Creating a National Security State ‘Democracy,’ Or How the American Political System Changed and No One Noticed

By Tom Engelhardt, a co-founder of the American Empire Project and the author of The United States of Fear as well as a history of the Cold War, The End of Victory Culture. He is a fellow of the Nation Institute and runs His latest book is Shadow Government: Surveillance, Secret Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single-Superpower World. Originally published at TomDispatch </p>

To say that this is the election from hell is to insult hell.

There’s been nothing like this since Washington forded the Rubicon or Trump crossed the Delaware or delivered the Gettysburg Address (you know, the one that began “Four score and eleven women ago…”) — or pick your own seminal moment in American history.

Billions of words, that face, those gestures, the endless insults, the abused women and the emails, the 24/7 spectacle of it all… Whatever happens on Election Day, let’s accept one reality: we’re in a new political era in this country.  We just haven’t quite taken it in.  Not really.

Forget Donald Trump.

Doh! Why did I write that? Who could possibly forget the first presidential candidate in our history preemptively unwilling to accept election results?  (Even the South in 1860 accepted the election of Abraham Lincoln before trying to wave goodbye to the Union.)  Who could forget the man who claimed that abortions could take place on the day of or the day before actual birth?  Who could forget the man who claimed in front of an audience of nearly 72 million Americans that he had never met the women who accused him of sexual aggression and abuse, including the People magazine reporter who interviewed him?  Who could forget the candidate who proudly cited his positive polling results at rallies and in tweets, month after month, before (when those same polls turned against him) discovering that they were all “rigged”? 

Whatever you think of The Donald, who in the world — and I mean the whole wide world (including the Iranians) — could possibly forget him or the election he’s stalked so ominously?  When you think of him, however, don’t make him the cause of American political dysfunction.  He’s just the bizarre, disturbed, and disturbing symptom of the transformation of the American political system.

Admittedly, he is a one-of-a-kind “politician,” even among his associates in surging right-wing nationalist and anti-whatever movements globally.  He makes France’s Marine Le Pen seem like the soul of rationality and Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte look like a master tactician of our age.  But what truly makes Donald Trump and this election season fascinating and confounding is that we’re not just talking about the presidency of a country, but of the country.  The United States remains the great imperial state on Planet Earth in terms of the reach of its military and the power of its economy and culture to influence the workings of everything just about everywhere.  And yet, based on the last strange year of election campaigning, it’s hard not to think that something — and not just The Donald — is unnervingly amiss on Planet America.

The World War II Generation in 2016

Sometimes, in my fantasies (as while watching the final presidential debate), I perform a private miracle and bring my parents back from the dead to observe our American world.  With them in the room, I try to imagine the disbelief many from that World War II generation would surely express about our present moment.  Of course, they lived through a devastating depression, light years beyond anything we experienced in the Great Recession of 2007-2008, as well as a global conflagration of a sort that had never been experienced and — short of nuclear war — is not likely to be again.

Despite this, I have no doubt that they would be boggled by our world and the particular version of chaos we now live with.  To start at a global level, both my mother (who died in 1977) and my father (who died in 1983) spent decades in the nuclear age, the era of humanity’s greatest — for want of a better word — achievement.  After all, for the first time in history, we humans took the apocalypse out of the hands of God (or the gods), where it had resided for thousands of years, and placed it directly in our own.  What they didn’t live to experience, however, was history’s second potential deal-breaker, climate change, already bringing upheaval to the planet, and threatening a slow-motion apocalypse of an unprecedented sort.

While nuclear weapons have not been used since August 9, 1945, even if they have spread to the arsenals of numerous countries, climate change should be seen as a snail-paced version of nuclear war — and keep in mind that humanity is still pumping near-record levels of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.  I imagine my parents’ amazement that the most dangerous and confounding issue on the planet didn’t get a single question, not to speak of an answer, in the three presidential debates of 2016, the four and a half hours of charges, insults, and interruptions just past.  Neither a moderator, nor evidently an undecided voter (in the town hall second debate), nor either presidential candidate — each ready to change the subject on a moment’s notice from embarrassing questions about sexual aggression, emails, or anything else — thought it worth the slightest attention.  It was, in short, a problem too large to discuss, one whose existence Donald Trump (like just about every other Republican) denies, or rather, in his case, labels a “hoax” that he uniquely blames on a Chinese plot to sink America.

So much for insanity (and inanity) when it comes to the largest question of all.  On a somewhat more modest scale, my mom and dad wouldn’t have recognized our political world as American, and not just because of Donald Trump.  They would have been staggered by the money pouring into our political system — at least $6.6 billion in this election cycle according to the latest estimate, more than 10% of that from only 100 families.  They would have been stunned by our 1% elections; by our new Gilded Age; by a billionaire TV celebrity running as a “populist” by riling up once Democratic working-class whites immiserated by the likes of him and his “brand” of casino capitalism, scam, and spectacle; by all those other billionaires pouring money into the Republican Party to create a gerrymandered Congress that will do their obstructionist bidding; and by just how much money can be “invested” in our political system in perfectly legal ways these days.  And I haven’t even mentioned the Other Candidate, who spent all of August on the true “campaign trail,” hobnobbing not with ordinary Americans but with millionaires and billionaires (and assorted celebrities) to build up her phenomenal “war chest.” 

