Yesterday, I described one of the principal dangers of a ruler having the omnipotent, non-reviewable power to assassinate his own citizens (and, for that matter, foreigners as well). All too often rulers, along with their armies and intelligence forces, come to place citizens who oppose their policies through speech in the same category as those who are opposing it with force. That’s why tyrannical rulers oftentimes end up arresting, incarcerating, torturing, and even executing citizens who are doing nothing more than criticizing the regime or exposing or opposing wrongdoing by the regime.
The mindset of warfare statists is a simplistic one, one that can be summed up in the mantra, “You’re either with us or against us.” Since an opponent of U.S. foreign policy isn’t with us, that obviously means that he’s “against us” that is, he’s on the side of the terrorists, the communists, or a nation state that the United States happens to be at war against. Since the mind of the welfare statist has only those two options for us or against us he cannot conceive of the possibility that a citizen is opposing government wrongdoing against foreigners on principle. In the statist mind, a person who falls into that category has automatically joined the side of the victims of the wrongdoing who are responding with forcible resistance or retaliation.
Thus, for the warfare statist, the critic of government policy becomes as much an enemy of the state as the person who has actually taken up arms against the government.
Last week I was debating a man named Stephen Cohen, an academic who serves as senior fellow at the Brookings Institute. The debate was on the international Russian television network RT. If you would like to watch the debate, you can do so here.
The debate was over U.S. foreign policy in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and it became quite heated. I was making the standard libertarian argument: that U.S. foreign policy engenders the anger and hatred that foreigners have for the United States, which then manifests itself in the threat of terrorist retaliation, which then is used as the excuse for the federal governments suspending our civil liberties in order to keep us safe from the threat that the governments policies have produced.
I pointed out that its rational that the Pakistani government might resist the U.S. governments demand that the Pakistani government kill its own people for resisting the U.S. occupation of Afghanistan, especially since Pakistanis, with U.S. support, resisted the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan.
I said that the best thing that the United States could do is immediately pull out all the troops and bring them home and stop the drone assassinations in Pakistan and elsewhere.
During the course of the debate, Cohen became furious, in part because he felt that the host of the show had misstated one of his positions. But much to my surprise, he suddenly blurted out to me, So, you would support Pakistani terrorist attack against the United States because it would be retaliation? You would have supported the Times Square bombing?
Imagine that. My opposition to U.S. foreign policy had caused Cohen to leap to the notion that I somehow support terrorism against the United States!
Since I considered Cohen’s questions to be idiotic, I chose not to dignify them with a direct response. Instead, I deflected the questions by stating that the U.S. should end its occupation now, not at some indefinite time in the future, which would bring an end to terrorist attacks against the United States.
It was obvious, however, that in Cohen’s mind, his questions weren’t idiotic at all but instead perfectly rational. Remember: In the simplistic mindset of a warfare statist, You’re either with us or against us. When Cohen heard me criticizing U.S. foreign policy in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and elsewhere and arguing that such policy produced the constant threat of terrorist retaliation, his mind obviously placed me on the side of the insurgents and the terrorists. His mind obviously precluded him from considering the possibility that a citizen can oppose governmental policy without placing himself on the side of foreign victims who are violently retaliating against such policy.
Thats the mindset Im talking about with respect to why its so dangerous that the president, the CIA, and the military now wield the omnipotent, non-reviewable power to assassinate citizens whom they deem terrorists. Many political rulers, along with their high military and intelligence officers, have that same Youre with us or against us mindset. Thus, they come to see domestic citizens who are opposing their policies as threats to national security or, even worse, an agent of the terrorists (or the communists, as during the Cold War).
One irony is that while people like Cohen can so easily hurl questions like that at opponents of U.S. foreign policy, it is warfare statists like him who wants to keep the troops in Afghanistan knowing that some of them are going to be killed or maimed by the insurgent and terrorist attacks.
Take a look at this link. It shows the faces of the 6,230 U.S. service members who have died in Operation Iraqi Freedom [sic] and Operating Enduring Freedom [sic].
Or take a look at this article, which describes strategies for treating traumatic brain injuries suffered by servicemen in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Or take a look at this article from last Sundays Washington Post, which shows a picture of Army Lt. Dan Berschinski with his girlfriend Rebecca Taber. Hes missing both of his legs as a result of a bomb he stepped on in Afghanistan. Hes one of the 13,000 U.S. soldiers injured in Afghanistan.
Cohens position the position of warfare statists is that the Afghan occupation must continue notwithstanding the fact that there will inevitably be many more dead, injured, and maimed U.S. soldiers. As I stated during our debate, hes not doing the troops any favors.
And whats his justification for his position? During the debate, he said that weve got to be sure that al-Qaeda is no longer a threat.
No longer a threat? Give me a break! Theyve had 10 years to kill al-Qaeda members to their hearts content. Nothing has restrained them with respect to their use of bombs, missiles, and bullets. If they havent killed all the al-Qaeda members in Afghanistan by now, maybe theres a reason like maybe the occupation itself continues to generate a self-producing recruiting vehicle for al-Qaeda and the insurgents, who are simply committed to ridding their country of a foreign occupier.
Would al-Qaeda come to the United States and invade and conquer our country if the U.S. Empire were to end its occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq? The notion is ridiculous. For one thing, the purpose of al-Qaeda is rid the Middle East of the U.S. Empire, including its occupations and support of Middle East dictatorships. Moreover, the notion that al-Qaeda has the military transport planes and ships and millions of troops that would be needed to cross the ocean and successfully invade and conquer the United States is too laughable to seriously critique.
The simplistic Youre either with us or against us mindset that guides warfare statists is obviously a dangerous thing when government officials wield the omnipotent power to take out their citizenry. But like other extraordinary emergency post-9/11 powers, it is ultimately rooted in the existence of the U.S. military empire. Thats just one more reason why its imperative that such empire be dismantled if we are to restore a free society to our country.