Sunday, May 22, 2011

A little bad news: this is coming too

The ACLU has discovered a little-noticed, largely undiscussed, and extremely dangerous provision inserted into the National Defense Authorization Act as it was being marked up by the House Armed Services Committee last week.

The provision, Section 1034 of the act, would quite literally commit the US to what amounts to endless war all over the world and empower the president (that is, this and every future president) to use US military forces virtually anywhere in the world at virtually any time - including, potentially, within the US itself and against US citizens - without the need for any further authorization.

The NDAA provides authorization for spending money on the military and other "security" related areas; as such, it is what's called a "must-pass" bill - because of course (of course) no one wants the military to not have buckets - hell, truck-fulls - hell, freight trains-full - of money to spend. Which is why the section, inserted quite literally during a midnight markup session by committee chairman Buck McKeon, with no hearings and virtually no debate even within the committee, is so ominous: No one, or at least far too few, will vote against the bill because of this one provision.

What does the provision do?
Under the guise of a “reaffirmation” of authority, Section 1034 of the Chairman’s mark for the NDAA would give the President unchecked authority--and if the section constitutes a declared “war,” possibly the unchecked duty--to use military force worldwide against or within any country in which terrorism suspects reside. ...

The President would be able to use this authority--or might be required to use this authority--regardless of whether there has been any harm to United States citizens, or any attack on the United States or any imminent threat of any attack. There is not even any requirement of any threat whatsoever to the national security of the United States.
Note again: It is unchecked authority "to use military force worldwide against or within any country in which terrorism suspects reside." Not even "operate," but merely "reside." There is no requirement there be an attack or a threat of an attack on the US or its citizens; indeed, there need be no threat at all. The only requirement is that "terrorism suspects" are present.

Such attacks do not need the cooperation or even passive approval of the host government and there is no geographical limit. What's more, there are no objectives given, making it difficult at best to determine just when and how this authorization would expire.

I am not exaggerating: This is a proposal for a conscious, deliberate abdication of Congressional responsibility and authority which would place all legal control over the US military in the hands of a single person who - considering the difficulty presented by finding a nation where there are no "terrorism suspects" present - would be authorized to use that military essentially at any time, in any place, in any way, to any extent, for any length of time they choose. And it may well pass.

So much for my burst of hope.


Marc McDonald said...

Nice piece.
re: "literally commit the US to what amounts to endless war all over the world."

This sort of thing used to depress me a lot more than it does these days.

But I've come to realize in recent years that it is over for the American empire. The U.S. is so deeply in debt that we increasingly have less and less control over our nation's destiny.

In the future, we will have less and less say over our own military policy. We won't invade any nation unless the likes of China gives its blessing. (Actually, it's that way already---but this trend will become even more obvious in the years to come).

Yes, I know the chickenhawk crowd always have a hard-on for war. But in the future, the U.S. is going to be less a war-like nation. It won't have anything to do with our policy, though. It'll simply be because we're broke.

The impending collapse of the dollar and the end of American empire will no doubt be depressing to some. But the silver lining will be that there will be no more Vietnam or Iraq wars, which will surely be a good thing for the world.

Lotus said...

Unfortunately, Marc, I can't agree with you. While I can go with the premise - "it's over for the American empire" - I can't go with the conclusion.

It seems to me that history says that nations that feel themselves stressed, losing ground, are more likely to become more belligerent, not less.

Recall, for example, that it was the economic collapse of Germany that was a major factor in bringing the Nazis to power. And it's pretty widely agreed that one of the reasons Japan invaded Manchuria and later attacked Pearl Harbor is that is felt economically encircled and even strangled by the West, the risks of war being held to be preferable to the certainty slow asphyxiation.

I also recall a preliminary historical review of military deterrence I read some years back. The conclusion it came to was that deterrence "failed" just about as often as it "worked" and that the single common factor in wars breaking out was when one side saw its position "deteriorate markedly." (And yes, I do remember that that was the phrase used.)

So I really can't share your optimism that an economically-indebted US will be a less war-like US.

This is not, of course, to say that economic dominance leads to a peaceable nation. It is rather to say that neither does a nation being on the skids.

Marc McDonald said...

Hi LarryE, you make some good points.
However, the question I was posing is: how can a nation be war-like if it is broke?
The dollar is on the verge of complete meltdown. And the U.S. manufacturing base is so hollowed out that we can't even make weapons of war without significant input from foreign suppliers.
I read where the Pentagon had to turn to overseas suppliers simply to get enough bullets for the Iraq War. And (even more troubling), even cutting-edge Pentagon weapons simply couldn't be built without key components from the likes of Japan and Europe.
But my key point is: the Military Industrial Complex is incredibly expensive. And war is the most costly activity that any nation can undertake.
So how can a bankrupt America pursue war in the future? Maybe we can do it now. But 10 or 20 years down the road, with a worthless dollar, we're going to find it real difficult to fund any wars.
You make a good point about Germany and Japan.
But those nations had a key difference from today's America: they never lost their industrial base. Both nations in the 1930s had world-class manufacturing. By contrast, the U.S. doesn't really make much of anything any more. In that regard, we're already a Third World nation.
It's already starting to constrict our ability to make war. The NeoCons, for example, had a big hard-on for war with Iran during the George W. Bush years. But the U.S. was just too broke (and our military too weakened) to undertake such a task. And we're in even worse shape now, with the dollar continuing to collapse.
Sure, the U.S. will continue its cowardly policy of drone missile strikes. And we're bogged down in the Afghanistan and Iraq fiascos for a long time. But as far as launching new full-scale wars, I think it's over for the American empire. In fact, if we never launched another war, it'd still be over for America as a superpower. I believe East Asia and Europe will dominate the 21st Century. America will be the Argentina of this century.
But that's just my opinion---we'll see how things turn out.

Lotus said...

Marc -

As you say, we'll see. But the US would be far from the first nation to go to war despite being "broke." In fact, nations have shown a depressingly consistent willingness to go to war because they are broke.

I'd also dispute that Japan had a "world-class manufacturing base" before WW2 and remind you that inflation was so rampant in Germany in the '30s that people were carrying their weekly wages in wheelbarrows - and the fact that the mark was essentially worthless didn't stop the mobilization.

And while our own manufacturing base has shrunk dramatically, that doesn't mean we don't have one - and it wouldn't take much of a war-footing command economy to turn it to military production.

So I want to clarify and emphasize what I think our point of disagreement is: I maintain that history indicates that a nation going "broke" does not make it more peaceful and too often has the opposite effect.

That obviously is not a universal; such things never are. But it is frequent enough that the idea of a US economic collapse does not, I fear, bode well for the future.

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