I would have to take a deep breath and explain to my parents that, in twenty-first-century America, by Supreme Court decree, money has become the equivalent of speech, even if it’s anything but “free.”  And let’s not forget that other financial lodestone for an American election these days: the television news, not to speak of the rest of the media.  How could I begin to lay out for my parents, for whom presidential elections were limited fall events, the bizarre nature of an election season that starts with media speculation about the next-in-line just as the previous season is ending, and continues more or less nonstop thereafter?  Or the spectacle of talking heads discussing just about nothing but that election 24/7 on cable television for something like a full year, or the billions of ad dollars that have fueled this never-ending Super Bowl of campaigns, filling the coffers of the owners of cable and network news?

We’ve grown strangely used to it all, but my mom and dad would undoubtedly think they were in another country — and that would be before they were even introduced to the American system as it now exists, the one for which Donald Trump is such a bizarre front man.

What Planet Is This Anyway?

I wish I still had my high school civics text.  If you’re of a certain age, you’ll remember it: the one in which a man from Mars lands on Main Street, USA, to be lectured on the glories of American democracy and our carefully constructed, checked-and-balanced tripartite form of governance.  I’m sure knowledge of that system changed life on Mars for the better, even if it was already something of a fantasy here on Earth in my parents’ time.  After all, Republican President Dwight D. Eisenhower — my mom and dad voted for Democrat Adlai Stevenson — was the one who, in his farewell address in 1961, first brought “the potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power” and “the military-industrial complex” to the attention of the American people.

Yes, all of that was already changing then, as a peacetime war state of unparalleled size developed in this country.  Still, 30-odd years after my father’s death, surveying the American landscape, my parents might believe themselves on Mars.  They would undoubtedly wonder what exactly had happened to the country they knew.  After all, thanks to the Republican Party’s scorched-earth tactics in these last years in bipolar Washington, Congress, that collection of putative representatives of the people (now a crew of well-paid, well-financed representatives of the country’s special interests in a capital overrun with corporate lobbyists), hardly functions anymore.  Little of significance makes it through the porticos of the Capitol.  Recently, for instance, John McCain (usually considered a relatively “moderate” Republican senator) suggested — before walking his comments part way back — that if Hillary Clinton were elected president, his fellow Republican senators might decide a priori not to confirm a single Supreme Court justice she nominated during her tenure in office.  That, of course, would mean a court now down to what looks like a permanent crew of eight would shrink accordingly.  And his comments, which once would have shocked Americans to the core, caused hardly a ripple of upset or protest.

On my tour of this new world, I might start by pointing out to my mom and dad that the U.S. is now in a state of permanent war, its military at the moment involved in conflicts in at least six countries in the Greater Middle East and Africa.  These are all purely presidential conflicts, as Congress no longer has a real role in American war-making (other than ponying up the money for it and beating the drums to support it).  The executive branch stands alone when it comes to the war powers once checked and balanced in the Constitution.

And I wouldn’t want my parents to simply look abroad.  The militarization of this country has proceeded apace and in ways that, I have not the slightest doubt, would shock them to their core.  I could take my parents, for instance, to Grand Central Station in midtown Manhattan, their hometown and still mine, and on any day of the week they would see the once-inconceivable: actual armed soldiers on guard in full camo.  I could mention that, at my local subway stop, I’ve several times noted a New York police department counterterror squad that could be mistaken for a military Special Ops team, assault rifles slung across their chests, and no one even stops and gawks anymore.  I could point out that the police across the country increasingly have the look of military units and are supplied by the Pentagon with actual weaponry and equipment directly off distant U.S. battlefields, including armored vehicles of various sorts.  I could mention that military surveillance drones, those precursors of future robotic warfare (and, for my parents, right out of the childhood sci-fi novels I used to read), are now regularly in American skies; that advanced surveillance equipment developed in far-off war zones is now being used by the police here at home; and that, though political assassination was officially banned in the post-Watergate 1970s, the president now commands a formidable CIA drone force that regularly carries out such assassinations across large swaths of the planet, even against U.S. citizens, and without the say-so of anyone outside the White House, including the courts.  I could mention that the president who, in my parents’ time, commanded one modest-sized secret army, the CIA’s paramilitaries, now essentially presides over a full-scale secret military, the Special Operations Command: 70,000 elite troops cocooned inside the larger U.S. military, including elite teams ready to be deployed on what are essentially executive missions across the planet.

I could point out that, in the twenty-first century, U.S. intelligence has set up a global surveillance state that would have shamed the totalitarian powers of the previous century and that American citizens, en masse, are included in it; that our emails (a new concept for my parents) have been collected by the millions and our phone records made available to the state; that privacy, in short, has essentially been declared un-American.  I would also point out that, on the basis of one tragic day and what otherwise has been the most modest of threats to Americans, a single fear — of Islamic terrorism — has been the pretext for the building of the already existing national security state into an edifice of almost unbelievable proportions that has been given once unimaginable powers, funded in ways that should amaze anyone (not just visitors from the American past), and has become the unofficial fourth branch of the U.S. government without either discussion or a vote.

Little that it does — and it does a lot — is open to public scrutiny.  For their own “safety,” “the People” are to know nothing of its workings (except what it wants them to know).  Meanwhile, secrecy of a claustrophobic sort has spread across significant parts of the government.  The government classified 92 million documents in 2011 and things seem not to have gotten much better since.  In addition, the national security state has been elaborating a body of “secret law” — including classified rules, regulations, and interpretations of already existing law — kept from the public and, in some cases, even from congressional oversight committees.

