by Robert Abele
December 19, 2015
Dr. Robert Abele
holds a Ph.D. in Philosophy from Marquette University
and M.A. degrees in Theology and Divinity. He is a
professor of philosophy at Diablo Valley College, in
California in the San Francisco Bay area. He is the
author of four books, including A User's Guide to the
USA PATRIOT Act, and The Anatomy of a Deception: A
Logical and Ethical Analysis of the Decision to Invade
Iraq, along with numerous articles. His new book,
Rationality and Justice, is forthcoming (2016).
There seems to be a formula for a superpower's intent to dominate
massive surveillance + use of
military might in foreign wars and domestic control of citizens
(e.g. armored cops; packed prisons, etc.) + control of each
method by elites for their own interests = international and
domestic dominance by fear and force.
Domestically this is called the National
Security State. It is a state which is now in place in the U.S.
The National Security State is a state that has the following
characteristics (from Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer,
Brave New World Order; Gary Wills,
Bomb Power; and Andrew Bacevich,
It is fixated on alleged foreign
enemies and the "threat" they pose to the homeland;
It uses the "threat" for the
justification of any military solutions to "pacifying" those
It maintains political and
economic power not primarily in the people, but in the
military (and defense contractors).
It uses propaganda methods to
narrow the parameters of political debate and to put fear in
the populace regarding perceived state enemies (e.g. the
Truman Doctrine speech of 1947: "Totalitarian regimes"
anywhere in the world "undermine… the security of the United
It uses many appeals to
"national security" as a rationale for its drive toward more
Here is how the formula works.
hegemony the goal of the state, whether domestic or foreign
(Chomsky calls it "the imperial grand strategy" -
see Hegemony or Survival, Ch. 2)
It is the "We must rule" syndrome (see
Andrew Bacevich, Washington Rules).
Dominance is generally defined as
forcing others to live by ruler-chosen patterns, and that is what
hegemony is about: Washington determining the rule of other nations.
This, in my view, is part of the new
understanding of the doctrine of "American
Exceptionalism" that started after WWII and is
culminating in the
It implies that the U.S. is not just
qualitatively different from other nations, but "better" or "above"
others, and thus "naturally" suited to dominate others.
(i.e. by clandestine and electronic surveillance)
and eliminate any potential competition for hegemony
The practice arguably began in 1945 with
the organization of the Strategic Services Unit, a secret
intelligence and counter-espionage unit of the U.S. government,
which was gradually absorbed by
CIA, starting in 1947, culminating in the creation of
National Security Agency (NSA)
By 1952, a full National Security State
was already in place, ready for any alleged threat to the U.S.
The rhetoric of the National Security State slants the rationale for
this action as "a threat to our national interests," when really it
is only a threat to the interests of the agents doing the bidding of
the state complex. Examples of it abound in U.S. history.
In just recent history, we can see it in
President Reagan's "War on Terror" in Central America in the 1980's,
to the U.S. war on Iraq, Libya, and Syria, to the government and
media's rhetoric concerning those who question U.S. foreign policy
as "anti-American" or even "terrorist."
Add to that the fact that the U.S. has
approximately 755 U.S. military bases around the world, that they
attempt to topple national leaders, from Iran to Cuba to Venezuela.
When they are not toppling, they are spying on world leaders, such
as Angela Merkel of Germany and Dilma Vanna Rousseff
We see it all in Obama's alarming
widening of Bush's "war
on terror," by rebranding the "war on terror" as
"challenges to America's interest," while maintaining Bush-era
policies of the war on terror.
i.e. appeal to the idea of "Supreme Emergency" by
an "ongoing threat" - e.g. Communism; al Qaeda; terrorism; Isil;
Defined by political scientist Michael Walzer (in
Just and Unjust Wars) as a threat
that causes a fear beyond the ordinary fears of war.
This threat and the fear it generates
may "require" certain measures that the war convention bars. The
"war convention" is the set of norms, customs, professional codes,
legal precepts, religious and philosophical principles, and
reciprocal arrangements that shape our judgments of military conduct
- set forth most explicitly in international law.
The problem here is that most of what governments classify as
"Supreme Emergency" is not only a permanent or ongoing state, but is
at root only an expression of institutional self-interest or
expediency, the direct result of the impetus toward hegemony.
