Friday, June 21, 2013

Trapped Inside the Oval Office, Part 1

Trey Smith

This post and the next 6 (spread over 2 days) will focus on excerpts from a long and penetrating article, America's Most Anti-Democratic Institution: How the Imperial Presidency Threatens U.S. National Security, by Fred Branfman.
Under Mr. Obama, America is still far from being a classic police-state of course. But no President has done more to create the infrastructure for a possible future police-state. This infrastructure will clearly pose a serious danger to democratic ideals should there be more 9/11s, and/or increased domestic unrest due to economic decline and growing inequality, and/or massive global disruption due to climate change, and/or a President with even less scruples than Mr. Obama.

What gives? How could a fellow who spoke so eloquently of the need for the rule of law when running for President now be presiding over a lawless "industrial-sized killing machine" abroad and a massive threat to civil liberties at home? Why has Mr. Obama made the U.S. even more hated in the Muslim world than when he took office - even though his stated goal in 2009 was to reshape U.S. policy in the region? How is it that both he and Mitt Romney both ran on essentially the same foreign policy, despite significant differences between them on domestic policy?

Much of the answer to such questions lies in something that we rarely do in this nation - seeing the U.S. Executive Branch Mr. Obama nominally heads for what it really is: the most powerful institution in the history of the world, one that has killed, wounded or made homeless well over 20 million human beings ("Dollars and Deaths," Cong. Record, 5-14-75, p. 14262), mostly civilians, since 1962 - far more than any other government in the world.

Nothing demonstrates this institution's power more than Mr. Obama himself. The fact that he has so violated his own values and belief system as Commander-in-Chief is not merely a matter of personal hypocrisy; it is a dramatic illustration of how the Executive's institutional violence, secrecy and deceit overwhelm even Presidents who begin their terms with relatively good intentions.

...Americans have been conditioned to focus on the personality of the President, and to see the giant Executive Branch as a mere servant of its "Commander-in-Chief." Countless books and newspaper stories have been written about the differences between the "Reagan", "Carter" or "Clinton" foreign policies. There are of course significant differences between Administrations, though often due as much to differing objective conditions as Presidential desires. But the simple fact is that these differences have been far outweighed by a remarkable consistency in U.S. foreign policy since the end of World War II. And a President is far more limited in his options than popular folklore suggests. It is only when one understands the Executive Branch as an institution that one can make sense, not only of Mr. Obama, but much of both America's postwar history and frightening future.
Whether you think Barack Obama is a great president or a horrible one, the thing that should worry you is that he is establishing precedents that will be built upon and expanded under future presidents. If you are concerned about the huge reach of Big Brother today, imagine how much further and deeper that reach will become in the future.

As it stands right now, metadata is being collected on our phone calls and content is being seized and stored in relation to our internet communications. The FBI recently admitted that domestic drones currently are being utilized for surveillance of Americans. If this remains the baseline going forward, what new invasions of privacy are in store for us?

Though I believe that Branfman is giving Obama a lot more credit than he deserves in terms of "his own values and belief system," I do agree that he is a bit of a prisoner of the institutional nature of the Executive Branch. I'll have more to say on this aspect in a later post.

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