Obama Spoke the Truth on Freedom and War
by Jacob G. Hornberger
President Obama undoubtedly stunned proponents of the “war on terrorism” by quoting James Madison in his recent foreign-policy speech: “No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare.”
In fact, Obama even shocked me with his use of that quote, given that The Future of Freedom Foundation has cited Madison’s quote innumerable times ever since the 9/11 attacks unleashed what would effectively become a perpetual war, one that is scheduled to outlast even the war on communism.
Madison’s words obviously carry a critically important message: Continuing the so-called war on terrorism means the loss of freedom for the American people.
By citing Madison favorably, that is the message that Obama has now delivered to Americans. The message obviously involves a choice for Americans: Either end the federal government’s war on terrorism or you can just kiss away your freedom for the rest of your life.
That’s the choice.
It’s not difficult to see why Obama’s use of the Madison quote undoubtedly shook up longtime proponents of the war on terrorism. Ever since the 9/11 attacks, warfare statists have simply assumed that the war on terrorism would go even longer the Cold War, most likely forever. In fact, as recently as last October the Washington Post reported that senior Obama administration officials were stating that the war on terrorism would continue for at least another 10 years, which, of course, would mean the continuation of ever-increasing budgets for the military and the CIA.
So, which is it going to be: The freedom of the American people or a continuation of the war on terrorism? For those who value freedom, it’s a no-brainer.
Not so fast, exclaim the proponents of the warfare state. We don’t have a choice, they say. The terrorists have attacked us and continue to attack us. They’re the ones who are waging war against us. We’re just defending ourselves. What else can we do? Surrender to them? How would that be preserving our freedom? As long as the terrorists are waging war against us, alas, we have no choice but to continue fighting the war on terrorism, even though by doing so we lose our freedom, as Madison, and now Obama, point out.
Consider the reaction of ABC’s political commentator Bob Schieffer, who exclaimed, “The president said yesterday — the quote that everybody is picking up is that, ‘This war, like all wars, must end,’ but you just cannot declare ‘this war is over.’ It takes two to tango, as it were. The war will be over when the terrorists stop attacking us.”
I would say that that’s pretty much the mainstream warfare-state view. The terrorists started it and are continuing it. We don’t have a choice. We have to continue defending ourselves. Woe is us.
In fact, President Obama implicitly endorsed this position in his speech, when he said:
With the collapse of the Berlin Wall, a new dawn of democracy took hold abroad, and a decade of peace and prosperity arrived at home. For a moment, it seemed the 21st century would be a tranquil time. Then, on September 11th 2001, we were shaken out of complacency. Thousands were taken from us, as clouds of fire, metal and ash descended upon a sun-filled morning. This was a different kind of war. No armies came to our shores, and our military was not the principal target. Instead, a group of terrorists came to kill as many civilians as they could. And so our nation went to war. We have now been at war for well over a decade.
In other words, we were just minding our own business, when terrorism suddenly and unexpectedly struck our shores, just like a flu epidemic. Alas, we didn’t have any choice but to declare war on terrorism and wage it for the next decade and for many more decades to come. Why, envy those people in Switzerland, the fortune ones who have not yet been struck by terrorism and a flu epidemic.
Obama’s statement brings to mind President Bush’s announcement immediately after the 9/11 attacks in which he innocently claimed that the terrorists had struck America because of their hatred for our freedom and values. Maybe it just didn’t occur to him that anger and rage in the Middle East were boiling over by such things as: U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Madeleine Albright’s public announcement that the deaths of half-a-million Iraqi children from the U.S.-enforced sanctions on Iraq had been “worth it”; the intentional stationing of American soldiers, who were predominantly Christian, Jewish, or atheist, near Mecca and Medina, the holiest lands of the Muslim religion; the infamous no-fly zones over Iraq, which had not received the approval of either Congress or the UN, and which were killing more Iraqis, including children, on a regular basis; the unconditional financial and military support provided the Israeli government; or the billions of dollars of foreign aid to the Egyptian military dictatorship that was brutally oppressing its own people, including by torture.
Thus, there is obviously another factor involved in all this, one of critical importance. That factor is the U.S. national-security state apparatus that was grafted onto our constitutional order after the end of World War II and that has been with us ever since.
The adoption of the national-security state—i.e., a vast permanent standing army and an intelligence agency operating in total secrecy—fundamentally altered the nature of American society, ultimately making the military and the CIA the dominant and most powerful part of the federal government. Owing to the national-security state, the United States has been converted into a militarized nation, one whose government maintains a vast empire of overseas military bases and intervenes in the affairs of nations all over the world, oftentimes with deadly and destructive military and paramilitary violence; and also an extraordinary series of domestic bases in practically every state of the union, bases on which millions of American are fearfully dependent and that has warped and distorted our free-market economic system.