Americans, in other words, know ever less about what their government does in their name at home and abroad.

I might suggest to my parents that they simply imagine the Constitution of the United States being rewritten and amended in secrecy and on the fly in these years without as much as a nod to “We, the People.”  In this way, as our elections became elaborate spectacles, democracy was sucked dry and ditched in all but name — and that name is undoubtedly Donald J. Trump. 

Consider that, then, a brief version of how I might describe our new American world to my amazed parents.

America as a National Security State

None of this is The Donald’s responsibility.  In the years in which a new American system was developing, he was firing people on TV.  You could, of course, think of him as the poster boy for an America in which spectacle, celebrity, the gilded class of One Percenters, and the national security state have melded into a narcissistic, self-referential brew of remarkable toxicity.

Whether Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump is elected president, one thing is obvious: the vast edifice that is the national security state, with its 17 intelligence agencies and enormous imperial military, will continue to elaborate itself and expand its power in our American world.  Both candidates have sworn to pour yet more money into that military and the intelligence and Homeland Security apparatus that goes with it.  None of this, of course, has much of anything to do with American democracy as it was once imagined.

Someday perhaps, like my parents, “I” will be called back from the dead by one of my children to view with awe or horror whatever world exists.  Long after the America of an unimaginable Donald J. Trump presidency or a far-more-imaginable Hillary Clinton version of the same has been folded into some god-awful, half-forgotten chapter in our history, I wonder what will surprise or confound “me” then.  What version of our country and planet will “I” face in 2045? 

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  1. James Miller

    Perhaps the dearth of comments reflects the fact that this is a rather poor example of Tom Engelheardt’s usually excellent writing. Important changes in what was once the American Republic, certainly. That said, —tell this to resurrected dead parents? Ah, well. We’re getting old, Tom.

    1. Jim Haygood

      Same reaction. As the eminent former NJ gov Christine Whitman would’ve said … “Tom’s off his feed.”

    2. Damian

      This is a promotion for the criminals known as Clinton – To say: “thanks to the Republican Party’s scorched-earth tactics” – is a joke

      The Clinton / Bush Establishment Party Agenda is a unitary System that merely flips the spoils 60/40 or 40 /60 depending on the objectives in the cycle.

      Trump is the first to challenge the System since JFK – he has zero support from the establishment politically or economically

      1. juliania

        I expected a rant equally divided between Clump and Trinton ending in a praisefull segment – one measly paragraph would have been enough – on Jill Stein, whose Green New Deal would return Tom’s parents to their deserved peaceful rest. What is it about our pundits that they don’t pund any more? The rot is so pervasive as to be sickening, even here, where so much valuable dialogue takes place.

        It will not be the Greens who ‘lose’ this election because of obstructing voters from seeing that one or the other of those two ‘ought’ to be chosen. It will be the press, the media, the prognosticators – whatever you want to (politely) call them, who have refused to let the true lady be heard, who ignore her to the point of callow cowardice.

        Bulgakov in “The Master and Margarita” put forward the cowardice of Pilate as the chiefly unworthy characteristic of the servants of the powerful. There have been a lot of Pilates this election cycle – far, far too many. Even so, every one of us is constrained to be Pilate when powerful forces dictate and our better angels are repressed. Not loong ago we all took freedom for granted, but it is a fragile entity. Indeed it is.

        Thank you, Yves. I know you expect thoughtful comments to any posting, and I thank you for all that you are able to do.

      2. lyman

        Let’s not give the guy too much credit as some kind of rebel. Trump was pretty clear early on that he basically shoots off his mouth at rallies and if people respond positively he’ll say whatever it was that they liked again. He’s a classic bulls***ter (as opposed to a liar like his opponent) and I suspect that if he manages to get elected we will find that the new boss is once again remarkably similar to the old one.

    3. John Medcalf

      So many people of character and intelligence have gone all in against Trump. I would have preferred seeing the man given credit for what he is harnessing. Then ask Hillary to make a plan for dealing with real problems (not bankster problems).
      Barrack Obama has shown us that a likely progressive can be terribly regressive. We can’t expect more of Hillary. Stop ranting and tell us how we will restrain Hillary’s elite impulses.

    4. Ralph Johansen

      I don’t agree. I am 93. Like Tom’s parents I experienced the Depression, was a draftee in WW2, voted for Adlai Stevenson, even worked in his campaign in Minneapolis along with Orville Freeman, Karl Rolvaag, Andreas Papandreou who was teaching economics at U of M, Eugene McCarthy who was teaching political science at St. Thomas College near my home in St. Paul. Everything that Tom brings up in his speculations about how his middle class parents might feel about the world around us now makes sense to me. There are differences. When I was thirty, I left the midwest and went to school at UC Berserkeley. And never looked back. But I have no connection with anyone back there, my sisters and their families who wouldn’t think of missing church on Sunday, or neglecting their connections to polite civic organizations, their college sororities, and dinners with their husbands’ business acquaintances. And who are without doubt totally non-plused at what is taking place all around them. I have learned that elections are a total farce directed by the scarcely-anymore-concealed extra-parliamentary forces of capital. But even back then, Goldwater was writing that immediately, each time after being elected to the Senate, his first order of business was to begin raising funds for the next election. Nor was there any particular secret, if one were attuned to one’s time, that industrial unions were purged of their radical leadership, that industrial peace was predicated on workers getting an increasing slice of what was for a time an expanding productive pie; and the early 20th century educational, radicalizing function of trade unions was thereby foregone; that the US for which so many of us gave our lives in WW2 turned out to be a rampaging imperialist force usurping the sovereignty of all other nation-states in its fierce effort to subdue all impediments to the expansion of American capital. That increasing concentration and centralization of capital meant the transnational corporations moved out of the orbit of nation-states, using them only as instruments of aggrandizement, concealing their taxable wealth in transfer pricing and offshoring. And then there’s concentration of the media, there’s the manipulation by capital of the divisive separations of labor globally. There’s so much more that Tom, or I, could say about all this. As usual, space precludes.

      1. Harold

        Ralph, this is agrees with what my mother, who would have been 92, always used to tell me. Especially about the betrayal of unionized workers by cold war “liberals”.

  2. Felix_47

    I have noticed that the children, mine and others, who seem to have stable jobs are often working in the national security state in one way or another. It is hard to outsource national security state work to foreign countries or recent migrants. Could it be that this is simply a way to provide jobs for American born children?

    1. Stephen Gardner

      It’s not about jobs for the people who rule this country. The jobs are how they sell it to us in the cheap seats. Please don’t be fooled. It’s really about economic control of the earth by our elites. Don’t ever think they are motivated by altruism. Altruism is an alien concept to them.

  3. Disturbed Voter

    Rose colored glasses. WW II changed everything, the rise of the OSS (now CIA) and the repurposing of the FBI. Their concern was broadened to include domestic dissidents. The NSA was pre-birthed in WW II also, with Americans visiting Bletchley Park. Apparently some people have forgotten what the pre-Carter US looked like. Only with Carter, were we really past Watergate. Things now are more similar to the 1960s than they have been anytime since. Don’t let the existence of iPhones fool you.

    It was under early Cold War conditions that the Dark State was created for continuity of government in the event of the unthinkable. And those conditions haven’t changed even since 1991.

  4. Richard

    I happen to think Donald Trump is on-track to be the country’s greatest president… EVER. Anyone who watched the entire Apprentice series will know that he never made a rash decision, he was never unfair and he was unfailingly courteous to all those who deserved it. You have the best analysis of a future president you could possibly have by watching The Apprentice. Try it out for size…

    1. Pete

      On point. The man has never even consumed a drop of alcohol. Or at least hasn’t admitted to it.

      You might say he even acted “presidential” while on The Apprentice…

  5. Larry

    This is some naive clap trap. His parents lived through the Jim Crow era of Dixiecrats still openly pining for seccession from the south. Redlining, McCarthyism, misogyny, gay shaming, poverty on a massive scale. Let’s not forget Kennedy walking us to the brink of Armageddon in the Cuban missle crisis or follies in Korea (still going) and Vietnam. What Tom’s parents would recognize is that the United States after WWII declared itself the beligerent global sheriff committed to maintaining it’s influence and power around the world and protecting the interests of it’s monied elites. Don’t give me that greatest generation crap.

    1. Jagger

      Yes, what would truly shock dead parents to the core are the results of the culture war and mass immigration.

  6. Stephen Douglas

    There’s no point in reading this guy when he starts off his fourth paragraph with some snarky nonsense about Donald Trump. On his site, he posts guest columns by shreiking harpies who write that Trump is exacly like the wife beater and child murderer Joel Steinberg.

    Engelhardt, like many others, including Amy Goodman, have lost all their credibility and all of their integrity with this preposterous writing.

    1. Vatch

      You’re right that the article by Ann Jones is way over the top; indeed, the comparison with Steinberg seems absurd.

      But in today’s article here at NC, I don’t see that type of problem. His penultimate paragraph doesn’t show favoritism to either Clinton or Trump:

      Whether Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump is elected president, one thing is obvious: the vast edifice that is the national security state, with its 17 intelligence agencies and enormous imperial military, will continue to elaborate itself and expand its power in our American world. Both candidates have sworn to pour yet more money into that military and the intelligence and Homeland Security apparatus that goes with it. None of this, of course, has much of anything to do with American democracy as it was once imagined.

      1. Stephen Douglas

        I disagree with even that last paragraph.

        Trump has differentiated himself from Hillary and from the national security state in many statements. This is why the neocons have almost all move over the Hillary, no matter their party affiliation.

        This fact is consistently ignored or denigrated by writers like Engelhardt and “journalists” like Amy Goodman (the quotes are intentional: I no longer believe she is unbiased in any way).

        While it is probably that the military and the security state wants to continue to expand, with Trump that is not necessarily a done deal, while it is clearly a done deal with Hillary.

        There has been a lot of light, especially lately, shined on the military and the intellicence complex (including the failed DEA and the laughing stock of the world prison complex).

        Tom may be right, but I find it really ridiculous to just slump yoiur shoulders and wring your hands about that possibility.

        Many say that Trump would be prevented from making any changes to things as they are. Well, if that turns out to be the case, how do you think people in America will react? A people has to have cohesion and a general trust to be governable.

        When vast majorities vote for change–and that is most certainly no one but Trump–and that choice is somehow taken from them?

        Engelhardt should stop the hysterical hand-wringing about Trump and embrace the change.

        Again, he has no credibiltiy or integrity after this utter nonsense he’s been posting in the past few months. I am simply astounded that journalists and writes I have followed and admired for years, have rushed to throw all of their values into the erupting volcano of change we might be able to believe in.

