With the auspicious exit of all U.S. forces from Afghanistan, the American people have a grand opportunity — one that should be seized and not squandered. That opportunity is to restore America’s founding governmental system of a limited-government republic, which necessarily would mean the dismantling of America’s post-World War II governmental system of a national-security state.
The Constitution called into existence a limited-government republic, a type of system in which the federal government’s powers were extremely few and weak. That was how our ancestors wanted it. The last thing they wanted was the type of governmental system under which Americans today live — i.e., a national-security state.
For example, Americans would never have approved a system in which government officials wielded the power to assassinate them and anyone else in the world or to conduct secret mass surveillance on people. If the Constitution had included those powers, the American people would have rejected it and continued operating under the Articles of Confederation, a third type of governmental system in which the federal government didn’t even have the power to tax.
The Bill of Rights reflects America’s disdain for the powers of assassination and mass secret surveillance. The Fifth Amendment prohibits the federal government from taking anyone’s life without due process of law. The Fourth Amendment protects people’s privacy from the heavy hand of government.
Our American ancestors would never have approved of the Pentagon and the massive military-industrial complex or, as President Eisenhower originally termed it, the military-industrial-congressional complex, along with its ever-increasing budget, influence, and power. Americans were fiercely opposed to what they called “standing armies.” That’s why America had only a relatively small, basic military force throughout the 19th century.
Everything changed after World War II. That was when America’s governmental system changed to a national-security state, which consisted of the Pentagon, a vast and permanent military establishment, the CIA, and the NSA.
Even though the conversion took place without a constitutional amendment, it operated as a de facto amendment of the Constitution, one approved by the U.S. Supreme Court, which quickly deferred to the overwhelming power of the Pentagon, the CIA, and the NSA. The Pentagon and the CIA acquired the power of assassination. The NSA acquired the power of mass secret surveillance.
The justification for this conversion was the Cold War against “godless communism” and against the Soviet Union, which ironically had been America’s World War II partner and ally. U.S. officials steadfastly maintained that there was an international communist conspiracy to take over the world that was based in Moscow, Russia (yes, that Russia!). If the U.S. didn’t become a national-security state, like the Soviet Union, U.S. officials said, the United States would end up falling to the Reds.
When the Cold War suddenly and unexpectedly ended in 1989, Americans had a grand opportunity to have their limited-government republic restored. Unfortunately, however, the national-security establishment was not ready to go quietly into the night. Having lost its justification for its existence, it went into the Middle East and began killing, destroying, and humiliating people, knowing full well what the likely consequences would be.
That deadly and destructive interventionism produced such anger and rage that it led to the predictable outcome — anti-American terrorism, which manifested itself in the 1993 attack on the World Trade Center, on the USS Cole, on the U.S. Embassies in East Africa, and on 9/11.
With the 9/11 attacks, the national-security establishment was off to the races. It now had a new official enemy — terrorism, which arguably was better and more long-lasting than communism. With the deadly and destructive forever invasions and occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq, the national-security establishment could be assured of an endless supply of terrorists, which could now justify the continued existence and ever-growing largess of the U.S. national-security state.
With the Afghanistan intervention having been brought to an ignominious end, the national-security establishment is now in a real pickle because it doesn’t yet have an official enemy. Of course, they continue to assassinate people in the Middle East but there is no assurance that those killings will result in another big terrorist attack on American soil. So, national-security state officials are now returning to their old Cold War enemies, Russia and China.
Because most Americans today have been born and raised under a national-security state, they cannot imagine life under a limited-government republic. But the fact is that a limited-government republic is a necessary prerequisite for a free, prosperous, and harmonious society, as our American ancestors clearly understood.
This is the debate that should be occurring in America today — not whether to fire some generals and not whether to reduce the military budget and not whether U.S. officials should engage only in “smart” interventionism going forward. The debate we should be having is whether to continue as a national-security state or restore our nation’s founding system of a limited-government republic. We should have this debate before the national-security establishment is able to gin up a new official enemy to justify its continued existence and its ever-growing taxpayer-funded racket. The liberty and well-being of the nation depend on it.
This article was originally published at the Future of Freedom Foundation and is republished here with permission.