Home > Government, History, Politics > Change: Difficult, but Needed

Change: Difficult, but Needed

September 23, 2009 Leave a comment Go to comments
Diego Garcia

Diego Garcia

The current New York Review of Books has a short piece by Gary Wills describing the difficulties Obama (or any president) has in introducing policies that would move the US away from its permanent national security state. There may not be much that is original, but the article is still valuable in laying out the issues so succinctly and clearly. The opening is below. The article is short; read it all. (See also Jonathan Freedland’s review of David Vine’s Island of Shame: The Secret History of the U.S. Military Base on Diego Garcia, to both of which Wills refers.)

George W. Bush left the White House unpopular and disgraced. His successor promised change, and it was clear where change was needed. Illegal acts should cease—torture and indefinite detention, denial of habeas corpus and legal representation, unilateral canceling of treaties, defiance of Congress and the Constitution, nullification of laws by signing statements. Powers attributed to the president by the theory of the unitary executive should not be exercised. Judges who are willing to give the president any power he asks for should not be confirmed.

But the momentum of accumulating powers in the executive is not easily reversed, checked, or even slowed. It was not created by the Bush administration. The whole history of America since World War II caused an inertial transfer of power toward the executive branch. The monopoly on use of nuclear weaponry, the cult of the commander in chief, the worldwide network of military bases to maintain nuclear alert and supremacy, the secret intelligence agencies, the entire national security state, the classification and clearance systems, the expansion of state secrets, the withholding of evidence and information, the permanent emergency that has melded World War II with the cold war and the cold war with the “war on terror”—all these make a vast and intricate structure that may not yield to effort at dismantling it. Sixty-eight straight years of war emergency powers (1941–2009) have made the abnormal normal, and constitutional diminishment the settled order.

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Categories: Government, History, Politics
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