Could the Death of the National Security State be the Silver Lining of COVID-19?

COVID19 virus
COVID19 Virus

[This article was first published in a wise magazine called Counterpunch. Subscribe here.]

Could something good come from the catastrophe of COVID-19? Might the epic insecurity of a plague teach us something about national security?

Political scientist Micah Zenko calls the current pandemic “the worst intelligence failure in U.S. history.”

Former CIA analyst Melvin Goodman sees “the urgent need to redefine national security.”

Ilan Goldenberg, a former defense adviser to President Obama, says “the sheer magnitude of the crisis can—should—force …. [a] rethinking of our foreign policy priorities that’s long overdue.”

Anne-Marie Slaughter, former State Department policy planner, writes “if this crisis is highlighting our weaknesses as a nation, it is also bringing out some of our greatest strengths.”

But what are the lessons to be learned?

Zenko says the fault lies “solely” with President Trump. Goodman indicts all Democratic and Republican presidents of the last 30 years for national security policies that are “irrelevant to the genuine threats we face today.” Goldenberg blames “our obsession with counterterrorism and Middle East conflict in the aftermath of 9/11.” Slaughter calls for expansive domestic programs to bolster the nation’s collective security, namely a universal basic income and universal broadband.

One thing we can be sure of is: change won’t come easily, even for a stricken nation. In the March cover story of Harper’s magazine, historian and former U.S. Army colonel Andrew Bacevich argued that America’s “addiction to war” will be hard to break.

Writing before the pandemic erupted, Bacevich said U.S. policymakers have insisted for the past seven decades that the American flag “be recognized throughout the world as a symbol of freedom on the one hand and of overwhelming force on the other.” This ambitious doctrine, he noted, guided U.S. policy through 45 years of the Cold War and 30 years of war on terrorism.

The global mission of freedom powered by military superiority led to defeat in Vietnam, though defenders can argue that it ultimately defeated the Soviet Union in the Cold War. More recently, national security doctrine has delivered the United States into failed wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as pyrrhic proxy war victories in countries like the Congo, Yemen, Libya, El Salvador, and Guatemala where our bloody “successes” have created failed states and triggered mass migration. About the only clear-cut U.S. victory in the last 30 years was the First Gulf War, which achieved its goal of ousting Saddam Hussein’s forces from Kuwait.

Not until Donald Trump took office did any U.S. president dispute the fundamental tenets of post-World War II national security doctrine. In the 2016 election, Bacevich observes, “an eminently qualified candidate [Hillary Clinton] who embodied a notably bellicose variant of the Marshall tradition lost to an opponent who openly mocked that tradition while possessing no qualifications for high office whatsoever.”

In his Harper’s piece, Bacevich questioned whether the Washington policymaking elite could “even acknowledge the magnitude of the repudiation it sustained at the hands of Trump and those who voted him into office,” much less “muster the imagination to devise an alternative tradition better suited to existing conditions while commanding the support of the American people.” His pessimistic prognostication was entitled “The Old Normal.”

“Wake-Up Call”

As America settled into the new normal of skyrocketing death tolls, spreading lockdowns, and social distancing, I asked Bacevich, the president of the Quincy Institute, a think tank dedicated to “diplomatic engagement and military restraint,” to reconsider the premise of his Harper’s piece.

Might COVID-19 force the changes that he so recently thought were unlikely?

“Possibly,” Bacevich replied in a telephone interview. “A sufficient accumulation of bad news can serve as a wake-up call.”

But, he added, “people in Washington have not noticed that the national security system has been failing for some time. Since 9/11, our system has failed in doing what it was supposed to do, which is protect our people and protect our freedoms. It launched and waged wars that are unnecessary, mismanaged, expensive, and that drag on and on.”

“At the same time,” he went on, “we have suffered a series of catastrophes from [hurricanes] Katrina and Sandy to wildfires in California that, in the old days, we would have said were acts of God that there’s not much we can do about.”

The problem, Bacevich says, is not just the intelligence failure identified by Zenko, but a vision failure.

“When something happens like New Orleans going underwater, we should look to the government for a programmatic response that anticipates and deflects such dangers. In this regard, our national security agencies haven’t done squat to improve our security.”

“Coronavirus fits into the sequence of Katrina, Sandy, and the wildfires,” he said. “It is a direct threat here at home for which this mammoth apparatus that we have created to protect our freedoms is largely irrelevant.”

“What do the Navy’s two carrier battle groups in the Middle East do for us in the time of the virus?” he asked. “Do our 800 foreign military bases around the world protect us?”

Like Goodman, Bacevich thinks the problem is bipartisan. Like Goldenberg, he says our obsession with Middle East terrorism is dysfunctional. Like Slaughter, Bacevich believes domestic security measures must be woven into foreign policy.

The problem, he sees, is bureaucratic and intellectual inertia. The Navy will not give up its aircraft carriers. The generals will not give up their dream of military superiority. Even with coronavirus decimating the economy, Bacevich notes, “it’s not going to be easy for senior military officers and top intelligence officials to acknowledge the habits of the past are part of the problem.”

The “window for making big, fundamental changes won’t last long,” Goldenberg observes, “and when it ends, and America returns to politics as usual, the decisions we make during the aftermath of the COVID-19 crisis will stay with us for years and define our foreign policy.”

“I wouldn’t say the debate we need to have is going to happen,” Bacevich said. “I’m probably the least optimistic person on the planet. But the magnitude of the crisis might open the way. COVID-19 really ought to be the nail in the coffin of the national security state.”

4 Replies to “Could the Death of the National Security State be the Silver Lining of COVID-19?”

  1. The size of this national security problem is enormous.

    I know that you loath to hear about this but. The same Gordon Gray who was in the loop on the Pay Of Pigs fiasco had continuous communications with Allen Dulles at CIA or what it was called at the time,

    He was at the very least a closely held servant of CIA, if not CIA.

