The National Security State: If We Keep This Up The Terrorists Win

The events of 9/11 have spawned an understandable focus on security, however, the extent of fear-mongering, Islamophobia and ongoing curtailment of civil liberties, along with the meteoric rise of an unwieldy national security state which operates like a secret government within a government, is at odds with the principles and values of representative democracy.

The irony of our government’s response to terrorism is that many of the policies we’ve created to deal with terrorism have done little more than perpetuate anti-American sentiment and serve as a recruiting tool for terrorists. Along the way, the military-industrial-security complex has become a self-perpetuating behemoth that feeds off our collective fear.

That’s not to say there are legitimate security concerns but at what point do we reflect on whether we have essentially handed our “enemies” a huge victory by undermining the very principles, values and freedoms that are unique to America? There is no such thing as absolute security and any attempt to achieve a complete eradication of terrorism is doomed to failure. Unfortunately, few people are asking “are we really safer” for all these laws and procedures we’ve enacted and wars that we’ve engaged in? Frontline did ask the question and they aired a fantastic program (which you can watch here) on that issue which relied heavily on Dana Priest’s investigative journalism about the growing national security state. You really have to see the program to get an idea of the scope of our national security state- the money spent, the duplication of effort, the growth of the military-industrial-complex and the lack of any objective accounting of whether it all even works.

I don’t know how many people recall this but after 9/11, Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu responded that the attack was good for Israel, saying:

“We are benefiting from one thing, and that is the attack on the Twin Towers and Pentagon, and the American struggle in Iraq,” Ma’ariv quoted the former prime minister as saying. He reportedly added that these events “swung American public opinion in our favor.”

Yes Bibi, it’s all about you.

I think there are some in Israel (and the U.S.) who would like nothing more than for the U.S. to become more like Israel- ie. to justify absolutely everything in the name of security even if arguably unrelated to any rational security threat. Well, we very well could be slowly inching closer to that. Yesterday there was an article in Politico about a new method for passenger screening that the TSA is likely going to institute. What country is it modeled after? Israel. Basically, Israel has a very random policy that amounts to racial profiling on steroids. Anyone who has traveled to Israel knows if Israeli security thinks you are Arab or Muslim (also see here and here) or that you have pro-Palestinian sympathies, you can book your return flight because you aren’t getting into Israel.

The problem with the U.S. response to real and perceived terror threats is that the huge expansion in Executive and military power is prone to abuse. After all, taken to its logical extreme, what can’t be justified in the name of security and safety? As we learned recently with the controversy over the Flotilla to Gaza, almost anyone with unpopular views can be accused of providing “material aid” to terrorists. Of course, there has already been massive abuse of civil liberties by our government since 9/11 (see here here, here, here, here, and here for just a few examples) and as is typical with a country that curtails freedom in the name of security and operates with minimal transparency, there has been little to no accountability. In fact, quite the opposite- the Bush and Obama administrations have pursued government whistleblowers who exposed the wrongdoing with a vengeance.

I remember watching another Frontline program, I think it was “Bush’s Wars” which talked about how Osama bin Laden had hoped that Al Qaeda could get the U.S. involved in multiple “bleeding wars” that would spread our military very thin, eat up resources, create a backlash against us in the Middle East and get us bogged down in wars where our advanced weapons systems/technology really wouldn’t matter. Mission accomplished! Why haven’t our leaders or media questioned why we would so willingly walk into this trap? Look at Afghanistan; by our own admission, we’ve nearly rooted out Al Qaeda but they’ve just gone somewhere else and the country is not one bit more stable than when we started- should we be asking why that is? We spend 10 years fighting a war to root out Al Qaeda (and the Taliban) and the country is a disaster. But hey, lets keep the same counterinsurgency (COIN) operations that have failed all along and while we’re at it, lets give the guy who invented the COIN strategy a promotion!

