by Jordan Michael Smith
The voters who put Barack Obama in office expected some big changes. From the NSA's
warrantless wiretapping to Guantanamo Bay to the Patriot Act, candidate Obama was a
defender of civil liberties and privacy, promising a dramatically different approach
from his predecessor.
But six years into his administration, the Obama version of national security looks
almost indistinguishable from the one he inherited. Guantanamo Bay remains open. The NSA
has, if anything, become more aggressive in monitoring Americans. Drone strikes have
escalated. Most recently it was reported that the same president who won a Nobel Prize
in part for promoting nuclear disarmament is spending up to $1 trillion modernizing and
revitalizing America's nuclear weapons.
Why did the face in the Oval Office change but the policies remain the same? Critics
tend to focus on Obama himself, a leader who perhaps has shifted with politics to take a
harder line. But Tufts University political scientist Michael J. Glennon has a more pessimistic
answer: Obama couldn't have changed policies much even if he tried.
Though it's a bedrock American principle that citizens can steer their own government by
electing new officials, Glennon suggests that in practice, much of our government no
longer works that way. In a new book, "National Security
and Double Government," he catalogs the ways that the defense and national security
apparatus is effectively self-governing, with virtually no accountability, transparency,
or checks and balances of any kind. He uses the term "double government": There's the
one we elect, and then there's the one behind it, steering huge swaths of policy almost
unchecked. Elected officials end up serving as mere cover for the real decisions made by
Glennon cites the example of Obama and his team being shocked and angry to discover upon
taking office that the military gave them only two options for the war in Afghanistan:
The United States could add more troops, or the United States could add a lot more
troops. Hemmed in, Obama added 30,000 more troops.
Glennon's critique sounds like an outsider's take, even a radical one. In fact, he is
the quintessential insider . . .
Michael J. Glennon is Professor of
International Law. He was Legal Counsel to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee
(1977-1980). He has since been a Fulbright Distinguished Professor of International and
Constitutional Law. He is a contributing writer at Salon and The Christian Science Monitor.
Al Gore, "American Democracy is in Grave
Danger," Associated Press, October 6, 2005
Stephen M. Walt, "The Myth of American
Exceptionalism," Foreign Policy, November 2011
Peter Dale Scott, "The Hidden Government Group Linking JFK, Watergate,
Iran-Contra and 9/11," WhoWhatWhy, October 5, 2014
Andrew Levine, "Where Hucksters
Rule," counterpunch.org, October 24, 2014
Philip Giraldi, "Skewering the
'Shadow Government'," unz.com, October 28, 2014
[In voting in this county, you vote for an electoral process designed to dissipate your
energies and divert you from the (truly meaningful ) politics of the factory floor or
street. You vote for a cynical ritual, on the basis of perceptions (I won't say
"knowledge") about the world shaped by the corporate media, for candidates vetted by the
backroom kingmakers of the two political parties who have acquired the start-up capital
to market their product.--Gary Leupp, "End of the 'Team of
Rivals'? Or More of the Same?," counterpunch.org, December 4, 2014]
Nafeez Ahmed, "How the
CIA made Google: Inside the secret network behind mass surveillance, endless war, and Skynet,"
medium.com, January 22, 2015
[Companies would be given new authority to monitor their users -- on their own systems
as well as those of any other entity -- and then, in order to get immunity from
virtually all existing surveillance laws, they would be encouraged to share vaguely
defined “cyber threat indicators” with the government. This could be anything from email
content, to passwords, IP addresses, or personal information associated with an
account.--Evan Greer and Donny Shaw, "CISA: the dirty deal between Google and
the NSA that no one is talking about," thehill.com, July 29, 2015]
John W Whitehead, "If Voting Made Any Difference, They Wouldn't Let Us Do It,"
counterpunch.org, August 3, 2016
Gary Leupp, "The
US Election: an Exercise in Mendacity," counterpunch.org, September 6, 2016