[Former Vice President Dick] Cheney put his finger on a core truth about the modern presidency. Only the president can order the use of a nuclear weapon on an enemy he identifies, at a moment he chooses, for reasons he finds adequate. This power is not only theoretical; to give it practical effect the president is always accompanied by an aide carrying a briefcase containing the authorization codes without which no American nuclear weapon can be armed for use.
Cheney has a long history as a champion of presidential power. There is not much he thinks a president cannot do, and his attitude is widely shared by modern Republicans, who have given it the dignity of a theory with a name—the unitary executive. But strip away the persiflage, Democrats say, and we’ve seen the unitary executive before. It grants every president what Richard Nixon thought he had—a free hand in any matter where national security was at stake, and he did mean free. “When the president does it,” Nixon explained to aides during the Watergate crisis, “it’s not a crime.” ...Excerpt, Thomas Powers, "How They Got Their Bloody Way," NYRB
The Future of America's Empire on the Diane Rehm show, 7/14/10, with:Bruce Fein, former associate deputy attorney general, Republican counsel during the Iran-contra hearings, and founding partner with the Lichfield Group
David Cole, professor of law at Georgetown University Law Center and author of "The Torture Memos: Rationalizing the Unthinkable". Previous books include "Less Safe, Less Free," and "Terrorism and the Constitution."
David Frum, editor, frumforum.com, dedicated to the modernization and renewal of the Republican party and the conservative movement. Author of "Comeback: Conservatism That Can Win Again", and co-author of "An End to Evil: What's Next in the War on Terror;" former speechwriter and special assistant to President George W. Bush (2001-02)
...and callers and emailers to the show
. . . .Diane Rehm: Since the fall of the Soviet Union, the US is widely acknowledged as the world's greatest superpower, a modern-day empire. But as history demonstrates, empires rise and fall. Joining me to talk about the American empire of today and its prospects for the future are Bruce Fein, author of the new book "American Empire before the Fall," David Cole and David Frum.
DR: Bruce, talk about the full circle you believe America has come to.
Bruce Fein: We started out with republican virtues that I ascribe to four documents -- the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, George Washington's farewell address, and John Quincy Adams' -- then secretary of state -- July 4th, 1821 address. They were captured in several pithy phrases: First, that the objective of our constitutional mission was to secure the blessings of liberty to Americans and their posterity. It wasn't to roam the world. As John Quincy Adams said, "We can become dictators of the world, go abroad in search of monsters to destroy, but we would destroy our own republican virtues." It's in the nature of all of coercion and military projection that all power goes to the executive, secrecy and due process are trumped by claims of national security that are characteristically inflated. George Washington's farewell address admonished against what he called "entangling alliances" like NATO, our defense treaties with Japan, defense treaties with South Korea. He said the duty of the United States is to strive for the common defense. Defense is not a synonym for constant offensive, preemptive warfare. These republican virtues also place the individual at the center of the constitutional universe. That is, individual liberty and freedom were the rule. The government had a role to play: to provide the rule of law, to educate, to defend against attacks. But otherwise it was to be the exception where government sought to constrain freedom of choice. It had to surmount a particular, reasonably exacting standard. You can define, I suppose, the worries that the founding fathers had by surveying the bill of indictment that was entered against King George III in the Declaration of Independence -- arbitrary powers that were exercised in not having jury trials, sending people abroad for a prosecution by Admiralty Court (similar to Bagram or Guantanamo Bay). And in fact we have become today a virtual carbon copy of King George III in 1776 with a few more dangerous elements to it because our military is so much more powerful.
DR: How do you, however, believe that what we are today is different from what those founding fathers envisioned in terms of their scope of the world?
