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Our nation was founded as a limited-government republic. It was a type of government whose powers were few and limited. That’s the way our ancestors wanted it. They believed that the greatest threat to their freedom and well-being lay not with some foreign threat but rather with their very own government.
Our ancestors were fiercely opposed to what they called a “standing army,” by which they meant a large, permanent military establishment. That’s why the United States had only a small military force as part of its limited-government republic. Our ancestors understood that large, powerful military establishments were historically how tyrannical regimes imposed their will on their citizens.
America’s founding foreign policy was one of nonintervention in the affairs of other nations. That policy was expressed in a speech that John Quincy Adams delivered to Congress on the Fourth of July, 1821, which was entitled “In Search of Monsters to Destroy.” Adams pointed out that lots of bad things happen around the world — tyranny, oppression, war, strife, famine, revolutions, and the like. However, pursuant to its policy of noninterventionism, the United States would not intervene to slay any of those “monsters.”
Instead, Americans implemented a policy of open immigration, a system that enabled people from around the world to come to the United States without fear of being forcibly deported to their homeland or elsewhere.
It’s also worth mentioning some of the other characteristics of America’s founding economic system: No income tax or IRS, Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, farm subsidies, education grants, paper money, Federal Reserve, welfare, foreign aid, Pentagon, CIA, NSA, FBI, public (i.e., government) schooling, drug laws, minimum wage, or a government-regulated economy.
That was our system of government and our economic system for more than 150 years. It wasn’t perfect by any means — slavery being the premier example of imperfection — but it succeeded in bringing about the freest, most prosperous, and most charitable nation in history. It was not a coincidence that millions of people fled foreign lands to come and live in this highly unusual society.
In the late 1800s and early 1900s, however, increasing numbers of Americans began agitating for a new direction — one based on a much more powerful government, both in domestic affairs and in foreign affairs.
At the state level, for example, there was a growing number of economic regulations, such as minimum-wage laws, maximum-hours laws, and occupational licensure. At the national level, in 1913, statists succeeded in enacting the Sixteenth Amendment, which ushered in the federal income tax, and the Federal Reserve System. With the advent of the Great Depression in the 1930s, another monumental change occurred with the conversion of America’s economic system to a welfare state and America’s monetary system to a paper-money standard.
The conversion to a national-security state
But the biggest change occurred after World War II when the federal government was converted from a limited-government republic to a national-security state, a type of totalitarian-like structure in which government officials wield omnipotent powers, such as the powers of assassination, torture, and indefinite detention.
The justification for this massive change, which was accomplished without even the semblance of a constitutional amendment, was a supposed international communist conspiracy that emanated from Moscow and whose aim was to conquer the world, including the United States. Since the Soviets were not constrained by constitutional limitations, the argument went, they would be able to defeat the United States. Therefore, to win the Cold War, the United States would have to “temporarily” abandon its founding governmental system of a limited-government republic in favor of the totalitarian-like system entailing the Pentagon, the vast military-industrial complex, the CIA, and the NSA.
The irony was that the Soviet Union had been a partner and ally of the United States during World War II. After the war, however, U.S. officials informed the American people that they now had a new official enemy, one that was arguably a bigger threat than Nazi Germany. That new enemy was the Soviet Union and, to a larger extent, “godless communism.”
To ensure that the American people went along with the change in our form of government, President Harry Truman was advised to scare the “hell out of the American people.” He did that with the threat that international communism and the Soviet Union supposedly posed to the American people.
Thus, the new official enemy of the American people became Russia and the rest of the Soviet Union, along with Red China and other communist regimes. For some 45 years, the fear of the Reds inculcated in the American people guaranteed not only the continued existence of the national-security establishment but also ever-increasing amounts of tax-funded largess for the Pentagon, the CIA, the NSA, and the ever-growing number of “defense” contractors who depended on feeding at the public trough.
A new official enemy
Then in 1989, the Cold War suddenly and unexpectedly came to an end. With Russia’s decision to dismantle the Soviet Union, withdraw from East Germany and Eastern Europe, and declare an end to the Cold War, the U.S. national-security establishment had lost its official enemy, one that it thought would last forever.
That, of course, should have meant the end of the national-security state form of government. After all, it was the supposed threat of the Soviet Union that had been used to justify the conversion to a national-security state. With the end of the Soviet Union and the supposed international communist conspiracy, Americans were entitled to have their founding system of a limited-government republic restored to them.
Alas, it was not to be. Once a nation has been converted to a national-security state, it is extremely difficult to persuade an all-powerful military-intelligence establishment to disappear quietly into the night. There was no possibility that the Pentagon, the CIA, and the NSA were voluntarily going to do that.
Instead, they simply needed a new official enemy, one that would replace the Soviet Union and “godless communism.” Once that was accomplished, the national-security establishment would be off and running once again.
Enter Saddam Hussein, the dictator of Iraq. He was made America’s new official enemy. U.S. officials labeled him the “new Hitler.” Like Nazi Germany and then the Soviet Reds, this “new Hitler” was coming to get us. Throughout the 1990s, the daily lament among the American people became “Saddam! Saddam! Saddam!”
