetual existence of the national-security establishment and its ever-increasing share of federal tax-funded largess. The “war on terrorism” could go on forever.

The fear of “the terrorists” ultimately morphed into a fear of the Muslims, who now were considered to have been conspiring to come and get us for centuries, even during the Cold War when no one ever mentioned them and, even better, when American interventionists celebrated their partnership with U.S. officials in Afghanistan. Of course, fear of drug dealers and illegal immigrants have been thrown into the fear mix for good measure.

Today, we have come full circle. Russia is now a renewed official enemy. The only thing that’s missing is the term “communist” but it is clearly lurking beneath the surface, as reflected by the continued U.S. fear of and animosity toward communist China, communist North Korea, and communist Cuba. Meanwhile, spending on the Pentagon, CIA, NSA, and FBI continues to soar.

This post was written by:

Jacob G. Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation. He was born and raised in Laredo, Texas, and received his B.A. in economics from Virginia Military Institute and his law degree from the University of Texas. He was a trial attorney for twelve years in Texas. He also was an adjunct professor at the University of Dallas, where he taught law and economics. In 1987, Mr. Hornberger left the practice of law to become director of programs at the Foundation for Economic Education. He has advanced freedom and free markets on talk-radio stations all across the country as well as on Fox News’ Neil Cavuto and Greta van Susteren shows and he appeared as a regular commentator on Judge Andrew Napolitano’s show Freedom Watch. View these interviews at LewRockwell.com and from Full Context. Send him email.