by Michael J Glennon (2014)
Available as free PDF: http://harvardnsj.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/Glennon-Final.pdf
National Security and Double Government is a lengthy article about the highly visible national security bureaucracy that presently runs the US government. The author, Michael J Glennon, is Professor of International Law at the Tufts University Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. Glennon disputes the claim by conspiracy theorists that a secret shadow government is attempting to overthrow constitutional democracy. In his view, the deep state is simply a vast, self-serving bureaucracy of technocrats – forty-six (as of 2011) federal departments and agencies engaged in intelligence gathering and analysis, military aggression, cyber operations and weapons development.
Glennon’s description of how the deep state operates, which strikes me as depressingly accurate, shatters any lingering illusions about reforming the US government. It can only be dismantled.
In essence, the real work of the US government is controlled by several hundred officials who run the national security bureaucracy. Removed from public view and the constitutional restrictions that restrain the President, Congress and the judiciary, they make most of the key decisions concerning foreign policy and national security. Although their budget is classified, Glennon estimates it engages millions of employees at an annual cost of $1 trillion.
The “Trumanite” Arm of Government
Glennon calls them the “Trumanite” arm of government because President Harry S Truman created the US national security apparatus. Under Truman, Congress enacted the National Security Act of 1947, which unified the military under a new Secretary of Defense, set up the CIA, created the modern Joint Chiefs of Staff, and established the National Security Council (“NSC”). Truman also set up the National Security Agency (NSA) to monitor communications abroad. Truman’s vision was to create a civilian infrastructure strong enough to address the Soviet threat and rein in an errant military.
Both the Trumanite arm and the constitutional arm work really hard to maintain the fiction that the President is commander-in-chief. The reality is that the president only has the power to appoint 3,000-4,000 of the millions of federal employees nominally under his control. This means the Trumanite bureaucracy continues to operate pretty much under its own steam no matter which party is in office.
As Glennon describes it,
“President Obama could give an order wholly reversing U.S. national security policy, but he would not, because the likely adverse consequences would be prohibitive. Put differently, the question whether the President could institute a complete about-face supposes a top-down policy-making model. The illusion that presidents issue orders and that subordinates simply carry them out is nurtured in the public imagination by media reports of ‘Obama’s’ policies or decisions or initiatives, by the President’s own frequent references to “my” directives or personnel . . . But true top-down decisions that order fundamental policy shifts are rare.
The reality is that when the President issues an “order” to the Trumanites, the Trumanites themselves normally formulate the order. The Trumanites cannot be thought of as men who are merely doing their duty. They are the ones who determine their duty, as well as the duties of those beneath them. They are not merely following orders: they give the orders. They do that by ‘entangling’ the President… To avoid looking like a bystander or mere commentator, the President embraces these Trumanite policies, as does Congress, with the pretense that they are their own.’
Obama Forced to Agree to Drone Policy
As an example, Glennon quotes Vali Nasr’s* description of how the national security network strong armed Obama into expanding his drone policy:
When it came to drones there were four formidable unanimous voices in the Situation Room: the CIA, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the Pentagon, and the White House’s counterterrorism adviser, John Brennan.”
Defense Secretary Robert Gates, a holdover from the Bush administration, also strongly supported an increase in drone strikes. All five also suppressed any debate in national security meetings of the broader implications of this policy.
According to Nassr, it was the classic Henry Kissinger model: “You have three options, two of which are ridiculous, so you accept the one in the middle.”
Obama openly complained about the Trumanites only given him one option: “The military was “really cooking the thing in the direction that they wanted. They are not going to give me a choice.”
Obama Also Opposed Increasing Troop Levels in Afghanistan
Obama’s 2009 proposal to lower the military’s proposed troop levels in Afghanistan ran into the same unified opposition. According to Glennon, the Commander of U.S. and International Security Assistance Forces (“ISAF”) in Afghanistan (General Stanley McChrystal), the Commander of U.S. Central Command (General David Petraeus), the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (Admiral Michael Mullen), and even Secretary of Defense Gates all threatened to resign over it.
As Glennon observes,
“No president has reserves deep enough to support a frontal assault on the National Security network. Under the best of circumstances, he can only attack its policies one by one, in flanking actions, and even then with no certainty of victory. Like other presidents in similar situations, Obama thus had little choice but to accede to the Pentagon’s longstanding requests for more troops” in Afghanistan.”
Clinton’s “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” Fiasco
He reminds us of the uproar in the military and Congress when President Bill Clinton moved to end only one national security policy shortly after taking office—the ban on gays in the military. Forced to backtrack, Clinton ultimately enacted his “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy.
Glennon goes on to explore similar paralysis the President and Congress are experiencing in attempting to curtail spying by the NSA.
The final section of the article reviews possible options for reform and concludes the national security bureaucracy is too powerful (and has too much control over the media) to be reformed by constitutional means. Glennon believes that the only option for change is a bottom-up mobilization by the American people.
*Vali Nasr is dean of the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. David E Sanger quotes him in Confront and Conceal: Obama’s Secret Wars and Secret Use of American Power.