Further, under this category, "Supreme
Emergency" becomes the rule rather than the exception, and then the
institutional mindset of the government becomes a "State of
Exception" (see Georgio Agamben,
States of Exception) rather than a
"State of Emergency."
For example, we now know that during
WWII, when Winston Churchill used the term of "Supreme
Emergency" to describe Britain's situation in 1939, it was a
rhetorical phrase designed to weaken the resistance of the British
people and government to maintaining the war convention's
proscription of extreme brutality.
This very practice of using Supreme Emergency to justify draconian
government policies has continued today.
Some examples under President Bush
Bush's claim to have the power
to detain, without charge, any person - including U.S.
citizens - he declared to be "enemy combatants" or
his claim to power of preventive
war and indefinite detention
the "Domestic Security
Enhancement Act of 2003," which empowers the state to
rescind one's citizenship for providing any type of
"material support" to an organization that the state has
deemed to be involved with terrorism
The practice of Supreme Emergency
has continued under President Obama.
For a few examples:
Obama's claim to have the
executive power to order the assassination of U.S. citizens
his continuing the concentration
camps in Guantanamo, Iraq, and Afghanistan
his failure to halt all practice
his escalating drone attacks in
Pakistan and Yemen,
...all of which are done under the
banner of "responding to terrorist threats," or more directly,
"preventing attacks against America".
And as ever, the U.S.
mainstream media act as enablers of
all of this.
Glenn Greenwald and the reporters
for The Intercept present regular and substantive examples of
this, as does Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting. For one of the
latest excellent analyses, see Greenwald, "The
Greatest Obstacle to Anti-Muslim Fearmongering and Bigotry: Reality"
Thus we can see that the point of "Supreme Emergency" is to keep the
citizens in fear, and thus in hatred of the "different other,"
whether it be a "foreign threat" or a racial threat (e.g. fear of
African-Americans, Muslims, etc.) to enable foreign and domestic
Any "threat" will do. The method here is
to build up the "threat" while in fact, the government and its
agencies see citizens and their power as enemies - i.e. as threats
to State dominance.
Because this practice has now been established, U.S. citizens have
grown numb to it.
As a result, the government no longer
even appeals to specific threats. Rather, government officials now
only appeal to a vague "threat" intended to serve the purpose of
keeping fear alive.
For example, the FBI continues to make
statements to the effect that they have "prevented x number of
terrorist attacks" through surveillance, while detailing
none of them.
The last such "terrorist threat" was the
July 4 weekend (see Fair.org, "Got
to be Thwarting Something," 7/11/15).
unannounced, non-Congressionally-approved wars
Use the following two-step mechanism:
"The National Security State has
automatic Just Cause for any military action"
The National Security State sees
any state that does not cater to its dictates as an enemy,
thus creating a casus belli.
This is precisely the opposite
of the ethical and legal concept of "Just Cause," which
means that an attack from another nation is either occurring
For example, consider recent Mideast military actions, done
directly or by proxy. From whence comes the oil of the
future, and where is the greatest potential anti-U.S. unrest
that threatens U.S. hegemony?
Experts generally agree upon the
Iran, Iraq, Kuwait,
Saudi Arabia, Algeria, Angola, Libya, Nigeria,
Sudan, the Caspian Sea area (consisting of
Azerbaijan, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan,
Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan), and Latin
America (consisting of Venezuela, Mexico, Colombia
What are the U.S. global
strategies for securing its dominance in these regions for
the 21st century?
Among other actions, the U.S.
and NATO now have troops and military bases established in
Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan,
Azerbaijan, and now, critically, in Ukraine.
The first four of these
countries have agreed to supply oil and natural gas to NATO
countries, thus undermining agreements and sought-after
agreements involving these countries and Russia, China, and
Iran. In conjunction with this, the U.S. is directly
undermining the attempts of Russia, China, and Iran to
continue their agreements with Central Asian countries for
oil and natural gas.
This is especially true with the
TAPI (Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India) gas pipeline
to run from the Caspian Sea to India, which killed the
Iranian-Pakistan-India deal to run a pipeline between them (IPI).
In sum, TAPI is the finished
product of the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan.
NATO will be expected to use
military power to protect the pipeline, and thus
consolidates Western power in the region (see Rick Rozoff, "Wars
Without Borders: Washington Intensifies Push into Central
Asia," Global Research, January 30, 2011).
Similar U.S. machinations were undertaken with West Africa
and even Latin America. For example, the U.S. has
established smaller-type military bases - what the Defense
Department refers to as "lily pads" - in an arc running from
the Andes in South America through North Africa and across
the Middle East, to the Philippines and Indonesia.
These locations are consummate
with the fact that the bases are located in or near the
oil-producing states of the world.
In Latin America, the U.S.
military uses bases in Paraguay to monitor, and to be in
position to move against the Bolivian and Venezuelan
governments, since both countries nationalized their oil
Furthermore, according to The London Guardian, the April,
2002 military coup in Venezuela was clandestinely supported
and organized by the U.S. in response to President Hugo
Chavez's nationalizing Venezuela's oil company, PDVSA.
Don't be fooled by the recent U.S. agreement with Iran. The
U.S. still has military eyes targeting Iran. It is widely
known that the Bush administration nearly went to war with
Iran twice during Bush's tenure.
Also, Obama himself attempted to
foment a coup within Iran through proxy, through "The Green
Revolution" in 2009.
The role of Iran is dual:
geographic and geologic.
Geographically, Iran sits
between three important sea shipping lanes: the Caspian Sea,
the Persian Gulf, and the Sea of Oman, and is the
geographical point of intersection for the Middle East,
Asia, and the steppes of Russia.
Geologically, next to Saudi
Arabia (264.3 billion barrels), Iran has the largest oil
reserves in the world (132.5 billion barrels).
That the U.S. wants control of
Iran is beyond doubt. Iran is completely surrounded by U.S.
military bases, in the Persian Gulf, in Pakistan, in
Afghanistan, in Turkey, in Iraq, in Cyprus, in Israel, in
Oman, and in Diego Garcia.
Iran itself has become an
"Observer State" (along with India and Pakistan) to the
Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO).
Created by China in 2001, and
with members including Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan,
Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan, these members and have pledged
mutual economic and military aid.
"The National Security State is
its own Proper Authority"
The U.S. has a long history of doing what it wants,
regardless of U.N. resolutions or International Law.
But if one begins with the Bush
administration and the American writers who supported the
war in Iraq, they made it clear that they did not believe
that the U.S. needed U.N. authorization to pursue
However, simultaneously and in
contradictory fashion, they all likewise stated that in
attacking Iraq they were enforcing UNSCR
Contradictory to the U.S. position stands international law.
The Nuremberg Tribunal concluded:
By this definition attacks on
Iraq, Libya, and Syria were all unjustified.
Further, the idea that the U.S. can bypass international
bodies and use only its own authority to send its military
into another country presumes that unilateralism trumps
international law by allowing one dominant nation to
determine what is best for both itself and the world and
then to act on it, whether or not it is in concert with the
rest of the world.
Because it excludes dialogue and
more importantly the demands of universality of principle
required by ethical thinking, the idea of any nation being
its own proper authority to wage war has no place in a moral
or legal analysis of war.
Finally, a violation of the U.N. Charter is concomitantly a
violation of Article IV of the U.S. Constitution, which says
Therefore, the proper authority
criterion is not met by U.S. and NATO incursions in other
Further, it risks setting the
world on fire with war, possibly even using nuclear weapons.
(For more on this point, see Michel Chossudovsky,
Toward a WWIII Scenario,
The Globalization of War)
Do not count (foreign or domestic) civilians
as important to State functioning
First, abroad, civilians are "collateral damage," like destroyed
administration and its generals did not consider the
category of discrimination to be of importance. The
administration has continued this policy.
This is demonstrated by two facts:
First, the U.S. military
spokespersons have stated directly and consistently that the
U.S. does not count the civilian dead in Iraq and
Second, the U.S. government
either does not release or downplays civilian casualties in
Libya, Syria, Yemen, or from U.S. drone attacks.
If it was truly U.S. policy to protect
noncombatants from a brutal dictator (e.g. Saddam Hussein; Muammar
Gaddafi, Bashir al Assad, etc.) and to avoid injuring or killing
them, one would think that knowing how many they have killed or for
whose deaths they are at least partly responsible would be something
the military would want to know and engage, not suppress.
Contradictory to that practice, by a long and time-honored tradition
in ethics and in international law, when the practice of either
ignoring (by not taking into account) or intending civilian deaths
becomes commonplace, whether proportional or not to the good
intention of defeating the enemy, any military action may be said to
be conducted unjustly.
How the civilians came to be killed is
critical, because it tells us directly about the conduct of the war.
Second, the State becomes repressive of citizens domestically. When
Supreme Emergency becomes the order of the day, it uses its force
against its citizens. For example, Hitler's February 28 "Decree
for the Protection of the People" suspended the articles
of the Weimar Constitution concerning personal liberties, and was
We are witnessing a similar movement in the U.S. Beginning in 2001
with the USA PATRIOT Act, civil liberties have been deliberately and
systematically eroded, while elite privilege has expanded.
There are particular issues concerning
due process rights and habeas corpus that were eroded under this
This can be seen in the arrests of both
Jose Padilla and Yasser Hamdi, both of which concern
due process and habeas corpus rights, denied by the government. Both
are U.S. citizens.
Hamdi was arrested in 2001, and held
without charge by the U.S. government in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. It
was only with the Supreme Court decision in Hamdi v. Rumsfeld that
Hamdi was released. Padilla was arrested in 2002 and held without
charge until 2006.
For most of their period of detention
without charge, neither was permitted legal counsel, or a hearing.
It was only due to the pressure of civil liberty groups that each
was finally given a hearing.
For Obama's contribution to this, note his deepening of unchecked
surveillance powers (including warrantless wiretapping of citizens,
accessing personal records, monitoring financial transactions, and
tracking email, internet and cell phone use), his position that the
federal government cannot be sued for illegal spying on U.S.
citizens, his claims of Executive privilege to order assassinations
of U.S. citizens, and his continuation of torture and Guantanamo Bay
All of these actions and others are instances of the direct
legislative erasing of any legal status of the individual, in some
cases individual U.S. citizens.
As if to underscore this point, witness
General Wesley Clark stated on MSNBC, on July 17, that
dissident citizens should be put in internment camps "for the
duration" of the U.S. war on terrorism - i.e. forever.
Kevin Phillips (Wealth and Democracy) and Chalmers Johnson
(The Sorrows of Empire) have eloquently traced how these structural
mechanisms of government in,
...all led to repressive governments
which fell quickly when they began to govern through a structure of
Today we see the similar structures in
place in the U.S., not only in such draconian pieces of legislation
as the USA PATRIOT Act, but most chillingly in "continuity
of government" (COG) plans, prepared twenty years ago by
elite government insiders, which calls for,
...to keep dissent nonexistent (see
Peter Dale Scott, "The
Doomsday Project, Deep Events, and the Shrinking of American
Democracy" The Asia-Pacific Journal, January 24, 2011).
Three steps for making change
The obvious question is:
how can we stop this and make the
critical changes needed to and in our government apparatus?
I would conclude this essay by
suggestion three actions that may be taken.
recognize that U.S. citizens themselves must make the
changes required to and in government.
With the foundational mode of
state structure and purpose being to achieve and maintain
complete state hegemony in the world, radical change of
state structure is required.
This can only be done with some
kind of people's push to return the power to themselves, as
we saw in Egypt and Tunisia, and now see in Greece.
It will come slowly and
painstakingly, but without it, state mechanisms will
continue to be structured as hegemonic agencies, and
perpetual war and continued assault upon citizen rights will
be the ongoing and deepening modus operandi of the state.
focus objective analysis on ethical and legal prescriptions
as well as empirical facts and consequences.
Too often political analysis
revolves around a theme of "this move, that consequence" by
our political leaders. However, ethically speaking,
objective analysis can be done by analyzing how government
actions fit or do not fit universal ethical norms.
A good norm would be, as the
German philosopher Jurgen Habermas puts it, to
recognize that for authentic communication between parties
to take place, all affected must be able to accept the
consequences of any proposed norm.
This strategy does two things: it pre-empts the charge from
opponents that one believes only according to one's
ideology; and it allows one to see and show the pattern of a
movement from democracy to fascism.