It was all done without even the semblance of a constitutional amendment. Where in the Constitution does it authorize the federal government to: maintain military bases in foreign countries, to engineer coups in other countries, to install and support dictators in foreign countries, to send foreign aid to foreign regimes, to engage in regime-change operations in foreign countries, to invade other countries, to wage wars of aggression against other countries, to produce economic crises in foreign countries, to engage in torture, to conduct mind-altering drug experiments on innocent people, to hire former members of the Nazi regime, to enter into partnerships with criminal organizations like the Mafia, to assassinate people, and to indefinitely detain people without jury trial and due process of law?
The fact is that the national-security state took America to the dark side, in the name of the Cold War and, later, the war on terrorism. Is this the type of country our American ancestors had in mind when they called the federal government into existence with the Constitution? Perish the thought. Their vision consisted of a country with no vast standing army, no involvement in foreign wars, no cruel and unusual punishments, no national paramilitary force, no foreign aid, no support of foreign dictatorships, no regime-change operations, no coups, no policing the world, no entangling alliances, no assassinations, and no deprivation of life, liberty, and property without due process of law and right of trial by jury. Oh, and also no income tax to fund this militarist junk.
What warfare statists cannot bring themselves to do is to recognize what this vast cancerous tumor has done and continues to do to the American body politic. Not only is it bankrupting America financially, more important, it is corrupting the spirit of what it once meant to be an American, what it once meant to be free.
Unfortunately, warfare statists have come to view this apparatus as a god, which prevents them from recognizing that it is the root cause of the terrorism blowback that Americans have experienced, both before and after 9/11, and which they continue to experience.
But woe to the person who commits heresy by pointing out that it is this cancerous tumor that is destroying America. If he even alludes to the fact that the national-security state is the root cause of America’s terrorism woes, the wrath of hell is visited upon him.
The warfare statists have come to see the national-security state as a permanent establishment. It’s here forever, they say, so just get used to it. We will never rid our nation of this military and paramilitary behemoth, they say.
So, for them all those overseas military bases are just a given. So are all those domestic bases. So are the invasions, occupations, coups, regime-change operations, kidnappings, torture, support of dictatorships, foreign aid, wars of aggression, interference with foreign disputes, distortion of our economy, out of control federal spending and debt, and on and on.
Nothing must be permitted to throw into the question the operations of the national-security state. It is viewed as our ultimate protector. After all, it protects “national security,” a term that is even more nebulous and meaningless than the term “terrorism.” And, of course, never mind that neither term is even mentioned in the Constitution.
Thus, when victims of all this militarist and imperialist junk retaliate out of anger and rage, no one is supposed to mention what motivated them to do it. If someone does point out why these people are so angry, the immediate reaction is to unleash a stream of nasty personal invectives against the malefactor, the worst being that he is a “justifier.” No one must be permitted to put any doubt in the minds of the citizenry as to the goodness and benevolence of the national-security state apparatus — and its dominant, powerful, everlasting role in American life.
For more than half-a-century now, Americans have lived their daily lives filled with fear, crisis, and war, first with the war on communism and now the war on terrorism. At the same time, they have been taught that it’s all freedom and free markets, bringing to mind Johann Goethe’s famous dictum: None are more hopelessly enslaved than those who falsely believe they are free.
The truth is that the daily life of the American citizen is not normal and it’s not a freedom. A life constantly filled with fear, crisis, and war is a bizarre life, an aberrant one. And no amount of indoctrination about how free everyone is can change reality. Denial of reality just develops a national psychosis, which might help explain the high rate of drug abuse and suicides among the American people as well as those who serve in the military.
President Obama might be starting to have an epiphany, one that struck President Eisenhower as he was leaving office, when he warned the American people of the dangers to their freedom and well-being posed by the military-industrial complex–and that was more than 50 years ago, long before it had metastasized into the enormous behemoth that it is today. It was also an epiphany experienced by President Kennedy before he was suddenly struck down in Dallas through assassination.
The choice facing the American people is much larger than simply choosing between freedom and continual warfare. The real choice is between freedom and the national-security state apparatus, the dominant and powerful unconstitutional part of the federal government that is ultimately responsible for the permanent climate of fear, crisis, and war under which Americans have lived ever since the end of World War II, along with the dark-side practices that have become a permanent part of our government.
Make your choice: Perpetual war or freedom. As Madison, and now Obama, remind us: We can’t have both.
By the way, Obama failed to recite the entire Madison quote. Here is the full quote:
Of all the enemies to public liberty war is, perhaps, the most to be dreaded, because it comprises and develops the germ of every other. War is the parent of armies; from these proceed debts and taxes; and armies, and debts, and taxes are the known instruments for bringing the many under the domination of the few. In war, too, the discretionary power of the Executive is extended; its influence in dealing out offices, honors, and emoluments is multiplied; and all the means of seducing the minds, are added to those of subduing the force, of the people. The same malignant aspect in republicanism may be traced in the inequality of fortunes, and the opportunities of fraud, growing out of a state of war, and in the degeneracy of manners and of morals engendered by both. No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare.