Undeclared War Undermines U.S. Democracy

Escalating “executive war”—war by the Imperial Presidency without Congressional authorization or oversight—against Iran and Pakistan is alienating foreign friends, radicalizing foreign adversaries, undermining U.S. democracy, and setting American society up for blowback.

What under Bush-Cheney neocons was touted as a war against anti-U.S. terrorists has now become a war against Muslim political activists who may not have any intent of attacking the U.S. and may not even be fighting against their own governments. They may simply be innocent bystanders who fit profiles used to excuse murder, in the case of drone attacks that kill unidentified individuals, or industrial disaster, in the case of cyberwar sabotage. And that cyberwar sabotage, whose computer code weapons have already gone viral and spread out of control around the world, could strike anywhere, including back in the U.S. Cyber chickens are flying home to roost. The Obama wars take distinct forms depending on the country – economic and technological against Iran (supplementing a highly public economic war and a terrorist campaign murdering nuclear scientists that may in the future be tied definitively to the White House), drone bombing against Pakistan—but appear to fit a consistent pattern of violating Constitutional requirements that Congress approve war and provide oversight.
As Congressman Dennis Kucinich, the leading Congressional advocate of a tempered and rational foreign policy, warned in his recent letter to President Obama demanding an accounting for his unauthorized use of drones:

The fact that they are conducted with complete impunity and with no accountability threatens to set a dangerous precedent that could unravel the very laws and international standards the U.S. helped to create.  Even the most ardent supporter of the current President should consider the precedent created by granting the President the power to circumvent the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution. [Kucinich Leads Congress in Demanding Accountasb ility and Transparency for Drone Strikes,” Kucinich. House.Gov 5/31/12.] 

Kucinich also warned in his letterthat targeting “ terrorist suspects whose identity does not need to be known goes further than what Congress authorized when it passed the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) after the attacks of September 11th (9/11). As you know, the AUMF only authorized the use of force against those responsible for the attacks of 9/11 and those who harbored them, not against individuals whose identity is unknown, but that merely fit a certain profile of suspected terrorist activity.
Both the drone attacks and the cyberwar have been cloaked in a relatively transparent security blanket that has long since ceased fooling anyone but that continues to obstruct the due process of law in the U.S. that rests on the ability of the system of government to hold powerful officials accountable for their actions. Obama Administration leaked formed the basis of a recent New York Times piece by David Sanger detailing the Obama Administration’s complicity in the cyberwar attack on Iran. Thus does Obama continue one of the worst abuses of the neo-con era – the attempts by the White House to position itself above the law.
The Christian Science Monitor bluntly spelled out one of the blowback routes of this new global threat:

the possibility that such attacks could provide a digital copy of the cyberweapon to rogue nations or that hacktivists could reverse-engineer the weapon for use against the power grid or other key US infrastructure.

Officially revealing the U.S. policy of attacking foreigners in their home countries with drones, White House Counterterrorism adviser John Brennan, as quoted in Washington Post 4/30/12, stated:

…let me say it as simply as I can. Yes, in full accordance with the law — and in order to prevent terrorist attacks on the United States and to save American lives — the United States government conducts targeted strikes against specific al-Qaeda terrorists, sometimes using remotely piloted aircraft, often referred to publicly as drones.

The anti-Iranian cyberwar remained mired in controversy, with both the Obama Administration and Israel’s Mossad seemingly competing for credit, oblivious to the strong possibility that both will be condemned by history for opening wide this new Pandora’s Box. Washington may not have invented cyberwar, but it certainly is making few efforts to delay the arrival of a new, nasty world in which low-cost, highly dangerous cyberwar will ravage global societies.
Obama’s private wars violate two of the most fundamental principles of democracy. First, although now utterly obvious as the result of White House statements, they were when determined and implementing totally defiant of the need for transparency in government, being implemented without Congressional authorization and behind the backs of the American people. Second, in their lack of Congressional oversight, they violate the equally critical democratic requirement of rule of law by establishing a precedent of arbitrary and unauthorized Presidential action. Once the President acquires the “right” in practice, if not in law, to make private war, what power is denied him? To argue that the President cannot personally authorize war except when it is fought via the Internet or drones makes a mockery of democracy.

Israeli Subversion of U.S. National Security?

