It’s Happening Here

“We have a war going on.”

How many hundreds of times in the past year have you heard this tired excuse, mouthed as often by Democrats as Republicans to avoid serious debate? The speaker, generally self-righteous, always believes or at least pretends that he is supporting some policy vital to the fight against evil, either abroad or in the fatherland. The Bush administration itself chose to initiate open-ended, lengthy, and large-scale wars rather than treat the events of September 11 as a crime, and that opened the door. Since most U.S. citizens liked calling it war, our leaders then began using the “fact” of war to justify any other actions they wanted to take. At the same time they refused even to consider changing any of Washington’s own provocative and hate-inducing foreign policies.

What happened first was that the U.S. military, taking few casualties itself, used its high-tech aerial firepower to kill many innocents in Afghanistan. Most of the bloodshed never appeared on U.S. boob-tubes. Because, one supposes, this first war continues and someone at a high level has decided that much of the information about it cannot yet be declassified, U.S. officials have publicly avoided even estimating the amount of this collateral bloodshed (although they do claim it is small). But no one in the U.S. considers the number killed in the World Trade Center and the Pentagon to be small, and the number of innocents who died in Afghanistan from U.S. actions may well be higher.

Recently, the president and his handlers have been expanding their efforts to begin a second war, without bothering much to tie the expansion to terrorism. If they have their way, other wars will follow, and for years to come the U.S. will ? unless somehow the lunacy can be stopped ? spend untold billions beefing up the already bloated armed forces, the dozen or so redundant U.S. intelligence agencies, and the nation’s flawed internal security organs. Deep deficits and an expanding national debt will surely result, but the Bush administration will accept them because “a war is going on”. Washington will almost certainly pay no more than lip service to the poverty, health, water, food, and environmental problems facing both the global and the U.S. domestic economies, and in any case will allot only tiny resources to deal with them. As for future collateral bloodshed, the administration is unlikely to demonstrate any more concern than it has to date. And to date that concern has been almost wholly propagandistic.

Now a new development is emerging that threatens to change the structure and society of the United States itself. The Bush administration, consciously or unconsciously, is taking the first steps to create an out-and-out military government. Look at the current discussion in Washington. The question of U.S. policy toward Iraq should be a political issue, not a military one. Yet it is quite clear that the leadership in the Department of Defense (DOD) has more influence today over U.S. policy on Iraq than anyone in the State Department. We all know that the top officials at Defense are highly committed hawks on Iraq, and that these same ideologically committed hawks are also the strongest supporters in Washington of the right-wing Sharon government in Israel, which is about the only other country in the world committed to overthrowing Saddam Hussein.

This has not been the only warning of an effort to concentrate power over U.S. foreign policies in the Defense Department rather than the State Department. Donald Rumsfeld, the Secretary of Defense, recently made a public statement supporting both Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza and the Jewish settlements in these areas. These are the settlements, of course, that the Sharon government regards as permanent and perpetually expandable. Rumsfeld’s statement was definitely out of line with other recent U.S. policy statements on the Israel-Palestine problem, but scarce a corrective cheep came from the State Department .

Why did this happen? Perhaps it was just that Colin Powell ? mentally at least ? was on vacation. It was August, after all, and the president was on vacation, too. Maybe the lesson here is simply that if you’re a good Washington in-fighter and bureaucratic risk-taker, as Rumsfeld certainly is, August is not a bad month to stick around the office and create a few little faits accomplis that might later pay you back handsomely. More likely, though, Rumsfeld already knew that both the president and the vice-president in their hearts, and particularly in this congressional-election year, would support his statement. Nevertheless, the result is still that the U.S. military establishment is playing a more dominant role than usual on a foreign policy issue that is distinctly political. The Israel-Palestine issue is one in which U.S. military forces are not even directly involved.

In the intelligence area as well, two moves are underway that Rumsfeld hopes will give Defense a larger role in foreign policy. One is a proposal that would give the military the power to carry out more covert operations independently of the CIA, and the other is a request that the Congress authorize a new, very senior slot for the DOD, a new undersecretary of defense to be responsible for all intelligence matters in the department. Both of these steps, if implemented, would further reduce the already limited influence that the Director of Central Intelligence has over the intelligence elements of the DOD, but that is not important.

Two points about these proposals, however, are vital. The first is particularly relevant to those of us who believe the U.S. should engage in less covert action, not more. Rumsfeld’s proposal that the DOD be given greater authority to carry out covert actions would surely lead to more of them, especially since the CIA would continue executing such actions as well. Pressures would inevitably develop between the two agencies to compete and to duplicate. Rumsfeld’s proposal should be rejected, but at the same time covert actions should also be removed from the responsibilities of the present CIA. What should happen is that the analytical half of the present CIA should be split from the operational, or spooky, half. Even without real control over the many other intelligence agencies, the CIA with its two halves is still too powerful. The operational half should become a smaller body with a new name and be run directly out of the White House, with the president by law personally responsible, along with others (see next paragraph), for every single covert action. No covert intelligence actions abroad, except for strictly tactical military intelligence collection during a declared war, should be carried out by any other intelligence agencies.

