Friday, February 02, 2007
It is possible that, at some future moment, the US military could actually take over the government and declare a dictatorship (though its commanders would undoubtedly find a gentler, more user-friendly name for it). That is, after all, how the Roman republic ended – by being turned over to a populist general, Julius Caesar, who had just been declared dictator for life. After his assassination and a short interregnum, it was his grandnephew Octavian who succeeded him and became the first Roman emperor, Augustus Caesar. The American military is unlikely to go that route. But one cannot ignore the fact that professional military officers seem to have played a considerable role in getting rid of their civilian overlord, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. The new directors of the CIA, its main internal branches, the National Security Agency, and many other key organs of the "defense establishment" are now military (or ex-military) officers, strongly suggesting that the military does not need to take over the government in order to control it. Meanwhile, the all-volunteer army has emerged as an ever more separate institution in our society, its profile less and less like that of the general populace.
Nonetheless, military coups, however decorous, are not part of the American tradition, nor that of the officer corps, which might well worry about how the citizenry would react to a move toward open military dictatorship. Moreover, prosecutions of low-level military torturers from Abu Ghraib prison and killers of civilians in Iraq have demonstrated to enlisted troops that obedience to illegal orders can result in dire punishment in a situation where those of higher rank go free. No one knows whether ordinary soldiers, even from what is no longer in any normal sense a citizen army, would obey clearly illegal orders to oust an elected government or whether the officer corps would ever have sufficient confidence to issue such orders. In addition, the present system already offers the military high command so much – in funds, prestige, and future employment via the famed "revolving door" of the military-industrial complex – that a perilous transition to anything like direct military rule would make little sense under reasonably normal conditions.
Whatever future developments may prove to be, my best guess is that the US will continue to maintain a façade of Constitutional government and drift along until financial bankruptcy overtakes it.
this is certainly the fate of most empires, but johnson's analysis of rumsfeld's removal is exactly what i would have said.
this has always been the most insistent danger to the republic presented by the rise of such incompetent ideologues and advocates of an unfettered spartanism and nascent dictatorship. the goals of such power-mad nietzscheans cannot be met without the allegiance of the armed forces, who are always the final repository of power in any amoral state, and yet the nature of such men as rumsfeld is not to collaborate but to dominate. as has been shown in parable by the travails of captain ian fishback, many thoughtful military men must be considering that their oath to the constitution and their loyalty to the elected political administration of the country are no longer one and the same.
such a realization of divorce, if it comes to wide realization, spells the end of democracy in the united states or any democracy. the american military is just as capable as any other army of history of becoming its own kingmaker, and the inability of popular democracy to enforce a reasonable measure of culpability and restraint on american political leadership in the face of organized efforts to the contrary end is becoming a glaring systemic flaw. how long the military remains aloof of that fact and its consequences largely determines the remaining lifespan of our system of government.