"We have crossed the boundary that lies between Republic and Empire. If you ask when, the answer is that you cannot make a single stroke between day and night. The precise moment does not matter. There was no painted sign to say, ‘You now are entering Imperium.’ Yet it was a very old road and the voice of history was saying: ‘Whether you know it or not, the act of crossing may be irreversible.’ And now, not far ahead, is a sign that reads: ‘No U Turns.’" –Garet Garrett, "Rise of Empire," 1950
Garet Garrett, the poet-polemicist who penned those words at the dawn of the cold war, was prescient in many ways. But in this he was wrong, for once: there is indeed a painted sign. It is called the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), passed by Congress and signed by the President. Buried in its thousands of pages is a provision, championed by Senators Lindsey Graham and Joe Lieberman, giving the President the power to lock up and hold indefinitely any American citizen without trial.
This is a neon sign, saying "No U-Turns" clear as day.
Oh, but don’t worry, says this President, because I won’t ever use it.
Given his long trail of broken promises, this pledge ought to scare the dickens out of even the most dogmatic Obama cultist. Which is to say nothing of what future dictators presidents might do. Senator Rand Paul says this legislation paves the way for martial law in America, and he speaks for Americans all across the ideological spectrum. Here is common ground for libertarians, sane conservatives, progressives, and old-fashioned liberals: let’s have a moment of silence in which we all mourn the death of our old republic, each in our own way.
Could there be a clearer demonstration of how a state of perpetual war erodes the constitutional order and the rule of law on the home front?
At the same time the US is inaugurating a new level of expansionism overseas, with an ambitious program to hijack the "Arab Spring," overthrow Syria’s Bashar al-Assad, and – most dangerous of all – extend the Afghan war into Pakistan. Now it appears that the formerly covert war in Pakistan is about to go public. It looks like President Asif "Ten Percent" Zardari has fled to Dubai, days away from meeting a crucial deadline on which the fate of his government depends: a demand by the Supreme Court that it justify its continued ability to rule. As I predicted a year ago:
"Pakistan ‘surge,’ Zardari out – The US won’t announce the ‘surge’ of its forces into Pakistan proper, but it will happen – and, indeed, is already happening – nonetheless. A joint US-Afghan force will directly engage militants in Pakistan’s tribal regions, as the formerly clandestine American incursion takes on an increasingly open character. This will provoke widespread disaffection with the government of President Asif Zardari, which has already lost its majority in Parliament and will inevitably suffer a vote a ‘no confidence’ and fail to win the subsequent elections. With the threat of a supposedly Islamist government in Islamabad hanging over its head, and the fate of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal increasingly uncertain, the Pakistani military – pushed by the US – will suspend Parliament, take over the government, and institute martial law in order to meet the ‘national emergency.’ For the first time, the Pakistani Taliban will go national, gathering widespread support in all regions of the country. The return of Gen. Pervez Musharraf is a real possibility."
The stage is set, all the actors are in place, and the curtain is about to go up on the War Party’s latest "surge," in which we plunge head first into a boiling cauldron of religious and ethnic hatreds, all stewing in a bitter broth of grievous poverty existing alongside great wealth.
You’ll recall George W. Bush’s insistence that Iraq was the "central front" in our endless war on terrorism, to which Obama and the Democrats replied, no, it’s Afghanistan. Now the winds of opportunity point in the direction of Pakistan. With the dissolution of the Zardari government, which is seen as a US puppet due to "memo-gate," the Islamist parties will hoist the nationalist banner and ride to victory over their secular opponents, setting off alarm bells in Washington. The much-touted emergency plan we have for securing Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal depends entirely on the cooperation of the Pakistani military. Given that we’ve been shooting at and killing their soldiers, and publicly accusing them of harboring the world’s most wanted terrorist, what are the chances of real cooperation at the crucial moment? We’ve effectively been at war with Pakistan for months now, and it is only a matter of time before we begin to move in the troops openly, and in a big way.
This war will be an easy sell for the War Party. To begin with, there’s the specter of Pakistan’s nukes: this threat, combined with the miraculous reincarnation of al-Qaeda, is a replay of Condoleezza Rice’s infamous "mushroom cloud" ploy in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq. Hillary Clinton can be counted on to play this role to the hilt.
The reality is that, as usual, we are trying desperately to deal with the "blowback" generated by our previous interventions, which led to the installation of the corrupt Zardari regime in the first place. Although Gen. Musharraf had dutifully honored his agreement with the US to hunt down and hand over al-Qaeda fighters resident in Pakistan, he didn’t have the right "democratic" credentials, a lack the US has been known to overlook in other instances. However, Musharraf’s downfall was assured when he insisted on maintaining Pakistan’s sovereignty and fighting for its own interests, as opposed to playing his assigned role as US sock puppet. As the US began to establish closer relations with India, stepping up military cooperation with the Indian armed forces, the Pakistani military and intelligence apparatus, formerly pro-American, began to turn against Uncle Sam: this despite the fact that many of them were trained in the US, or with the benefit of American instructors. As the inevitable "Who lost Pakistan?" analyses make their appearance, one would do well to remember this history.
America’s latest war of aggression has been a long time in the making. If and when the battle for Pakistan commences, it is going to be a massive and bloody undertaking. The American boot print in Central Asia is about to get a lot bigger.
That this is occurring at the same moment we are losing the last of our liberties could be a coincidence – or it could be a demonstration of the principle that war is the health of the state, as Randolph Bourne put it. During and after every major war, the role of government in American life has grown by leaps and bounds. Now that we live in an age of perpetual war, the growth of government power has escalated far beyond what even the most pessimistic civil libertarian would have imagined twenty years ago. As they move into Pakistan they are moving into your bank account, your email, and your private business, and they’re doing it on every front. Our eternal "war on terrorism" is an all-purpose rationalization for government to wage war on its own citizens.
That’s why Antiwar.com covers the government’s war on our civil liberties along with news of the War Party’s latest scheme: the two issues are complementary. Would that today’s "conservatives" had the insight of their Old Right ancestors, of whom Garrett was one. If they had preserved their heritage, instead of surrendering it to a bunch of ex-Trotskyites and right-wing Social Democrats, they would note with alarm this crossing of two Rubicons. As it is, they’ll be hailing Caesar with the rest of the mob.