    See his wiki he was assit. secretary of Army then two years later he was Secretary of the Army. This was at a crucial time as the Army readied to transfer the Manhattan Project to the US Atomic Energy Commission, from the military to the civilians.

    He served there 1949-1950, and he became the first director of the Psychological
    Strategy Board which had three members, the Under-Secretary of State,Charles Bollen replacing George Keenan, Deputy Secretary of Defense Robert Lovett and CIA director Allan Dulles.

    He resigned in January 1952 and continued to lead as the President, the University of of North Carolina .

    In 1954 he was appointed to Chair a board, the Grey Board by Lewis Strauss.

    This board issued a split decision, May 27, 1954, with Dr. Ward V. Evans dissenting, a conservative republican saying that most of the allegations against Oppenheimer had been heard before in 1947 when he actually received his clearance.

    Interesting note hear is that apparently he received a clearance at or after the passing of the National Security Act 1947, long after he had started to work on the bomb project.

    So the result of the kangaroo court the Grey headed was Oppenheimer’s clearance was revoked for no reason. Now with the bomb programs under the newly formed USAEC the bad guys there had the run of the commission.

    You see the Apollo / Numec Affair was the result of maybe the first major failure of the National Security Act, but it was an enormous failure that, like today, stared with the “TOP PEOPLE”

    One thing about me I don’t give up. I intend to get more info together and see what I can come up with.

    Your article here eerily describes almost exactly my observations about what happened at the end of WWII 1946-1947.

    BTY know anything bout the Marine Corp. getting rid of it’s armor divisions?

    This article eerily describes almost exactly my observations about what happened at the end of WWII. Things fgot out of control, just like now.

    Question do you or anyone you know have any idea of how many pieces of legislation
    were enacted by congress 1946- 1947, I seem want to say 3000 but I cannot find this number any where I might have seen it.

    As always Jeff Thanks !

  2. BTW I’m sure it’s time to peel off the crud and have a long hard look at everything.

    I’m pretty sure I know a wake up call when I see one. I was too young to recognized the JFK murder for what it was, a wake up call. Then there was Vietnam, Robert and Martin and still I was young and confused. But not for long Nixolns price and wage freeze allowed prices to increas while my wife and son and I damned well about starved.

    I was WOKE long before the term became popular and that I don’t have many friends is proof I still am very much awake. I need one of Beaus “In walked weirdo” shirts.

    The missed opportunity of the Church and Pike hearings, and then the fall of the Soviet Union and the bum dope that came from DC along with it about some how Reagan was some great leader and I knew then I best look out.

    Then 911 and how the Patriot Act was going to be a saving grace. Nope, it was a wake-up-call of immense proportions. Not many got it but the whole time I was revolted by the American response especially with out having any of the facts. This stand did not make me very popular, but I’d rather be right and I was. Bush 43 blew it and so did everyone who agreed with him.

    All this was hog wash and now we have the proof.

    I’m not saying I’m an expert but at 70+ I see the current fiasco as the direct result of America setting on it’s exceptional ass and demanding not one dog damned thing from their government with respect to accountability or honestly because they missed their “Wake Up Call!”

    So yes it’s time to wake the hell up and smell the death because that exactly what their lack of due diligence has gotten them.

    Like I keep saying Americans won’t get off their collective pampered asses until they are left alone, in the dark, cold and hungry and that appears to be exactly what the Supreme Leader has in mind for them. Yes and me too and am not amused!

    I got good money that says somewhere people are gathered having a pandemic party, most wearing red hats.

    I’m gonna start calling it the “Nero Syndrome”

    Thanks Jeff


  4. Roy I just finished reading some comments over at the Consortium News. They were reader comments on Caitlin Johnstone’s piece titled “The Narrative Is Crumbling” and noticed the word “dispair” more than once in comments on her story.a
    Despair, or the condition of hopelessness, i.e. desperation or the state of despair is typically one that results results in rash or extreme behavior.

    The change that is needed to curtail much of what is ailing our country will take time. We will likely yearn for the problems to be over with but it’s not that easy but based on some of what I’m starting to see, “desperation” is being exhibited by many. It is coming and likely will be no fun.

    Trump fans for instance, are acting out of despair and likely are very angry because their guy is a failure and everyone else now knows it.

    The natives are more than a little restless. If Trump wins this next election “the fat” will go into the fire and the fire will go out of control. It is scary but I can’t see things continuing to not be seriously contested by both sides.

    Unfortunately one side is the repugnkans and the other is not the dimocraps. The real opposition to t\Trump and DC is in the streets already. Their are young and without much hope at this point.

    But remember this if the dimos win and Biden becomes the next candidate to become the mouth piece for the ‘Deep State” the real work will have to start. The dimos need to unmercifully beaten on the until they move to the left. Stop fearing the bull shit from the right wing fascists and do something original. The poles be damned!

    I write my senator on a regular basis and I don’t sugar coat much, we are after all, all adults in this room. My U.S. rep is a boot licking repugnican who is off his rocker, being influenced by Warren Buffets sons big money. No masks at his family business.

    But you are not alone do what you can and what you are best at and while you are it go over to the youtube and search for Beau of the Fifth Column News and check him out. While you are at it check out his views and subscribers. You can learn a lot from an ex-con ex-U.S. (state department I believe) contractor.

    This guy is a very smart, well educated individual and most of his videos are under ten minutes.

    It’s time to cut the lips service and to start doling out hard knocks to the trouble makers. If there are dimos who resist let them rebuild what is left of the repugnikan haters.

    Thanks Jeff

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