BF: Well, there are several. Number one: the founding fathers did not envision the US as being the world's policeman and having a global military projection. Defense is defense! Defending the borders. Defending against attack. Deterring that by having an invincible retaliatory capacity. Having the intelligence-gathering function as well. But the idea of having a trillion-dollar defense, intelligence, and nuclear budget? Greater than the next 25 countries combined? Forces in 135 countries? You know, if you look at the number of Al Qaeda estimated in Afghanistan it's about 50. In Pakistan, 30. The number of troops per Al Qaeda -- per enemy -- if you'd had that same ratio in World War II, we'd have had over 2 billion people fighting the Japanese and the Germans. Two billion! And we didn't have a population that even approximated that. In terms of the founding fathers being worried about inflating danger and having national security state trump due process of law and individual freedoms, that's the major difference we now have. A world policeman mentality where we think we're obligated by some crusading spirit to bring democracy everywhere in the world. The founding fathers said, "No! We are here to secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity." When, shortly after our own revolution, central and south America erupted in revolutions against the Portuguese and Spanish colonials, we didn't go abroad and aid their rebellions. We said, "We want our force of example to be at work but otherwise it's up to you to decide your own fate and destiny."
DR: So if today you saw what was happening in Germany back in 1939-40, should the US not have gone to war against the Japanese, against the Nazis?
BF: Well, of course we should. They attacked us. I'm not against going to war when we subject to attack and you have the danger that's sustainable that crosses the threshold into war. Germany, in fact, declared war on the US. We didn't declare war on Germany. And Japan, obviously, attacked at Pearl Harbor. Now the argument has been made, "Well, what about 9/11?" 3,000 died, about the same as Pearl Harbor. But 9/11 was not perpetrated by a country. First time in the history of the world that we were at war with a tactic! The reason why that's important, Diane, is twofold: one, it means the war is never over. No one has even conceived of a benchmark of terrorism that says "the war's over," so it's perpetual, something James Madison said is totally inconsistent with freedom. The second thing is that there's no geographical limit on this battlefield. It's everywhere on the planet. It could even go inter-galactic! There could be terrorism on Mars or whatever. NASA's new mission! That means the president is endowed with power to use military force and military law anywhere he wants to in the entire world.
DR: It sounds to me as though you're saying two things. The US is in too many places, not defending our own territory, but creating a footprint elsewhere. And secondly, that the presidential authority and power has grown too broad.
BF: Well, it's magnified just exponentially from what it was. George Washington said the president didn't have the authority to use troops offensively unless the Congress specifically directs it. Now the president uses forces wherever he wants. Congress gives it away. This what the founding fathers didn't anticipate in regard to our current empire. They didn't think Congress would become so eager to be an inkblot -- to do nothing, to have virtually no oversight. There's no Fulbright hearings like Vietnam on Afghanistan despite the fact that we have a president and his aides saying, "We can't even define victory there!" We don't even know when our soldiers are supposed to come home. We don't have any benchmarks as to why we're there. Don't you think that should provoke some serious oversight? David Petraeus goes out there; he doesn't have any answers either; he gets approved unanimously; and people walk on. So it's true. The president now is the dominating constitutional authority to do whatever he wishes on national security matters and to a great degree domestically as well. Vastly greater than even King George III.
DR: But King George III did not have voters going against him or for him.
BF: That is certainly correct. He was constrained to some degree, however, by Parliament. But the fact is, tyranny by majority is still tyranny. That's what the founding fathers understood. Even though you have voters voting and approving something -- Adolf Hitler came to power largely by vote; Hamas came to power by vote -- a certain standard of law and due process on base line must be met by any government or it's not, in my judgment, a republic. I don't care whether every single person in the US votes to lacerate due process, it's still not a republic! It's still just a tyranny that's a collective tyranny.
DR: So you believe that this country is on the verge of some kind of failure?