The second vital point is that the approval process for covert actions should by legislation be made intentionally more difficult. Every covert action should be approved personally, in writing and in detail, by the president and by the chairmen of the Senate and House committees responsible for intelligence, foreign affairs, and military affairs. An additional proposal, important to me but as yet accepted by no one else, is that all covert actions should be approved, also formally and in writing, by the chief justice of the Supreme Court. All three branches of the government should be involved, and each branch should have a veto power. The chief justice does not have to be an expert on foreign affairs. All he or no doubt in years to come, she needs is a knowledge of constitutional law and an understanding of behaviors that are or are not acceptable to decent people, both in this country and around the world. These proposals would almost certainly reduce ? drastically, in my opinion ? the number of covert actions undertaken by the government and give greater legitimacy to the few that survived the complete approval process.

The intention here is less to argue that the Bush administration is intentionally driving to create a military government in this country, than to predict that its actions, unless countered, will inevitably lead to this result. We have a president with little experience, lots of machismo, a correct belief that “war” has made him popular, and a mindset strong on blacks and whites but weak on grays and pastels. We have a secretary of state inordinately loyal to the president’s family and apparently unwilling to confront the president on any substantive matter. And then we have a group of committed ideologues headed by two close friends, Vice President Cheney and Defense Secretary Rumsfeld, and supported by the number-two and number-three men at the DOD, Paul Wolfowitz and Douglas Feith, as well as others in and out of government. All are rabid supporters of right-wing conservatism, vast military spending, U.S. unilateralism, imperialism, and global domination; and most are equally fanatice supporters of Israel.

Strengthened by the events of September 11, this group has come to dominate the views of the president and therefore the foreign policies of the U.S. It is serendipitous that both Cheney and Rumsfeld have had lengthy experience in heading the DOD over several decades. They naturally put some of their trusted advisers ? including Wolfowitz and Feith ? in top positions under Rumsfeld. And that made the DOD the natural bureaucratic base for the group now dominating U.S. foreign policies.

President Bush probably has not given the slightest thought to the question of whether he is helping to set up a nucleus inside the DOD that might control the country’s foreign policy as long as he is president. It’s very likely that Rumsfeld has thought about this, however, and probably regards the prospect with pleasure. If Bush becomes a two-term president, Rumsfeld can look forward either to another six years, or as long as he wants until retirement, of being an extraordinarily powerful person. There will be Bush, good friend Cheney (or a much less powerful VP if Cheney departs the scene), and below them no one else matching Rumsfeld’s own power. He could be excused for anticipating that he would pretty much dominate all aspects of the foreign policy and military scene. He is probably not even very worried about competition from the only other power center that might emerge ? the group that coalesces around the head, whoever it will be, of the new Homeland Security Department.

Rumsfeld has already set up a new command within the DOD that covers the continental U.S., and this alone will give him major influence over the issue of homeland security. In any domestic emergency, he will control more resources, equipment, and personnel than even the ballyhooed new department. As mentioned above, he is also already working hard to strengthen his influence over the U.S. intelligence establishment, which is another arena in which he might expect some competition from the head of the new department. Since he’s on the ground and already running, he has a leg up in this competition.

In any event, if things go Rumsfeld’s way, by the time he ends his term in office, he may well have so jiggered and reorganized the foreign affairs bureaucracy and its procedures that he will have established a new status quo in Washington. It won’t really matter that George W. Bush, Richard Cheney, and Donald Rumsfeld perhaps didn’t do it all deliberately, and that maybe in part it just happened. We will be far closer to a military government than we are now, and reversing the trend won’t be easy. Voters in this country had better start reversing this process in the 2002 election and finish the job in 2004.

Otherwise, pity the poor State Department. And the next president, whoever he may be. And pity the rest of us, too.

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RIGHT NOW IS THE TIME TO GET OUT AND DEMONSTRATE AGAINST THE WARS OUR GOVERNMENT IS LEADING US INTO. Kathy and I can’t think of another time when our own government has made as critical a mess in the world as the one we now face. Even demonstrating on busy street corners with a group of friends for an hour once a week can be helpful. We have two signs that have elicited more reactions than most others we’ve tried, and maybe you’ll enjoy them.

One reads:

The other reads:
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Many people slow down to read both of these signs, and we receive many thumbs-up and honks of NO in Morse. Of course, we also get a few yells of “Nuke ’em” and “F— you.” But that’s life in the slow lane of Santa Fe, NM.

Bill Christison joined the CIA in 1950, and served on the analysis side of the Agency for 28 years. From the early 1970s he served as National Intelligence Officer (principal adviser to the Director of Central Intelligence on certain areas) for, at various times, Southeast Asia, South Asia and Africa. Before he retired in 1979 he was Director of the CIA’s Office of Regional and Political Analysis, a 250-person unit. His wife Kathy also worked in the CIA, retiring in 1979. Since then she has been mainly preoccupied by the issue of Palestine.

Bill Christison was a senior official of the CIA. Kathleen Christison is the author of Perceptions of Palestine and The Wound of Dispossession.