In the US system of government, is the president the decider on matters related to foreign policy and 'national security'? No, says Tufts University professor and former Senate Foreign Relations Committee legal counsel Michael Glennon.
The Boston Globe spoke with Glennon about his new book National Security and Double Government for a must-read interview that touches on war, security, and the limits of democracy in a "deep state" dominated by what the so-called security agencies seem to believe is a perpetual crisis. Glennon was inspired to write the book after watching constitutional law scholar Barack Obama perpetuate and even aggravate some of the worst human rights and civil liberties abuses from the Bush era. He spoke with members of the national security state, who basically confirmed his fears about where power rests in the US capitol.
How could this happen? "It hasn't been a conscious decision," Glennon explains.
Members of Congress are generalists and need to defer to experts within the national security realm, as elsewhere. They are particularly concerned about being caught out on a limb having made a wrong judgment about national security and tend, therefore, to defer to experts, who tend to exaggerate threats. The courts similarly tend to defer to the expertise of the network that defines national security policy.
The presidency itself is not a top-down institution, as many people in the public believe, headed by a president who gives orders and causes the bureaucracy to click its heels and salute. National security policy actually bubbles up from within the bureaucracy. Many of the more controversial policies, from the mining of Nicaragua’s harbors to the NSA surveillance program, originated within the bureaucracy. John Kerry was not exaggerating when he said that some of those programs are “on autopilot.”
[The American people] believe that when they vote for a president or member of Congress or succeed in bringing a case before the courts, that policy is going to change…But…policy by and large in the national security realm is made by the concealed institutions.
Glennon's diagnosis is refreshingly honest, especially for someone who comes from the belly of the beast. His prescription is on the money, too:
The ultimate problem is the pervasive political ignorance on the part of the American people. And indifference to the threat that is emerging from these concealed institutions. That is where the energy for reform has to come from: the American people. Not from government. Government is very much the problem here. The people have to take the bull by the horns. And that’s a very difficult thing to do, because the ignorance is in many ways rational. There is very little profit to be had in learning about, and being active about, problems that you can’t affect, policies that you can’t change.
"Take the bull by the horns." Hear that? Get out in the streets.
Read the full interview.