BF: It's going towards ruination in the same sense analogously -- perhaps historically -- as the Roman Empire. We are the sole super power and even our folly -- our fools' errands -- don't immediately result in falling off a cliff like Afghanistan and Pakistan. There isn't any other super power that's going to come and invade. We are destroying the heart of what it means to be a republic. Namely, we treasure due process of law, individual liberty, openness and transparency so that we the people are sovereign and know what the government is doing, rather than all these claims of secrecy that we don't know what the government is doing, we can't approve or disapprove even things like water boarding or knowing where these predator drones are targeting. We're the ones who suffer the blowback from these abuses. It's not somebody else. I want to relate a colloquy that I think speaks volumes about how we're creating a greater danger for ourselves. It recently unfolded in a court room in New York City where, you may recall, Faisal Shahzad -- the bomber who put a bomb in one of these autos timed to flow up in Times Square. And he pled guilty. He was asked by Judge Miriam Cedarbaum, "Why did you do what you did? This was a place with civilian traffic and all sort of mass casualties." Shahzad says, "Well, we're at war. You're fighting in Afghanistan and Pakistan so I view myself as a target of war so I can fight back." And she asked him, "What about women and children?" And his response was, "Well, your predator drones don't make any distinctions among women and children. They just go kill anybody that's in their path." She didn't know how to respond to that. Because our predator drones don't stop at women and children. They go after anybody we target and say is a militant. But the fact is, Diane, you don't know how we target, I don't know, Congress doesn't know. We know fro Guantanamo Bay how often they got it wrong as to who was an enemy combatant. When the courts started to look at it they were releasing five out of six. What's so critical here about a republic is that people need to decide, based on information. The people can get it wrong, but that's what it means to be a republic -- a thrill of controlling your own destiny. We're not vassals, we're not serfs, we're not infallible. We can make errors. But we have to accept accountability for our destiny as a people. That's what "we the people" sovereign-- the first words of the Constitution...
DR: ...David Cole, you've heard Bruce Fein. What's your answer?
David Cole: Well, Diane, I can't help but think back to the many times that Bruce and I appeared on this show -- in the period after 9/11 -- and were the polar opposites, with Bruce defending what the Bush administration did and myself sounding very much like Bruce sounds today! So I think in part we can attribute this to the Bush administration in particular. I think there are general historical trends here, but the Bush administration and particularly under the leadership of Dick Cheney took these troubling developments in such an extreme direction that they turned around a lot of people. Bruce is representative of that. As someone who was in the Reagan administration, who was a Republican but shares these concerns about where the rule of law has gone in this country, about the growth of executive power and the like. I may part company with Bruce on some aspects of this. I don't think we need to be isolationist. I don't think we have a choice but to be entangled in the world today, in this globalized world. There's not a choice to be isolationist. But I do think there's a choice as to how one entangles oneself with others. The heavy, heavy emphasis on the military with billions and billions of dollars being spent on military encampments creates animosity. Very little, by contrast, spent on the State Department, on diplomacy, on foreign aid. We have one of the lowest foreign aid per capita rates in the world. That's the kind of entanglement that might increase our standing around the world and I think would be much more responsible.
DR: What about Bruce's feeling about the growth in power of the executive?
DC: Absolutely! I share his concern on that front. Absolutely! I think partly that the Constitution was written at a time when we were a weak country. We didn't want to get involved in international disputes because we were concerned that we would lose our own sovereignty if we did so. So the framers of the Constitution sought to make it difficult to be engaged. They said Congress should decide whether to go to war rather than the president. They also said treaties are the law of the land. It was seen as absolutely imperative that we follow international law and abide by it. Over time, as the US grew more and more powerful vis a vis the rest of the world, it grew much less concerned about international law. It devolved to the president much of the power Congress originally had. And I think the balance is very deeply wrong.
DR: Turning to you, David Frum, you were certainly initially in favor of the war in Iraq. Considering Bruce's comments, what are your reactions?