Here is an application of such analysis.
Let us examine the crime of
aggression of Obama's drone strikes, specifically the U.S.
use of drones in Yemen and Pakistan. The U.S. first said it
used targeted killing in November 2002, with the cooperation
and approval of the government of Yemen.
But as of 2013, the U.S. had
more than 6,000 drones, more than 160 of which were Predator
drones controlled by the U.S. Air Force.
These drones are being used in
Afghanistan, Somalia, Yemen, but most of all in Pakistan,
where in eight years the drones killed close to 4,000 people
(see Gregoire Chamayou,
A Theory of the Drone).
On June 3, 2009, the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC)
delivered a report sharply critical of US tactics.
The report asserted that the US
government has failed to keep track of civilian casualties
of its military operations, including the drone attacks, and
to provide means for citizens of affected nations to obtain
information about the casualties and any legal inquests
ignore the U.N. report, and
increase the drone attacks, thus instantiating what
neocon architect Francis Fukuyama stated: the U.N. is,
serviceable as an instrument of American
When it isn't, the National
Security State can and does ignore them. (see Chomsky,
Hegemony or Survival).
Contradictory to that, we would have a solid ethical and
legal analysis of U.S. drone actions by quoting a tentative
definition of aggression which was adopted by the U.N.
International Law Commission on June 4, 1951.
"Aggression is the use of
force by a State or Government against another State or
Government, in any manner, whatever the weapons used and
whether openly or otherwise, for any reason or for any
purpose other than individual or collective self-defence
or in pursuance of a decision or recommendation by a
competent organ of the United Nations."
Further, in 1950, the Nuremberg
Crimes against Peace,
in Principle VI, specifically Principle VI (a), submitted to
the United Nations General Assembly, as:
initiation or waging of a war of aggression or a war
in violation of international treaties, agreements
Participation in a
common plan or conspiracy for the accomplishment of
any of the acts mentioned under (i).
Again, we should apply the
Geneva Conventions against Attacking Civilians.
Article 51, Section 2 proscribes
those not directed at
specifically military targets; those attacks or weapons
that cannot be limited to military objectives and that
strike civilians or civilian objects as well as military
ones; and attacking military targets that the
belligerent has reason to believe in advance will cause
excessive and disproportionate damage to civilians or
civilian objects, the latter defined simply as
"relating to the Protection
of Victims of Non-International Armed Conflicts,"
specifically calls upon all nations to refrain from all
"violence to the life, health, and physical and mental
well-being of [noncombatant] persons."
Finally, the Hague Conventions
of 1899 ban the attacking of towns and cities that are
undefended, and collective punishment.
Prescriptions to limit the
conduct of war include the requirements to warn towns of
impending attacks, to protect cultural, religious, and
health institutions, and to insure public order and safety.
understand that civil disobedience is the only weapon
citizens have to fight such overwhelming methods of force
that are now in place.
The state - on both federal and
local government levels - now possesses so much
military-level force and political-economic power that they
can fairly easily respond to any type of violent action.
Nonviolence is the only option,
especially since, to work, nonviolence requires a force in
numbers. When that happens, the fear moves from the people
to the government officials and their economic elite
controllers who currently rule the country.
The motivating factor for such disobedience is often said to
be economic hardship, such as the citizens of Greece are
undergoing. That is certainly true, but in addition to that,
U.S. citizens are used to a more developed and robust
conception of human and civil rights, and the practice of
limited government in terms of such rights.
This assumption of most citizens
makes a full-blown totalitarian state such as Hitler's or
Nonetheless, it is certainly
conceivable and possible that a totalitarian-light state can
exist while leaving in place the main skeleton of a
republican democracy that has long since been reduced to a
minimal democracy, virtually without most citizens seeing it
and without angering citizens too much.
This is especially true if the
citizens live in fear and are willing to grant the
government significant leeway in its responses to the
trumped-up fear of terrorists. That is precisely what has
happened since 9/11, and precisely what civil disobedience
attempts to overcome.
Objective, public analysis and civil nonviolent action are
our best weapons against government power.
They are, in fact, not just our
best hope; they are all we have left with which to fight.