The National Security State

June 22, 2018

From the earliest days of the republic, the presidency has commanded enormous powers in the field of foreign relations and as commander in chief of the army. As early as 1799, the Supreme Court, in the words of Chief Justice Marshall, recognized that “the president is the sole organ of the nation in its external relations, and its sole representative with foreign nations.” Even from that early date, it has been standard practice for the executive branch to deploy secret, personal agents on foreign missions, to take over the treatymaking authority of the Senate through use of “executive agreements” with foreign nations, and to deploy troops and wage wars without any declaration from Congress.

In the 20th century and especially during and after World War II, the terms “Imperial Presidency” and “National Security State” have regularly been used to indicate the absolute power of the executive branch in foreign affairs and on the question of war and peace. With the passage of the National Security Act in 1947, which established the CIA, the President’s National Security Council, the Defense Department and the Joint Chiefs of Staff (all under presidential authority), the executive branch has concentrated enormous institutional and war making apparatus to conduct covert operations, gather intelligence and wage war. Just since the end of WW II, the president has committed U.S. troops to combat hundreds of times (in Korea, Lebanon, Cuba, Vietnam, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Panama, Dominican Republic, Libya, Iraq, etc., etc.).

To justify this power and its use, the slogans of “national security” and “national interest” are continually used. In this way, an attempt is made to equate the interests of the whole country with the actions and interests of the Executive branch of government and the class interests upon which it rests. These slogans are also used to justify shrouding U.S. foreign policy in secrecy and carrying it out behind the backs of the American people.

In fact, with the rise of U.S. imperialism, the American presidents consistently claimed the authority to extend the prerogatives of the Executive branch of the U.S. government throughout the world. At the turn of the century, Theodore Roosevelt declared: “Brutal wrongdoing, or an impotence which results in a general loosening of the ties of civilized society, may finally require intervention by some civilized nation... in the Western Hemisphere the U.S. cannot ignore this duty.” Similarly, after WW II Harry Truman asserted: “Almighty God expected us to assume the leadership of the world ...I am trying my best to see that this Nation does assume that leadership.”