David Frum: There's always a good argument about whether the US is overextended or indeed whether it's underextended. But Bruce Fein wants to go a little farther and to make a series of claims. Each of them has to be tested against plausibility and each of them, I think, fail. The first is, is it valid to consider the US an empire? I think that's not only wrong but it's insulting to America's many allies around the world who see themselves as beneficiaries of an American security guarantee and who participate in a cooperative world order in which a citizen of Luxembourg who has a dispute with the US will find equal justice in American courts. Domination is not the defining characteristic of our relationship with the world. The second question has whether presidential power extended to unprecedented lengths -- and that strikes me as obviously false! Compared to the powers the presidents had from 1933 to 1973, the powers of the modern presidency are much more restricted legally and as a matter of practice. Finally, there's a suggestion that this nonexistent empire and this very precedented use of presidential power are somehow rattling toward a premature doom. I think the signs of the strength and vitality of the US -- in these recession days you might want to check your pulse a little more anxiously -- but I think this is a very strong and successful society. It's one that has found actually many more allies than it had before. It's one that isn't threatened by nuclear annihilation as it was most of the time the panelists were growing up. As to the threat that there's some kind of amazing threat to American liberties? I think that's also untrue. If you were to compare the America today of the America in which we all grew up and in which there was conscription, in which there were all kinds of controls on the ability to move money back and forth across international lines, when it was a serious crime for an American citizen to own a gold coin -- this is in every way a freer society that it was thirty years ago. So: non-imperial, precedented presidential power, a society that's strong and where people are free. You can say this deployment, that deployment, bad idea. But I think this discussion needs to be moved from the realm of Ron Paul-like ideology and into sort of more practical and pragmatic grounds based on actual realities.
DR: Bruce Fein, David Frum is taking you on, on the basic premise of America as an empire.
BF: I think his example shows that it is an American empire. Empire is described as attempting to project your power and influence vitally over other people who pay no taxes to the US, who don't serve in our armed forces, who don't defend us -- we wouldn't expect them to. The fact is, the founding father said the limit of US power under the Constitution is the power of example beyond its borders. I go back to John Quincy Adams who was "present at the creation" with his father, John Adams, and George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. In his July 4 1821 address he says, "We do not go abroad in search of monsters to destroy." We could become dictators of the world but we destroy the republic in the process.
DF: That's a perfect example of what I'm complaining about -- that Bruce begins with an empirical statement: other countries do not join to defend the US, their citizens don't join to defend the US. There are more than 100 Canadian troops dead in Afghanistan and several hundred British troops dead in Afghanistan and Iraq. America's allies have joined with the US in conflicts around the world. America's allies did pay a heavy price in treasure during the Cold War years to sustain a common defense. So that's untrue and an insulting statement. You can't so rapidly segue from there to the realm of pure ideology and John Quincy Adams.
BF: The fact is that they're not defending the US here. They're over in Afghanistan fighting there for Hamid Karzai. That's another example of the empire mentality. The founding fathers said, "We are here to defend the common defense of the United States of America": Americans citizens with defense armament, intelligence, etc. Why are we in Afghanistan in the first place? We have the capability of defending ourselves without projecting the defense perimeter tens of thousands of miles away.
DR: David Cole?
DC: I think one place I would take issue with David's characterization of where we stand in the world is that somehow our engagements are all voluntary with all these other countries and people see us as a beneficent protector, etc. I spent last year in the UK where there was tremendous antipathy towards the US until President Obama won the election. A tremendous antipathy! So much so that in a poll taken of UK residents as to who was the most dangerous person in the world, Osama bin Laden won but George Bush was number two. The notion David mentioned that foreign nationals know that they get the same justice that Americans get in our courts, etc.? That's quite the contrary! The Military Commissions Act applies only to foreign nationals. When we employed coercive interrogation tactics like water boarding on foreigners abroad, we argued that the treaty we helped write -- that said we can't impose cruel and inhuman and degrading treatment anybody -- didn't protect foreigners abroad. We rounded up 5,000 people after 9/11, none of whom turned out to be terrorists and all of them foreigners. In reaction to that anti-Americanism rose to its highest levels ever before seen in the world. So I do think there's a real problem here in terms of how the US is projecting itself and whether it's projecting itself fairly and justly.