        And as detailed her many times by Yves and Lambert, the Democrats are not the party of we the people. They gave up on that in the mid-80s. Of course, neither are the Republicans, which is why they deserted Trump.

        If change is possible, change for the better, change back to a republic, there is only one choice.

        And it’s not to round your shoulders and weep. Tom, time to retire. That’s my take on it. When you’ve lost your ability to be agile, you shouldn’t be writing any longer.

        1. Lambert Strether

          Whether Trump could convert his perceptions and instincts (truthtelling on Iraq and Syria, alone among the political class) into policy, and whether he could institutionalize the policy remains to be seen. I’m guessing no.

          1. JTMcPhee

            Big problem is that the Powers are all-in on the end-game of Manifest Destiny.

            This comment may not survive S-net, but the text is a strong if slightly dated (2010) indicator of how the “effective” part of “America” thinks about , and acts in, the world. Basically, that the kindly notion of “the commons” has been hijacked to mean “whatever the neolib-neocons want to do at any given instant,” on the way to owning and controlling everything, which “policy direction” notionally now equates to “national interest:” (please tell me if I am using more than my share of bandwidth, and forgive if this source was flagged here long ago, but it struck me as relevant to the thread)

            Global Commons and
            Domain Interrelationships:
            Time for a New Conceptual
            by Mark E. Redden and Michael P. Hughes

            Over the last several years, examination of U.S. national security interests within the context of the global commons has emerged as a major policy issue in the defense community.2 At the highest levels of the Department of Defense (DOD), there is now an awareness that the U.S. military will be confronted by a host of challenges “to stability throughout the global commons.”3 Furthermore, the Nation can “expect to be increasingly challenged in securing and maintaining access to the global commons and must also be prepared for operations in unfamiliar conditions and environments.”4 In response, the 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review Report has now assigned “assured access” to the commons as a top priority for U.S. military forces.5

            As defined by DOD, the global commons comprise the geographic and virtual realms of “space, international waters and airspace, and cyberspace.”6 They are a subset of the broader maritime, aerospace, and cyber domains, deriving their existence from the notion of areas that are accessible to all but owned by none. The term global commons originated in the civilian sector, where it evolved as a collective label for the areas of “Antarctica, the high seas and deep seabed minerals, the atmosphere, and space.”7 The rationale for combining these four physically distinct entities under the rubric of global commons stems from their shared attribute of being “resource domains to which all nations have legal access.”8 Unifying them into the higher level construct known as the global commons provides the commercial and legal communities with a methodology for addressing cross-cutting issues among a diverse set of geographies.

            The global commons are seen as the essential conduits of U.S. national power in a rapidly globalizing and increasingly interconnected world. The heritage of the commons’ strategic importance can be traced back as least as far as Alfred Thayer Mahan, who highlighted the relationship between maritime power and the ability to maintain the sea lines of communications with economic expansion and the impact on overall national power.9 Attainment of U.S. strategic, economic, informational, and military objectives is contingent upon assured access to, and freedom of action within, the commons. Accordingly, global commons access must remain at the forefront of U.S. national security imperatives.

            Successful application of military power in and through the global commons in support of overarching U.S. national objectives is likewise dependent upon the ability of military forces to access and maneuver within and across the commons—to deliver power in and through the various geographies. While the required extent and duration of the U.S. military’s access to and freedom of action in the commons will be determined by larger strategic factors, the fundamental ability to achieve them is becoming more problematic. New complexities in the global commons potentially lessen military effectiveness, diminishing the military’s ability to support national interests. Arguably, the least recognized and least understood of these complexities is the notion of domain interrelationships: the idea that intradomain military operations are increasingly dependent on interdomain dependencies.10 These domain interrelationships vary in scope from simple bi-domain evolutions, such as air operations in support of maritime operations, to the more typical norm in today’s military operations: full multidomain evolutions in which simultaneous access to and freedom of action throughout all the components of the commons are necessities.

            Barring a fundamental shift in U.S. strategic objectives, the military must retain the ability to operate throughout the global commons to achieve the requisite level of local control and superiority for mission success in support of national objectives. To accomplish this, the U.S. defense establishment must reassess the fundamental ideas and concepts regarding military power employment within the global commons in light of expanding domain interrelationships.

            New Challenges
            Responsibility for the maintenance of the global commons and guarantee of free access for both international trade and commerce and the projection of military power has for more than 60 years fallen to the U.S. military. 11 As noted by U.S. Joint Forces Command’s current Joint Operating Environment publication, the “crucial enabler for America’s ability to project military power for the past six decades has been its almost complete control over the global commons.”12 However, over the last two decades, a confluence of events and emerging issues has begun to impact the U.S. military’s ability to gain access to the global commons, as well as its freedom of action within it. The continuing evolution of the commons presents the U.S. military with a host of new challenges and demands.

            First among these challenges is the incorporation of new geographies into the commons. In addition to dealing with growing complexities in the more “mature” maritime and air components, the U.S. military is confronting the issue of integrating the newer domains, space and cyber, into its fundamental concepts of operation.

            The cyber domain arguably provides the most acute challenge; its complex and at times seemingly anarchic nature and the difficulty in detecting and attributing actions complicate military planning. Despite its breadth of use within both the civilian and defense sectors, the U.S. defense community’s understanding of the full impact of cyberspace on military capabilities and operations is modest at best.