The irony was that, just like the Soviet Union, Saddam had previously been a partner and ally of the United States. That was during the 1980s, when U.S. officials were supporting Saddam in his war of aggression against Iran and furnishing him with those weapons of mass destruction that would later be used as the excuse for invading Iraq.
Why did U.S. officials want to help Saddam to kill Iranians? The reason was that the Iranian people had revolted against the brutal tyranny of the Shah of Iran in 1979, angering U.S. officials. The CIA had instituted a coup in Iran in 1953 that ousted Iran’s democratically elected prime minister, Mohammad Mossadegh, from power and replaced him with the brutal unelected tyranny of the Shah. U.S. officials never forgave the Iranian people for doing that and, therefore, were eager to help Saddam to kill them.
However, once the U.S. national-security state needed a new official enemy, they turned on Saddam, just as they had turned on the Soviet Union.
When Saddam expressed anger over Kuwait’s slant-drilling into Iraq, thereby stealing Iraq’s oil, U.S. officials expressed indifference to the conflict. However, once Iraq invaded Kuwait, everything changed. Suddenly, the world was faced with a “new Hitler” who, if not stopped, would supposedly conquer the world.
Never mind that Iraq was a poor, Third-World country with a third-rate military. What mattered was that the U.S. national-security establishment had a new official enemy, at least temporarily, especially since President George H. W. Bush permitted the “new Hitler” to remain in power rather than forcibly removing him.
The sanctions on Iraq
During the Persian Gulf War, U.S. officials massacred Iraqi forces and, not surprisingly, easily won the war. During the conflict, the Pentagon made a fateful decision: After deciding that bombing Iraq’s water-and-sewage treatment plants would help spread infectious illnesses among the Iraqi people, the Pentagon ordered the bombing.
After the war was over, the United States and the UN enforced one of the most brutal systems of economic sanctions in history, one that prevented Iraqi officials from repairing or replacing those bombed-out plants. The purpose of the sanctions was to target the Iraqi people with death and impoverishment as a way to induce Saddam to resign from power and be replaced with another pro-U.S. dictator.
The sanctions contributed to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children but failed in removing Saddam from power. In 1996, U.S. ambassador to the UN Madeleine Albright declared that the deaths of half-a-million Iraqi children from the sanctions had been “worth it.” By “it,” she meant the U.S. effort to remove Saddam from power. The sanctions continued for another seven years after she made that statement.
Throughout the 1990s, anger and rage were boiling in the Middle East over the continued killing of the Iraqi children. Commentators were warning the United States that if it persisted with these killings, there would inevitably be retaliatory terrorist strikes on American soil.
It didn’t take a rocket scientist to predict that that would ultimately happen, especially given the shootings of CIA officials in McLean, Virginia, the 1993 attack on the World Trade Center, the attack on the USS Cole, and the attacks on the U.S. embassies in East Africa. The terrorists cited the U.S. government’s killing machine in the Middle East as their motive.
The war on terrorism
The U.S. government ignored those warnings. When the inevitable attacks came on September 11, 2001, the national-security establishment now had another official enemy — terrorism (and, to a certain extent, Islam). The Pentagon, the CIA, and the NSA were off to the races again. Terrorism had supplanted “godless communism” and Saddam as America’s new official enemy.
In fact, it was believed that terrorism might prove to be an even better official enemy than “godless communism” and Saddam because it was likely to last longer, especially since the fear generated by the 9/11 attacks were used to justify the invasions and occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq. With the continuous killings that took place in those operations, the threat of terrorism became continuous as well, which is why the war on terrorism was considered to be a perpetual war. The invasions and occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq became the greatest terrorist-producing machine in history.
The 9/11 attacks enabled U.S. officials to do what their sanctions had failed to do — remove Saddam from power, except that it was through an invasion and a war of aggression rather than through sanctions. In the process of achieving that end, U.S. forces killed, injured, maimed, or tortured countless Iraqis and destroyed the entire country. For their part, Americans were exhorted to thank the troops for their “service.”
A renewed Cold War
Meanwhile, U.S. officials never gave up hope of reviving their old Cold War racket against Russia. Throughout the time they were using Saddam Hussein — the “new Hitler” — as their new official enemy, the Pentagon was using NATO to expand eastward by absorbing former members of the Warsaw Pact, which would enable the Pentagon to place its troops and missiles ever closer to Russia’s border.
Not surprisingly, Russia objected, just as the U.S. government objected when the Soviet Union installed its missiles in Cuba in 1962. Of course, the Pentagon ignored those objections, which ultimately resulted in the Russian invasion of Ukraine and a U.S. proxy war against Russia.
Thus, the national-security state now has the best of all worlds — a renewal of its Cold War against Russia and the continuation of its war on terrorism. Taxpayer money continues to flood into the coffers of the Pentagon, the CIA, and the NSA, and their army of voracious “defense” contractors feeding at the public trough. And it’s all to keep us “safe” from the enemies that these rackets have produced.
Meanwhile, Iraq, which is still occupied by U.S. military forces, continues to be the hell-hole that the U.S. national-security establishment made it, under the rubric of “Operation Iraqi Freedom.”
This article was originally published in the July 2023 edition of Future of Freedom.