DF: I think that's an interesting discussion. But I don't think it would make sense to assert that the US became an empire on January 2001 and ceased to be one in 2009, presumably having been one before January 1993. These are political and policy disputes that you're trying to cram into analytic categories that just does violence to these terms. The word "empire" should have some kind of meaning. It should mean "domination." It should require some kind of rule over others. The system of cooperative/collective security in which your allies do contribute, do shed blood, in which allied view are intensely at the highest levels of government -- if not always deferred to, but American views are not always deferred to! In which we have relationships with Europe and Japan, countries and systems that are now almost equal in power to the US, that remain intensely cooperative. This is just not an intelligent way to...
DR: ... All right. Let's move on to the question of power of the presidency because I think a great many people have been concerned about that very issue. What are the examples that you see, Bruce?
BF: Well, one that's not gotten as much furor as I would have hoped is the president's claim that he can identify an American citizen abroad and put him on an assassination squad list if the president says he's an imminent danger to the US. There's only one on that particular list at present, but the president claims authority to do that unilaterally. The president claims these vast authorities to keep things secret from Congress. Even the social secretary was said to have claimed executive privilege in order not to appear about party crashers in the White House! But this goes now to the president claiming authority to prevent White House aides from even appearing in response to subpoenas -- not even showing up. The president claims unilateral authority to decide someone is an enemy combatant and detain them basically forever. Because it's for the duration of the war against international terrorism...
DR: ... Is that too much power being put into the presidency? David Cole...
DC: Absolutely. Although I do think that we've seen some push back. That is, the Bush administration's response to 9/11 was to assert literally unchecked power. It said it could override the prohibition on torture. It could override the prohibition on wiretapping people without warrants. Courts could play no role in assessing whether people were being legally held at Guantanamo. But there was significant pushback. The Supreme Court ruled against the administration four times straight. Congress rejected its "cruel, inhuman, and degrading" treatment interpretation. And Obama has, I think, a very different perspective on presidential power than President Bush.
DR: David Frum, you would disagree that there is too much power in the presidency?
DF: Look. I would disagree with that. But I don't think that's actually the pressing question. The questions are: Is the power in the presidency now great than it was in the past? And I think it's just not historically accurate to say that President Bush or President Obama has more power than, say, President Truman did, or President Eisenhower -- who had the power to wiretap any American whom they regarded as a threat to national security. Without any kind of court procedure at all. The powers of the presidency were limited in the 1970's. They have grown since the 1970's. But they have not grown anything like what they were back during the peak of the Cold War. Again, it cannot be true that you have a systematic problem that changes when there are elections or Supreme Court decisions. If the power of the presidency changes with elections or Supreme Court decisions, then it's not a systematic problem.
DR: ...What I want Bruce Fein to do is define what you mean by "the fall." The title of your book is "American Empire Before The Fall." How do you see "the fall"?
Bruce Fein: That is the replacement of the individual being the center of our constitutional and philosophical universe. Treasuring due process, fairness above simple national security and trying to make the world riskless for the US. Perverting our values so that we're willing to give up... we're willing to become vassals or serfs in our trying in a preemptive way to prevent any conceivable threat anywhere on the planet endangering the US. And also forfeiting what I consider the most important concept of all the US and all civilization: due process -- the understanding that we cannot act arbitrarily and retain ourselves as human beings who clearly have a quest for truth and doing justice to all. And abandoning due process for the summary procedures that, in my judgment, take us back to even before the era of the Cold War.
DR: David Cole, do you see that kind of all ahead?
