Semiwarriors and the “imperial presidency”

The imperial presidency is not the disease; it is a symptom. To imagine that getting rid of Bush will cure what ails the body politic is akin to assuming that excising a tumor will alone suffice to cure cancer. The real affliction is more insidious. For want of a better label, call it “semiwar,” a term coined after World War II by James Forrestal to promote permanent quasi mobilization as the essential response to permanent global crisis.

In this recent article from The Nation Andrew J. Bacevich outlines the expansion of the American national security apparatus from WWII to the present, which has come to result in the executive staking for itself power beyond the scope it previously had.

For Forrestal and other members of the emergent national security elite, fired by the need to confront a never-ending array of looming threats, the presidency served as an accommodating host. Semiwarriors built the imperial presidency. On behalf of the chief executive–increasingly referred to as the Commander in Chief–they claimed new prerogatives. They created new institutions that became centers of extra-constitutional power…

…In 1933, when Franklin Roosevelt became President, the District of Columbia was merely a seat of government and the United States was still a republic. When FDR’s successor left office twenty years later, Washington fancied itself the center of the universe, with the United States now the self-anointed Leader of the Free World.

While the facts detailed by Bacevich cannot be disputed, the tone that underlies his writing need not be shared by the critical reader. It becomes increasingly harder to miss as one reads through to how he relates the topic to Bush administration policy from 9/11 to Iraq. Bacevich’s unmistakable view is that the expansion of executive power has been an awful thing. Personally, I view it as a necessary evil.

Questions I would ask the author if we ever met:

1. Would you have wished the United States not to have become the Leader of the Free World?

2. If so then how would you have imagined the Cold War to have been fought and won? Or do you fancy the Cold War then as you fancy the War on Terror today to have been unworthy of serious attention?

3. If the answer to the last question is no, then how would you propose the United States equip itself to handle such ongoing global crisis?

If there is a rational proposal to the above, we would do well to consider it, as nobody really likes the executive branch having this inflated role other than the executive branch itself. We realize that there are going to be mistakes, missteps, and at times outright abuses. But unlike the author, I am not one who thinks that having anything other than a proactive, even aggressive policy towards the problems we face around the world is realistic in the age we live in. (The UN can be trusted with this responsibility about as far as they can be trusted to learn how to pronounce the word “genocide”)

This gets to the crux of our disagreement, as summarized in the following conclusion made by the author:

The Big Lie propagated by the architects of the Iraq War is not that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction nor that he was in cahoots with Osama bin Laden; it is that they possessed a secret formula for keeping America safe, the essential ingredient in that formula being a mandate to engage in open-ended war.

His assessment exhibits the true reason many war critics will not accept the policies of the administration. They do not acknowledge the problems these policies are directed at solving as having anything to do with American security, or perhaps even anyone‘s security. You will naturally put down that hammer you are holding when you are unable to see the nails in front of your face.

H/T to After the Future


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