I’ve been kicking an idea around lately, and since Lucy Steigerwald at Reason beat me to it, I thought I’d finally throw it out there.
The fall of the USSR was devastating for the US intelligence-military-industrial complex. No longer was there a mortal enemy with fanatically devoted 10-foot-tall bulletproof soldiers to justify their existence. Iraq was a temporary solution—the real long-term enemy of the future had to be found. The misadventures in the former Yugoslavia were barely a blip on the radar.
9/11 gave them everything they needed. To the intelligence-military-industrial mind, terrorists are the perfect enemy. They have power bases in certain countries—so the regular military still needs more money all the time—but they also operate in small cells under every rock on the planet, so the intelligence community also needs more money and more power all the time.
It wasn’t just the national-level organizations. I’m sure that every police officer at every level of law enforcement in the United States has been told to keep an eye out for terrorists. DHS grants flowed like wine before the ink was even dry on the Homeland Security act. Local police use these grants to outfit SWAT teams and buy armored cars which almost never see action against terrorists. Their primary function is as tools in the second Prohibition.
In the name of fighting this faceless, formless enemy, the FBI and CIA have been carrying out secret operations, the scope of which is top secret, and which the few details that have emerged have demonstrated to be consistently illegal. No matter, combating terrorism is as adaptable a mandate as can be found. The courts routinely defer to them even when their conduct would shock and appall a judge before 9/11.
In the name of fighting this faceless, formless enemy, the Department of Defense has taken hundreds of thousands of well-intentioned young Americans and used them to extend the US sphere of influence by all manner of brutal means. The nominally private parts of the intelligence-military-industrial complex don’t just happen to have money raining on them from the sky; that’s not a bug, that’s a feature. The fact that the presence of the US armed forces creates resentment is not a problem at all—I’m not saying they’re banking on it, but the world would look just about the same if they were.
Because “we’re at war” with an enemy that can never really be identified, much less defeated, the Executive Branch has usurped power undreamed of by the cruelest and most maniacal Roman emperors. The courts consistently find that because “we’re at war” the Executive Branch should have only the lightest, most flexible, most nominal constraints on its actions.
As if to prove me right, a recent news story had “defense analysts” proclaiming that despite the fact that Al-Qaeda is now almost defunct, they’re more dangerous than ever. This was just in time for Obama to sign a new agreement with Afghanistan’s Hamid Karzai on the long-term future of Afghanistan, slightly winding down the full-frontal military side of the conflict but in no way affecting FBI/CIA plots, including domestic agents provocateurs and foreign drone strikes that target people who merely appear suspicious to drone operators.
This is an enemy the US government and its friends will be obsessed with for as long as possible—probably at least for the rest of my natural life.