DC: I'm not sure I'd say there's that fall ahead. I do think there are serious concerns about the expansion of executive power in particular and the diminution of Constitutional rights and liberties. Whether this goes bad or well in the future will depend upon the extent to which people are complacent and let it go or, conversely, the extent to which people hold officials accountable for wrongdoing and assert the rights and freedoms the country was founded upon. Bruce is attempting to get people to speak out so that we don't have that kind of all.
DR: David Frum, you do not see that ahead?
DF: I don't think it's fair to say "the house is on fire." What do you mean, "the house is on fire"? And you say, "I think the thermostat is set 3 degrees too high." If the problem is the setting of the thermostat, fix the thermostat or let's argue about where the thermostat should be. But let us not invoke these inflammatory (literally!) images. The idea, for example, that American citizens have fewer due process right today than they did when they could be drafted strikes me as implausible.
DR: It's time to open the phones. First to Elizabeth in Shreveport, LA:
Elizabeth: ...I have a question. It's kind of similar -- concerning the ideology behind the American empire. Earlier you were talking about the dichotomy between preemptive and and preventive war. I think if we look at modern Republican administrations specifically like Reagan or Bush, it seemed more of a realist ideology in practice... [inaudible] preemptive war as a reponse to imminent threat or attack. But if we look at Bush and the conservative ideology, my question is how could we transition to the kind of thought process when it comes to [inaudible!] and how we justify that.
DF: I think the caller has a false perception of how much violence there is in the world today as compared to the past. The Carnegie Institute that does these surveys of fatalities in armed conflicts every five years. We have been living, despite Iraq and Afghanistan, in a period of comparative international peace compared to previous Cold War decades. It does seem the world is on a trend towards gradual reductions of overall violence. A huge part of that are the security guarantees provided by the US and its allies, not only for themselves but to all of their allies, creating a zone of peace and the possibility of a more peaceful world. American power is absolutely the fundament that makes possible an orderly world.
DC: The caller's question was really about the conception of preemptive or preventive war. That is a conception which, again, the Bush administration created in the wake of 9/11 to justify the war in Iraq. Prior to that the international and national doctrine was that we can go to war -- an individual country can go to war -- only when it has been attacked or when it faced imminent threat or attack. There was not even an assertion... there were assertions about weapons of mass destruction but there was no assertion that Iraq threatened us imminently with an attack. And yet we took the position that in the modern, post-9/11 world, we have the authority to go and start a war aggressively based on a concern that sometime in the future some series of bad events might occur that might harm us! If every other country in the world took that view -- the notion that you can attack a country that is not threatening to attack you if you have any concerns about it down the road --we would live in a very, very dangerous world indeed.
DR: Here's an email from Carl in Falls Church, VA, who says, "Empires also decline because their elites become more interested in plundering domestic resources to enrich the already rich and engage in long, unwinnable wars launched on spurious grounds that also make enemies of former friends. As predicted and warned by the founding fathers. The US is doing this big-time. We're in two wars we're not winning. The richest have wrecked the economy for the bottom 50% of the income groups. Nobel laureate Josephy Stiglitz esimates the Iraq war, besides killing hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, is costing us one trillion dollars per year -- which is equal to ten million jobs per year at $100,000 a job."
BF: Yes. I want to go back to that observation about the empire and the idea that preemptive war really began with the Mexican-American war. It was Abraham Lincoln, our first Republican president who deplored the idea of preventive or preemptive warfare. Any president can invent any kind of fear and say, "Oh, you're not inside the brain of these people who are about ready to attack. They're gonna use Canada as a beachhead to attack the US." If you protest, if you're a member of Congress, you can say "Well, I see a danger and you don't. So I can undertake warfare." And that's how the Mexican American war began -- with a phony claim that the Mexican army had shot a US soldier on US soil. Going back, as well, to try to evaluate our empire based on how much violence there is, what the founding fathers said was that it's not the concern of the US. Its concern is with Americans. ...[inaudible] ...The fact is our influence is the influence of example. David says, well, we've never had so few casualties around the globe. Fine! But that's not the mission of the US -- to have the least casualties in the world. It's to keep due process and individual liberty as its zenith as well as protecting the US. If David or others want to volunteer for freedom in Korea or Japan, that's great. They can win the Nobel Peace Prize! But the business of the Unites States, under Republican principles, is to protect America. Period. And influence by example alone.