            Compounding the issue of the expanded scope of the global commons is their increasingly congested and contested nature. Driven in large part by economic and technological advances, barriers to commons access and entry have been significantly lowered, with an attendant rise in the number and types of actors able to exploit the commons. For example, space—once the almost exclusive purview of the superpowers during the Cold War due to high financial and technical barriers—is now routinely accessed by several dozen companies and consortia from various states, as well as individual entrepreneurs and commercial entities. Similarly, the oft-quoted price of access to the cyber domain can be as low as the cost of a laptop computer.

            The dynamics making the commons more contested are varied and complex. At the high end, a number of state actors are rapidly approaching the level of a peer or near-peer military competitor in specific geographic areas. Although unable to challenge U.S. military access to all of the commons on a global scale and for extended periods of time, robust investment in conventional and asymmetric antiaccess and area-denial capabilities is positioning some countries to be able to challenge U.S. military access and freedom of action in bounded regions and for set periods of time. This is a significant issue given U.S. global interests and the military resources and efforts required to guarantee security of those interests at long distances.

            Exacerbating the challenges from traditional or rising peer and near-peer military competitors is the increasing influence exerted by nonstate actors in the global commons. State actors typically have substantial incentives to keep general access to the commons unrestricted. Nonstate actors can have drastically different motives. Driven by such factors as economics and political ideology, nonstate actors are more likely to deny, restrict, or disrupt commons access and usage in pursuit of their objectives. Even a modestly sized nonstate actor can exert a disproportionate effect within the commons. As evidenced in the cyber domain, at little cost in resources and effort, small groups (or even individuals) can disrupt and degrade Internet access and functionality for civilian, commercial, and government users, yielding effects that
            are of far greater value than the costs of producing them.The precipitous decline in U.S. conventional air and naval platforms used to address these challenges aggravates the situation. The global commons are expansive in nature, with time, speed, and distance factors that at times can only be addressed through employment of large numbers of military assets. In the air and maritime domains, current U.S. aircraft and ship quantities are a fraction of the levels that existed at the conclusion ofthe Cold War. In 2009, U.S. Navy ship numbers alone were over 50 percent lower than they were in 1990 in the waning days of the Cold War.13 While technological advances help offset the negative aspects of force reductions, they are insufficient to address the growing challenges inherent in a more complex and dynamic global commons. In the cyber domain, resource challenges are exacerbated by the complex balance between offense and defense and the difficulty of attempting to innovate in a military field while simultaneously responding to the advancements of others. Unlike the maritime, air, and space domains, where the United States has traditionally been at the forefront of military development and has compelled potential adversaries to respond to its military initiatives, the Nation has no such advantage in the cyber domain.

            External and internal fiscal pressures will limit the near- to mid-term potential for significant growth in the defense procurement budget. Furthermore, the short term requirement to balance current counterinsurgency and counterterrorism operations against other mission requirements makes the prospects for a resource-intensive
            solution to the challenges posed within the global commons unlikely. The U.S. military will not be able to apply overwhelming quantitative and qualitative resource advantages to solve global commons problems. In situations where potential adversaries may have limited strategic objectives or reduced timelines for military action in the commons, the problem of insufficient resources becomes noticeably more acute.

            The last and least recognized military challenge in the global commons involves the rapidly developing interrelationships among and between the different domains and the platforms and systems operating in and through the related parts of the global commons. The phenomenon stems not from the physical attributes of the individual domains (and the related parts of the commons), but rather is a manifestation of how military capabilities and operations have evolved, particularly over the last two decades. Domain interrelationships start at the most fundamental levels of military operations and capabilities and yield effects throughout the whole spectrum of military power as the totality of the interrelationships is integrated across each level of warfare. Now more than ever, effective and efficient application of military power in any specific part of the global commons rests upon a foundation of simultaneous access and freedom of action throughout the remainder of the commons.

            The idea of domain interrelationships is not new. These interrelationships have been, to a certain degree, part of military planning for as long as the potential for multidomain military operations has existed. Rather, it is the breadth of the various domain interrelationships and the pace at which they have developed that are now the critical issues…..

            One wishes Trump, if he gets the nod, a lot of luck in any attempt to divert this Juggernaut that is all about POWER and CONTROL of the whole effing planet from its path, or to diminish its mass and momentum in any significant way…

            Just think of all the opportunities for credentialed experts in this World Order…

            And note that Russians and other nationals read this sh!t from the War Department too, and for some reason get a little nervous…

            “We’ve got the whole wo-orld in our hands
            We’ve got the whole wo-old in our hands…”

          2. susan the other

            Trump should consider LBJ who lamented that Laos/Vietnam could not be convinced to let the US just come on in and build a great dam on the Mekong River to bring them all electricity and prosperity – much like FDR did for rural America in LBJ’s first years in Washington. This is a 20th C. story of lots of capital with nowhere to go, because inflation. The story of capital is the story not of money but of the value of money, regardless of its worthlessness. We’d have been better off just giving tons of money to southeast Asia. Better just giving tons of money to the Middle East. But no – it’s been a ruse to keep inflation down at home: go to war and cause vast destruction instead. Nuts. But now of course we have global warming as a consequence and it’s so horrendous that even talking about it will spill the beans on all of our previous insanity. Anyway, the banks and the oil companies and other giant corporations are in fact planning to meet GW goals, but on the QT.

