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We Were Warned

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Anwar al-Awlakiby Jacob G. Hornberger

In a Fourth of July message to Congress, John Quincy Adams suggested that if America were ever to embrace the principles of empire and militarism, she would become a dictatress of the world. What better evidence of Adams’ wisdom than President Obama’s assassination of American citizen Anwar al-Awlaki, a state-sanctioned murder, one without any judicial process whatsoever?

Look at what an interventionist and imperialist foreign policy has wrought: a perpetual threat of terrorist attacks, which has been the government’s excuse for assuming extraordinary emergency powers — the same powers that many of the brutal U.S.-supported dictators in the Middle East wield: arbitrary arrests, kidnappings, indefinite detention, rendition, torture, kangaroo tribunals, and assassination.  

After the 9/11 attacks, statists cheered the assumption of these extraordinary emergency powers, naively believing that they would be exercised only against foreigners. But President Bush, whose CIA assassinated an American travelling in Yemen in 2002, always made it clear that these emergency powers extended to Americans. President Obama’s assassination of al-Awlaki is another reminder for the American people—that the U.S. government wields the post-9/11 power to kill its own people without any due process of law or judicial interference. It is a power, of course, that dictators throughout history have wielded.

Adams wasn’t the only one who warned Americans what would happen if they embraced empire, militarism, and interventionism.

Madison pointed out that of all the enemies to liberty, war is the biggest because it encompasses the germ of every threat to the liberty and well-being of the citizenry. Not only are civil liberties damaged or destroyed, but also economic well-being owing to out-of-control spending, debt, and inflation that inevitably comes with war.

Who can deny that the so-called war on terrorism, with its much-vaunted Patriot Act, illegal NSA spying, and airport groping has infringed our civil liberties? Who can deny that it has contributed in a major way to out-of-control federal spending, debt, and inflation that now threaten out nation with bankruptcy?

After World War II, defenders of America’s non-interventionist, anti-imperialist legacy warned that the establishment of a permanent military establishment and an imperialist, interventionist foreign policy would forever change the character of our nation— into one resembling totalitarian regimes.

At the same time, libertarian economists like Friedrich Hayek were warning Americans about the road to serfdom they were traveling with welfare statism.

But the statists prevailed, with both the welfare state and the warfare state.

In the National Security Act of 1947, America became saddled with a permanent and ever-growing military-industrial complex, the CIA, and a never-ending obsession with “national security”—all with the notion that the United States was charged with policing and defending the world from its old World War II ally and partner, the Soviet Union.

It wasn’t too long after that that the CIA began engaging in coups, assassinations, and regime-change operations, for example, in Iran, Guatemala, and Cuba.

On December 22, 1963 — exactly one month after President Kennedy was assassinated — former President Truman wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post telling Americans that the CIA had grown into something dark and sinister that no one had ever envisioned. He stated: “We have grown up as a nation, respected for our free institutions and for our ability to maintain a free and open society. There is something about the way the CIA has been functioning that is casting a shadow over our historic position and I feel that we need to correct it.”

But it was not corrected. Things only got worse.

Then, by the time that President Eisenhower was leaving office, it was obvious that he had come to realize the dangers posed by America’s embrace of the national-security state. He warned Americans of the grave threat to America’s democratic processes posed by the military-industrial complex.

By the time he was assassinated, it is clear that President Kennedy had recognized what Truman and Eisenhower had seen. Before he was murdered, Kennedy promised to tear the CIA into a thousand pieces and was exploring ways to end the Cold War, over the fierce opposition of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the military establishment.

Ever since Kennedy’s assassination, every president has bought into the national-security state concept, even after the Soviet threat disintegrated. National security has become a permanent national shibboleth at which federal officials in all three branches of government worship, even though—or perhaps because—its only purpose is to serve as a tool that enables the government to do whatever it wants and to keep it secret.

Militarism and empire are glorified all across America, and Americans get their sense of national purpose and meaning in life through the invasions, occupations, assassinations, kidnappings, torture, detention, kangaroo tribunals, and renditions that empire, interventionism, and militarism have brought us.

Some argue that the battle America confronts is between al-Qaeda and the United States. They are wrong. The real battle is between libertarians and statists. Libertarians are committed to dismantling America’s welfare state and warfare state and restoring liberty and prosperity to our land, while the statists are committed to maintaining the welfare and warfare empires and their ever-growing destruction of the liberty and well-being of the American people.

Jacob Hornberger is founder and president of the Future of Freedom Foundation.


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