DR: To Marblehead, MA, you're on the air, Bruce.
Bruce: Good morning, Diane... I have a comment more than a question. My comment is directed at both extremes -- Mr. Frum and Mr. Fein. I believe that Mr. Fein is using a false model of empire in talking about the founding fathers. They get used and dragged onto the scene for anybody's argument, anytime. This country was founded in the period of empire building in the 16th and 17th centuries. From the beginning, the pilgrims -- the Puritans, the Virginians, the settlers, anyone you like -- believed in subduing the wilderness, converting the savages, and bringing home goods and wealth. We expanded across the continent by constantly making war and defining America as we pleased. Back 2,000 years ago, Thucydides pointed out that war for empire is always in the interest of the strong and they will used any reason for justifying it. Which brings me to Mr. Frum. Foreign policy is a part of empire building. It depends on who is calling the shots, who is benefiting. Obviously, wherever America is at work some people are benefiting and are very happy. But we will leave out of the equation the collateral damage and those who are not happy. Just as in the Athenian case they expelled the population of a small island so that it could not be used by their Spartan enemies.
BF: The founding fathers wrote a constitution to try to constrain those tendencies towards empire that the caller quite well illuminated. They were unanimous in accepting that the executive branch historically and would continue to inflate danger to create excuses for conflict because at those times it's the president who gets the money, the contracts, the appointments, footprints in the sand, the changing history. Every single founding father understood that was the nature of the executive branch. They all conceded. This is why we fastened on the legislative branch the obligation and responsibility for deciding to go to war. That was their recognition of the impulse towards empire and trying to check it. We have now abandoned those checks by accepting the president's unilateral authority...
DF: I'm going to completely reject the caller's suggestion that by defending the main line of American foreign policies since 1917 I'm taking the position that is "extreme." America in the 20th century, with the invention of the steamship and the telegraph and then the airplane, had to confront the truth that order on the planet is a vital concern to the US. Bruce Fein suggests it's a matter of indifference to American security whether the planet is orderly or chaotic, whether there's war or no war, whether there's trade or whether there's plunder, whether there are nuclear exchanges between India and Pakistan -- all of those things in this small planet do matter to the US. When the US had to confront this problem -- not theoretically but in a real sense -- in 1919 and in 1941, and in 1945 and 1947 and 1949, people of both parties came to a consensus that a planet that is peaceful, that trades, that is orderly, that is not dominated by despotic regimes is in the vital interest of the US. This is a very small world.
DR: Bruce Fein, would you now have the US get out of every other country it's in militarily?
BF: Yes. And bring the troops home now. Obviously you're going to have a period where they're not exposing themselves to danger. But what David is suggesting is that we have an interest to use and project military force every square inch of the planet that's not democratic, that's not in our image. Tibet, the Uighars in east Turkestan, the Chechens; we need to go into Saudi Arabia because there's certainly no freedom there; we need to go into Uganda, the Central African Republic. He seems to think anywhere... [interrupted]
DF: ...I deal with what Bruce actually said. He should deal with what I actually said. I did not say that. I said that United States' export of security is a global benefit. It's not always military. It's important to the US that drug lords not take over Colombia. But there aren't American troops fighting in Colombia. We support the government of Colombia with non-military means --with assistance, with technology. Because we benefit when Colombia is stable.
DR: David Cole, I'd like to hear your thoughts on taking every military operation out of every country now.
DC: I don't think that's realistic. I don't think that would be a good idea. I share David Frum's notion here that we have, in the globalized world, to be concerned about areas of conflict that might redound to our detriment. It's our responsibility to be... we can't sort of rely on the fact that we're far away anymore. So we do have to be engaged.
