Friday, October 17, 2008

Marching Straight Towards Authoritarianism

Whenever a civilian government either outsources its responsibilities in matters domestic and/or foreign affairs, whether to corporations, security agencies and/or the military, then it is safe to say that it is the beginning of the end of democratic governance - ultimately leading to authoritarian corporatocracy, security state and/or military junta ... or all of the above, also known as fascism.


In addition to the overwhelming assaults on the U.S. constitution, civil rights and human rights (i.e. military commissions, indiscriminate domestic spying, security sweep pre-emptive arrests, renditions, indefinite detentions, torture, etc.), including outsourcing of security and war efforts (Blackwater, anyone?), the U.S. government is now letting go of some of its people-empowered roles in diplomacy and foreign affairs. To whit:

(...) when did a four star general get handed the authority to act as if he were Secretary of State?

The WaPo reports that:

Gen. David H. Petraeus has launched a major reassessment of U.S. strategy for Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, Iraq and the surrounding region, while warning that the lack of development and the spiraling violence in Afghanistan will probably make it "the longest campaign of the long war."

The 100-day assessment will result in a new campaign plan for the Middle East and Central Asia, a region in which Petraeus will oversee the operations of more than 200,000 American troops as the new head of U.S. Central Command, beginning Oct. 31.

The review will formally begin next month, but experts and military officials involved said Petraeus is already focused on at least two major themes: government-led reconciliation of Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and the leveraging of diplomatic and economic initiatives with nearby countries that are influential in the war.

All of this seems like a good idea to me. But, crucially, neither of those themes are military ones and the military shouldn't be leading the way on them. It's about separation of power and having the military subordinate to civilian policymakers rather than the other way around.

So where are the US ambassador, State Dept. and Condi Rice, who should be leading the way on them while the military man concentrates on military matters? For that matter, won't the leaders of other nations involved in the region wonder why America has appointed a de facto proconsul (again) and want their say?

"When you look at a lot of these problems, you see considerable regional connections," Petraeus said yesterday. The effort would embrace all of Afghanistan's neighbors and possibly extend to India, which has had a long-standing rivalry with Pakistan. "There may be opportunities with respect to India," he said.

An overview of the review team's mission obtained by The Post says that including other government agencies and other nations in the planning will "mitigate the risk of over-militarization of efforts and the development of short-term solutions to long-term problems."

Nevertheless, some experts questioned whether Petraeus will have the authority to carry out such a sweeping strategy.

"General Petraeus is not in charge of our diplomacy. He can't decide whether we try to form an international contacts group on Pakistan," said Barnett Rubin, an Afghanistan expert at New York University.

Moreover, in dealing with Afghanistan at Central Command, Petraeus will face limitations that he did not encounter as the top commander in Iraq, such as the lack of a unified military command and serious resource shortages.

"We don't own it. It's been a NATO effort since 2006. He won't have the same sway with Karzai and the ambassadors and a bunch of other people that he had in Iraq," said a former senior military official with experience in Afghanistan.

Perhaps most worrying of all, Petraus' mini foreign policy is being described as "a policy bridge from one administration to the next" by one of his team members, Clare Lockhart, co-founder of the New York-based Institute for State Effectiveness along with former Afghan finance minister Ashraf Ghani.
"It's about separation of power and having the military subordinate to civilian policymakers rather than the other way around" - Cernig is spot on with this reminder.

However, I would amend this truism to include security agencies alongside the military.

For indeed, remember this, as but one example? (emphasis added)
Canada's spy agency has the green light to meet with Canadians detained abroad (as apart of a national security or terrorism case) before (Foreign Affairs) consular officials do when there are "urgent national security or terrorism-related considerations," says a newly disclosed federal agreement.
Which made me conclude the following (emphasis added):
In effect, Foreign Affairs will leave it up entirely to CSIS to make its own call - and defer to it.

Without any outside oversight whatsoever.

Plain and simple.

(...) This is how your Security State fully awakens, folks: when a country's secret security agency is given the power of life and death, of freedom and detention, over its citizens and whose judgement prevails over constitutional, civilian institutions supposedly mandated to deal in such matters.
After 9/11, we have witnessed a gradual encroachment of security measures which have been eroding our rights of freedom and privacy - all the while either applauding such measures, or remaining indifferent to them, because They. Make. Us. Feel. Safe.

Same thing with regards to human rights overall - whereby too many folks out there actually approve of the use of torture.

What we are now witnessing is the gradual deferment of responsibilities of our governments towards security agencies and the military - with the same mind set of needing to feel secure, which in turn has elevated security and military entities as preeminent Saviors in which We Trust implicitly.

Even for law and order enforcement (meaning: martial law by any other way).

All aided, abetted and amplified by the all-too-eager, gung ho, subservient, approving, supportive, enthusiastic, complicit, propagandist, media.

Indeed, a sickening worship of all things authoritarian and/or military was gleefully on display at the RNC last September (for instance, whether it was about McCain, his wife or Palin, it was inevitably emphasised that either they have served, have as son currently serving and/or had a parent/grandparent who served during WWI, WWII or some othe conflict - the message being that they are from a "strong" bloodline of military service).

The DNC likewise delved into this theme, albeit to a much lesser extent - nevertheless, that a past parent of Obama served and Biden's son being deployed to Iraq were emphasised as well.

That is creeping and already well entrenched militarism for you - case in point:

If I could be granted one small wish about our political discourse, it would be that reporters and pundits would accept -- as disappointing and unglorious as it is -- that, under our Constitution and basic government design, people who aren't in the military don't have a "Commander-in-Chief." The President isn't your "commander," and the "Commander-in-Chief" power, now synonymous in our political culture with "President," is actually extremely limited (Art. II, Sec. 2: "The President shall be Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the Militia of the several States, when called into the actual Service of the United States").