            1. JTMcPhee

              I did some math a while ago. If you tote up the amount spent on the “Southeast Asia WarGames, 1957-75” not counting inflation and “entitlements” for disabled vets like me and so many others, or the toll of Agent Orange on those new “trading partners” whose products fill the shelves of Walmart, and divide that by the body count of “gooks,” and these are all from numbers from the net but I am pretty sure they are within an order of magnitude, it looks like it cost “somebody” about HALF A MILLION DOLLARS to kill each one of those brown-skinned people.

              War is one fokking irrefutable proof that by any moral standard, humanity is fokking stupid and mostly evil. Can’t fix stupid, especially when a few real Fokkers get off, and get rich, off it…

  7. Lupemax

    DemocracyNow this morning is devoting the entire hour to Michael Moore and his new movie about Trump. Both Englehardt (in a screed) and Amy Goodman with her interview with Moore have lost it at this point IMHO and I am beyond disappointed. There is real news out there and living beings are dying but both otherwise intelligent journalists are off the deep end — A sign of how truly bad things are today.

    1. diptherio

      A friend was recently commenting that Democracy Now! has really gone downhill since they started taking a bunch of Soros money.

  8. Boo

    He might, as he says, “start by pointing out to my mom and dad that the U.S. is now in a state of permanent war”, forgetting that the United States has been in a state of war for about 93% of its existence.

  9. Michael C.

    I get deeply concerned when I see a title that says “and not one noticed.” That’s the excuse used to alleviate the culpability of god-fearing Christians during the run up to genocide and war in 1930’s Nazi Germany that ended in the death of tens of millions. I have watched and been involved in US politics since the early 1970’s, and I have watched what began as a slow slide to the right (Powell Memo and Trilateral Commission) that picked up steam under Reagan in the 80’s, got a big boost from the Clinton’s in the 90’s, and picked up speed dramatically under Bush II after 2000. Let’s not provide a convenient excuse for “citizens” who have partook in this sharp tilt to a proto-fascist, national security state to protect the perpetrators. It’s all happened before our eyes, and the people responsible must be held called out and held accountable. A “mea culpa” use to include a sense of responsibility for one’s actions (“through my fault, though my fault, through my most grievous fault” as I remember it). Names need to be taken, people exposed, and punishment needs to be doled out to the perpetrators.

    1. burlesque

      @Michael C
      And how would you propose that this be done: call out the people responsible and hold them accountable?

  10. Chauncey Gardiner

    Disagree with the headline. Plenty of citizens both noticed and publicly expressed their concerns about these issues as well as the state’s use of fear and propaganda, the massive offshoring and dismantlement of American manufacturing and middle class jobs as policy, the never-ending wars of choice, and the influence and actions of Wall Street and a corporate elite. A better question is why the developments that Engelhardt cited failed to gain widespread coverage and oppo in the media and academia, or traction in Congress given the relentless expansion of executive powers at the expense of members of Congress and the American people?

    Some narrow economic and political interests have benefited enormously from these developments over the past couple decades. However, based on their delayed and dismayed reaction to the emergence and legs of the current R presidential candidate, an unlikely agent of change, they are beginning to recognize they overplayed their hand.

    1. Justicia

      “A better question is why the developments that Engelhardt cited failed to gain widespread coverage and oppo in the media and academia, or traction in Congress…”

      Agreed. Why, for example, is Hillary Clinton’s use of a private e-mail server while Sec. of State a scandal and a crime that warrants endless investigation and media attention but not Dick Cheney’s use of a private server during most of his term as VP? Two million e-mails went missing at the end of the Bush-Cheney admin — no e-mails from the VP during the run-up to the Iraq invasion were found.

      So, it’s only a scandal and a crime if you’re not a white, male Republican.

  11. DarkMatters

    “Long after the America of an unimaginable Donald J. Trump presidency or a far-more-imaginable Hillary Clinton version of the same has been folded into some god-awful, half-forgotten chapter in our history, I wonder what will surprise or confound “me” then. ”

    I hope enough of America persists, at least closely enough to its original form, so that future generations can see this as “god-awful”, rather than this election becoming just another milestone to disintegration, completely forgotten along with the rest of Gore Vidal’s United States of Amnesia. Englehardt bemoans Trump, but fails to notice that Trump is an act of desperation; that voters might prefer another candidate were a better available; that only up to a few months ago the candidate who was the clear preference of the people according to the polls, was defeated in primaries by what are electoral corruptions, identified too late, not by our “trusted” news media, but by hackers.

    Tom’s litany of horrific weirdness becomes all the more stark when one realizes that unbelievably, the alternative candidate is arguably worse.

    1. Pespi

      If you believe the line that every fascism is a failed liberalism, you might take this ‘pressure release valve’ in Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton’s status quo++ turning the next election into a decision between forces much worse than Trump

    2. Jeremy Grimm

      This election isn’t about choices. It’s about dilemmas — lethal conundrums packaged in money. So Hillary didn’t get equal time and the reason for that does seem suspect. Is Trump mis-represented? Is the state of our politics, or our police, or our military, or of the place of money in our political process mis-represented? Who will argue that Trump is a good choice for President or Hillary is a good choice?

  12. JEHR

    I am a jolted by the negative reaction to this article which tries to show us how changes have occurred so slowly over time that we hardly noticed: only the dead see the differences clearly. Trump has become so mainstream that nothing he does or says seems to be regarded as out of the ordinary. That especially is a very strange happening. It is a lesson in how money governs the country.