DC: But it's about how you engage. And as I said before, we engage almost exclusively through military might with very little resources directed towards diplomacy and towards aid. Secondly, when you engage you have to engage in a way that the world will see as legitimate. Which means abiding by international law, respecting human rights and the rule of law. And that's what we threw out. Today if the Supreme Court so much as cites international law or international precedent, half of the Republican party attacks it for having the temerity to cite "somebody else's" law ... [interrupted]
DF: ...That's a false premise. When the US intervened to help broker peace between Pakistan and India at the end of 2001, those two nuclear countries came to the virge of war. We didn't do it by sending troops. I don't know that we actually sent any physical human being. It was all done over the telephone by Colin Powell and his team. But because of America's power, prestige and importance, the US was able to broker a peace and that was something that, of course, was important to us. Bruce Fein's argument is not that we should bring the troops home. There aren't that many American troops abroad, compared to say 15 years ago. Bruce Fein's argument is that America should utterly disregard the stability of the rest of the planet. So long as things are okay between 49th parallel and the Rio Grande, we're safe.
DR: Is that your argument?
BF: The argument is that we can best protect ourselves and our loyalties as Americans in preserving our freedoms and liberties by concentrating our defense resources here in the US.
DR: Let's go back to the phones. To Pat who's in Philadelphia.
Pat: Good morning! You asked the question earlier about exactly when was "the fall" and I would like to put forth the idea that the US has been at war since the day it was born! Now, our histories don't talk about it. We spend all our time talking about Abraham Lincoln and George Washington and such as that. But the world knows we've always been at war!
DR: Always at war? David Cole?
DC: Well, we've certainly been engaged in many, many military conflicts overseas and we have involved ourselves in many conflicts I think unjustifiably. Always been at war? Maybe if you count each military conflict along the way... But I haven't looked at that question!
DR: Final question for you, David Frum. What about Bruce Fein's concerns regarding the US Congress and its lack of display of authority with regard to whether the US goes to war?
DF: Both of the big military engagement which the US is involved in now were authorized by Congress. Unlike, say, the Kosovo war. So I think what you see in the past administration was a tremendous desire to involve Congress. One of the problems you have of course is Congress' strong desire not to be involved. Actually, they like the president to lead them to success, but they want not to have their fingerprints on it in case things don't work out so well.
DR: What do you think, David Cole?
DC: I think to say that the prior administration was eager to have Congress involved only where they could be sure that they would rubberstamp whatever the president was doing. When Congress suggested that they might restrict the torture policy, Dick Cheney went over to Congress repeatedly and fought hard to get them not to pass anything at all. John McCain succeeded in convincing Congress otherwise. But the notion that they were eagerly engaging Congress I think is... [interrupted]
DF: ... but we had two wars approved by Congress...
DR: Wait! Finally, I want to hear from you, Bruce Fein, as to what the fall that you see is going to mean to the people of the US.
BF: I just want to make one correction. The Iraqi War resolution was a delegation of Congress to the president to unilaterally decide whether to go to war, just as the Gulf of Tonkin resolution where it wasn't Congress that decided to go to war. What [the fall] will mean in my judgment is that we will have a government imbued with secrecy, that there will be "national security" justifications that override due process, that there will be a much more intrusive surveillance state where ... not quite like George Orwell's "1984" but there will be security cameras everywhere without the customary rules for warrants. I think we'll be involved in military conflict forever. For instance, I believe that our war against international terrorism will never end as long as we have our current mentality. No politician will stand up and say, "You can't. There'll never be another terrorist incident. We're off a war footing." That's where I want to distinguish between what David Cole said -- as between soft diplomacy and projection of military power. The architecture of military power is a legal architecture that destroy due process. It makes what customarily is murder legal. It means that customary efforts at due process and fairness at trial before we punish go away. That's what will happen with the fall.