Interestingly, Norway’s response to the recent terrorist incident in Olso has been exactly what one would expect of a healthy democracy that values both security and freedom. Glenn Greenwald has an excellent post about the difference between how Norway reacted to the attack and how the U.S. tends to respond in similar circumstances (note: I understand that the attack in Norway is not equal in magnitude to 9/11 but the issue is about more than simply numbers/death toll). And I guess that’s my point- that the U.S. can have both freedom and security but it will mean challenging basic foreign policy assumptions and accepting that no nation is ever completely safe.

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About Stacy

Attorney, Publisher, Foreign Policy wonk

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4 Comments on “The National Security State: If We Keep This Up The Terrorists Win”

  1. tovah8 Says:

    Thanks for this post. Lots of great links for background information. Even if one doesn’t agree with you you at least back up your contentions with support which is something a lot of bloggers don’t do.

    All those links to abuses by the govt after 9/11- that’s really incredible. I didn’t know about most of them particularly the national security letters. I remember vaguely about the NSA spy scandal and of course I believe the Valerie Plame outing was Dick Cheney’s way of punishing Joe Wilson for going public with the lie about evidence that Saddam had an active WMD program.

    I’ve read a couple of books on Hillary and one thing that bothered me- although not enough to not vote for her- was that she didn’t read the one thing that mattered in deciding whether or not to vote for the Iraq war authorization- the classified National Intelligence Estimate. The reason I know that is because many of my friends in 2008 were hardcore Obama supporters and I was always defending Hillary against them particularly with respect to her more hawkish views. When they would argue that Hillary had voted for the war simply to try to look tough on national security I did my research to rebut them and also to rebut people on the Obot blogs. In some of the Hillary books they talked about this too. She never read the NIE and many of the members of Congress who DID NOT vote to go to war with Iraq said that it was due to what they found in the classified version of the NIE- that it raised way too many questions and made Bush’s arguments seem very thin. I never understood why she wouldn’t read it given she said the war vote was the most important vote of her career. When asked about whether she read it in 2008 she and her advisers hedged. But she wasn’t alone b/c only SIX Senators read the classified version of the report! Incredible. No wonder we went to war! So needless to say my friends seemed to win that argument. But payback is a b*tch and now I ask them if they believe Obama’s claim that had he been in the Senate at the time, that he would voted against the war authorization. Given the guy has us bogged down in three public wars plus several covert ones, I think the guy was lying through his teeth.

    So anyway, the reason I brought all the Iraq War stuff up is because I think it supports the point you were making Stacy, that our foreign policy after 9/11 was a disaster- we waged war against a country that had NOTHING to do with9/11 and we made things worse. Our response always makes things worse but so long as we look tough no one seems to care.


    • thainjacobs Says:

      Hi Tovah, long time no see!

      Like you most of my friends voted for Obama and the Iraq War was the main reason. I didn’t even really bother defending Hillary’s foreign policy even though I was voting for her because I didn’t really agree with her foreign policy. I didn’t buy Obama’s BS though. He was like a snake oil salesman. It was a bit too convenient for him to say he would have not voted for the Iraq War with the benefit of hindsight. Of course now he’s in office and he’s as hawkish as anyone. Drone strikes in Pakistan, Yemen, a secret war in Somalia, intervention in Libya with no end in sight, throwing the Palestinians under the bus, etc. Obama is a liar and all my friends who voted for him are pretty quiet now!


  2. thainjacobs Says:

    Oh forgot to say- great post Stacy! I agree with Tovah, links are really helpful!

    There was some study done in 2004 or so about how when people are afraid they are more likely to give the govt a lot of latitude on war and policy if it’s they believe it’s being done for security reasons. I’m not doing a good job explaining it but basically it showed what everyone knows is common sense- Hitler certainly knew it and used it- if the govt can take advantage of people’s fears, throw in a dash of patriotism/nationalism and find a scapegoat then the govt can really do anything it wants. God help whoever is in the scapegoat role.


  3. R. J Black Says:

    “They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”
    — Benjamin Franklin


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