      1. Jeremy Grimm

        It reads as nonpartisan and truthful to me too and it also reads as a very frightening reminder of just have far things have gone. We may be past Yves’ Reichstags Moment.

    1. John Wright

      The mention of Eisenhower’s farewell address and the MIC is fairly standard for these retrospectives.

      That war hero Eisenhower, well liked and respected by many, felt comfortable giving his warning only when he was powerlessly heading out the door may indicate how much the US MIC-Security state was already “baked in the cake” in 1961..

      The greatest generation put this military Keynesian program in motion and there are few countervailing forces, other than financial constraints, to stop it now, as patriotism has been monetized.

    2. bmeisen

      Also jolted by dismissive reaction of some readers.

      Tom makes a convincing case, summarized bluntly in this piece, for the role of the security state in the demise of American democracy. I think other factors also play a role, particulary the rhetoric of American exceptionalism and design flaws in the Constitution.

      Why do so many victims of Washington’s neoliberal consensus fail in this critical moment to support political programs that genuinely address their concerns? Why isn’t Jill Stein riding a tidal wave to the White House? Why do so many supprt Trump, even though he has articulated little that would help them? For example his wall along the border would probably lead to price inflation at the supermarket.

      Instead they seem to be mesmerized by the “America is great” claim. It is a remarkably destructive rhetorial deceit. Many Americans who hear it are pimped in their identity. Simultaneously their curiosity or willingness to learn about the world is dulled. Both Hilary and Trump are using the deceit. Hilary goes further and argues that “America is great because America is good.” As absurd as this claim is, it is a central tenet in the American identity. The average American sees democracy, the meritocracy and free markets as universals. There’s nothing ethno-centric here. These are the ultimate in human achievement, by definition virtuous. They are central to the American identity.

      Synonymous with democracy is American democracy: one man, one vote. American democracy is the immaculate conception of politics. By definition it can not be flawed.There is no need to imagine another democracy. There is no other democracy. Synonymous with mertiocracy is equal opportunity and fairness. Synonymous with free markets is the free individual accomplishing feats and earning rewards. All of these assumptions are activated when Americans hear or read and accept the assertion that “America is great.” I bet that few of us would make this claim in isolation without prompting. I might be wrong but it just feels like such a goofy thing to say. But when a candidate for President says it … that’s a uniquely American event.

      Indeed alternatives to American democracy exist and several are distinctly more successful at translating the will of the electorate into public policy.

    3. Stephen Douglas

      What Trump says makes sense to a lot of people. It has nothing to do with money

      Trump has become so mainstream, because what he is saying makes sense to lots of people. It’s out of the ordinary.

      It’s not strange. It’s refreshing.

  13. Steve

    Tom’s essay was ignoble, and just slightly this side of the NYT’s silence on the Clinton camp’s horrifying history; this year and across their decades tilting right the rudder of Democratic politics. As others above noted, the “good-ol-days” weren’t exactly utopian, for women, minorities, immigrants, gays, the poor, anyone in court, those with bank accounts, military pawns, most people outside U.S. borders, anyone unfortunate to live atop an oil field, and folks just looking for a bit of clean water, air, or food. We were screwed long-ago; but the social and psychological spaces where we hid such calamities from ourselves simply is overflowing today. We’ve been moving in this direction from the beginning, and the WWII generation’s self-satisfied hubris and willful blindness is responsible for the ravages of their boomer children’s (in)action.

    But why is Amy Goodman sucked into this conversation in which she plays no direct roll. Democracy Now! often does stories–such as covering Clinton apologist Moore’s recent shit-shining reel of propaganda–that are less than impressive. However, Amy and folks at DN, brought you some of the most impressive media work over the last 15 years: full coverage of Climate talks, Congressional hearings of all stripes, Arab Spring (particularly Egypt) Chicago WTO protests, #NODAPL coverage, and on and on. DN should be critiqued for giving time to crap like Moore’s recent film but to regard the program as a leftist version of the NYTs is just wrong. Day-to-day DN is the best source of news from “progressive” (a word with little meaning these days) standpoint. If we lost DN, our information environment would worse for it.

  14. LYLE J

    I occasionally teach a “Media Culture” class at a small university in Los Angeles. Among the well-documented trends is the increasing addiction of readers and viewer to go only to those media with reflect their own political convictions.

    This has been lamented by many as a major contributing factor to the polarizing of the citizenry — a sad departure from the days when civilized people were open to a thoughtful consideration of each others views. I think this misreads the roots of the polarization in American discourse, and Englehart’s piece here is an apt demonstration of what I think in reality has happened.

    And that is the radicalization of the news organizations and the commentariat — across the political spectrum. O’Reilly and Hannity and Tom Friedman and almost the entirety of The New Yorker have become journalist demogagues who do not so much argue the issues as demean those who disagree with them with sarcasm and insult. As Stephen Douglas notes above, Englehard launches into his abuse of Trump almost from the first paragraphs of his diatribe. His disgust is palpable. It’s quite clear from that moment forward that we are not going to read anything approaching a intelligent, thoughtful analysis.

    I never thought I”d say this about anyone working for Fox News, but Megyn Kelly takes what strikes me a very old-fashioned approach to her job — she’s grills everyone on all points of the political spectrum equally, doing the old-fashioned journalist’s job: challenging everyone to defend their assumptions and giving no one a pass, and she does it with intelligence and respect.

  15. Eff it all

    Clinton is utterly corrupt, maybe that’s why a Clinton presidency is far more imaginable, eh?

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