Is Israel not just a national security burden but an adversary intentionally causing the U.S. harm? So a careful reading of the Stuxnet evidence suggests.

A debate has been blazing through the dry tinder of American denial and political correctness for a couple years now, even at the highest levels of government, about the degree to which Israel may be harming U.S. national security. The usual argument concerns whether or not having Israel as an ally harms U.S. national security because of the baggage associated with supporting Israel’s policy of security through strength, over-the-top hostility toward Iran, and blatant repression/ethnic cleansing of Palestinians. That is bad enough, but it gets worse.

A far more serious argument concerns the degree to which the Israeli government may intentionally cause harm to U.S. national security. Israel’s attack on the U.S.S. Liberty and associated murder of 34 Americans comes to mind as an old example. Washington should have learned then that Israel was a country not to be trusted with powerful weapons. But of course Washington did not learn anything of the kind and evidently even went so far as to cooperate with Israel to jointly plan covert cyberwar against Iran – the very state that has over the past decade been, upon occasion, cooperating with the U.S. against Sunni extremists! And we wonder why some Iranians seem to feel they should have the option of acquiring powerful weapons of their own.

Now, it appears that Israel may have deliberated sabotaged the highly sensitive and dangerous (both politically and technically, given the ultimate harm Stuxnet might do to any of the world’s nuclear reactors) U.S. cyberattack on Iran. According to David Sanger of the NYTimes [6/1/12], who broke the scandal wide open:

the N.S.A. and a secret Israeli unit respected by American intelligence officials for its cyberskills set to work developing the enormously complex computer worm that would become the attacker from within.

As reported by Philip Weiss [ Mondoweiss 6/12/12], it may well be that Israel:

coded StuxNet to escape, without telling the Americans, so as to undermine American attempts to occupy them with cyberwar to prevent hot war. That is, the implication of Sanger’s article (which he now seems to be trying to retract) is that the Israelis deliberately exposed our cyberwar attack so as to make it more likely they could start a war with Iran…

A myth haunts the American political scene – that Israel and the U.S. share values. As with all good myths, this one has a basis in fact: in the early days, many Israelis greatly resembled American pioneers trying to build civilization and find peace in a new land. But the regional nuclear superpower that Israel has become through the shortsighted support of the American taxpayer is no longer a pioneering society, and the values its current ruling clique espouses are less democratic and more expansionist than those of many of America’s foremost adversaries. 

The Stuxnet attack has greatly harmed U.S. national security both by handing Iran all the justification it could ever need for developing weapons of mass destruction to defend itself and by establishing the precedent that the so-called leader of the free world (I apologize to readers too young to recall the meaning of this old phrase) thinks cyberwar is not just consistent with international law and decent human behavior but also an activity that the President should be permitted to engage in without the express approval of Congress. (“It ain’t unconstitutional because it ain’t war as long as we use virtual means, even if the resulting industrial destruction or even potentially nuclear catastrophe is very real indeed.”) 

Sanger noted that Iran has now:

announced that it had begun its own military cyberunit, and Brig. Gen. Gholamreza Jalali, the head of Iran’s Passive Defense Organization, said that the Iranian military was prepared “to fight our enemies” in “cyberspace and Internet warfare.” 

The U.S. will surely come to rue the day it encouraged its adversaries to engage in cyberwar, a field in which–unlike conventional armaments–the U.S. has no natural advantage and, given its old and poorly organized infrastructure, many natural disadvantages.

And now it appears that Israel may have intentionally contributed to making this harm to U.S. national security even worse…in order to trap the U.S. in not  just a cyber war (and economic war) but also a traditional military war with Iran. Israel, then, stands accused of doing exactly what bin Laden apparently tried, with such success, to do by attacking the World Trade Center – suck the U.S. into a foreign war.

Perhaps all this is inaccurate, but the American people will never know unless we shine the piercing light of transparency on this scandal. If the Netanyahu regime is innocent, then let it make its case for all the world to hear…in the courtroom where it belongs. It is not the identity of the leakers that should be investigated but the truth of what the Obama and Netanyahu regimes have been doing. Even more important, American national security clearly requires a public debate about the pros and cons of associating with Israel, the nature of the harm that association may do to U.S. national security, and the degree to which extreme right-wing Israeli factions may intentionally be causing harm to the U.S.