This endless festishization of "President as Our Commander-in-Chief" is one of those small but pernicious reflections of how militarized we've become, of how we are a society in a state of perpetual and endless war.
Punditman likewise expressed herein his concerns last year over the same phenomenon apparently slowly sinking into Canada's own consciousness:
Wearing camouflage used to signify one of two things: the person was either in the armed forces or was setting out on a different sort of mission that involved drinking tons of beer and killing furry creatures in a forest somewhere. But nowadays, the whole idea of hunting (humans or animals, that is), has been demoted by those who dress like G.I. Joe just because they are out hunting for a latte or an Ipod.

Grow a brain, people. This is all about the militarization of our culture.

(...) Along with camouflage, Canada is now beset by an overabundance of “Support Our Troops” ribbons, t-shirts, bracelets and mugs. You can’t go anywhere without seeing the telltale yellow ribbon on cars. Come to think of it, some are camouflaged. It is high time that the elephant in the room is asked the obvious question that polite Canadians would rather avoid: What does “Support Our Troops” really mean?

Those who decorate their vehicles thusly would have us believe that the decals are politically neutral symbols of support for soldiers overseas. This is nonsense and they know it. The intended audience are those of us who forego yellow ribbons. If you think about it, the phrase “Support Our Troops” is sort of bossy, like a drill sargent’s snarl. This is known in grammatical circles as the “imperative mood.” Therefore the directive to “Support Our Troops” comes off like an order, but with a somewhat fuzzy meaning: What exactly am I supposed to do? Buy a ribbon, I guess.

Yet the context is obvious. This is all about the Afghan War and nothing else. The yellow ribbon campaign has succeeded in convincing at least eighteen Canadian municipal and local governments to affix the decals to police cars, ambulances, fire trucks, buses and other municipal vehicles. Since this is all public property, this is a divisive move, not an inclusive one. Why this cause, but no others? Why not “Support Our Cancer Patients” or “Support Our Single Moms”? Are they less worthy?

(...) One may well ask: where should Canada’s foreign policy priorities be right now? Tied down in Afghanistan, begging NATO allies for more help in what looks more and more like an intractable military stalemate? Or, working through diplomatic channels to try to prevent a global conflagration between the US and Iran that could even go nuclear?

It’s time to ditch the camouflage and put on your thinking caps.
And that is without considering Harper's own drive to militarize Canada further. Peacekeeping? We Canadians apparently don't do that anymore:
(...) Rwanda was there, desperately needing help to prevent a genocide. Dallaire even knew what to do. But the rest of the world, Canada's government included, opted to do nothing. They let "traditional peacekeeping" fail in a grand and horrible way, with 800 000 dead, so they could pretend that "traditional peacekeeping" was itself dead.

And now the Canadian Press is helping them with this pretence. And at the end of article they're going to lament how little we trust journalists.

Referring to failed Bosnia-Serbia intervention, the article continues:
That frustrating experience shaped the attitude of a generation of soldiers, who were eager to shed the United Nations blue beret, which they saw as a symbol of weakness and indecision.

Really? The soldiers saw it as a sign of weakness? Who is writing this article? Where is the survey that demonstrates this? Is this the infantry or the military brass? Besides which, it doesn't matter what the soldiers think. It is the civilian population that selects the missions. If those enrolled don't like peacekeeping, they don't have to stay enrolled.
Yet the public clings to the romanticized notion of brave soldiers standing between belligerents.

Yeah. We stupid, ignorant Canadians have these stupid, romantic morals and values. God, we're so fricking naive, aren't we?

(...) The fact is that Canadians should be in charge of what their military is doing. At this time, we are not. The Liberals failed to steer the military in to the post Cold War peacekeeping force that we wanted. The Conservatives are taking that military force and using it aggressively.
Indeed - for only through military might may one country be taken seriously.

Once again - it all goes back to the fact that Americans and Canadians are sill gripped by the all-encompassing fear of terrorism - which is used whenever convenient to further push more authoritarian security measures, increased militarization/military interventionism, or simply to win elections.

History has clearly shown that fear-driven radical interpretations of the separation of powers within a republic, or any democracy, along with the slow erosion of the rule of constitutional law and the clamor for a single strong and powerful leader in times of crises, have lead to the downfall and de facto end of said republics/democracies - the fall of the Roman republic constituting an obvious, ancient example.

In other words:
Fear + Need for security + Erosion of the rule of Law + Religious fundamentalism + Militarism + Intolerance for opposing/dissenting opinions and beliefs + Calls for a strong and powerful leader = A democracy facing possible overthrow in favor of despotism.
And this little reminder of the 10 steps towards fascism:
1. Invoke a terrifying internal and external enemy;
2. Create a gulag;
3. Develop a thug caste;
4. Set up an internal surveillance system;
5. Harass citizens' groups;
6. Engage in arbitrary detention and release;
7. Target key individuals;
8. Control the press;
9. Dissent equals treason;
and 10. Suspend the rule of law.
All the necessary tools are already on hand.

As the saying goes - one must remember and understand history in order not to repeat the mistakes of the past.

It remains to be established whether we, Americans and Canadians alike, will stand up for our constitutions, our democracy-based societies, or let fear and paranoia sweep them away in lieu of authoritarianism - as we keep allowing our elected representatives to defer their entrusted powers and responsibilities to security agencies and the military.

We better wake up before it is too little, too late ...


(Cross-posted at TWWL, NION, Progressive Historians, NetRoots, The Peace Tree)

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