“When Donald Trump becomes commander in chief in January, he will take on presidential powers that have never been more expansive and unchecked.
He’ll control an unaccountable drone program, and the prison at Guantanamo Bay. His FBI, including a network of 15,000 paid informants, already has a record of spying on mosques and activists, and his NSA’s surveillance empire is ubiquitous and governed by arcane rules, most of which remain secret. He will inherit bombing campaigns in seven Muslim countries, the de facto ability to declare war unilaterally, and a massive nuclear arsenal — much of which is on hair-trigger alert.
Caught off guard by Hillary Clinton’s election defeat, Democrats who defended these powers under President Obama may suddenly be having second thoughts as the White House gets handed over to a man they described — with good reason — as “unhinged,” and “dangerously unfit.”
In the years after the 9/11 terror attacks, Vice President Dick Cheney and his legal adviser David Addington dramatically expanded the powers of the presidency, asserting the unilateral right in wartime to ignore legal limits on things like torture and government eavesdropping. Congressional Democrats generally caved, but made a few efforts to push back.
The Democrats went silent on executive overreach when Obama was elected, however.
When the New York Times revealed Bush’s warrantless wiretapping program in 2005, 60 percent of registered Democrats thought the program was “unacceptable.” But after NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden revealed a dramatically larger surveillance apparatus in 2013, a 61 percent of Democrats said the opposite — presumably because they trusted the man in charge.
The Obama administration has counted on that trust repeatedly. When defending the drone program in 2012, instead of referencing its legal standards, administration officials reassured the New York Times that Obama is “a student of the writings on war by Augustine and Thomas Aquinas,” and that CIA director John Brennan is like “a priest with extremely strong moral values who was suddenly charged with leading a war.”
After eight years of trusting the President with expanding military power, liberals must now reckon with the fact that Obama will pass the same capabilities to a man who has proposed killing terrorists’ innocent family members, who has said he would do “a hell of a lot worse than waterboarding,” and who has suggested dipping bullets in pigs’ blood is sound counterterrorism strategy.
And most of the paltry few legal limitations that regulate the security state could easily be repealed by a President Trump.
In 2015, for instance, in response to protests in Ferguson, Mo., Obama signed an order banning the transfers of certain surplus military weapons to police, including armored vehicles, grenade launchers, bayonets, and high-caliber ammunition. Trump, who has called police the “most mistreated people in America,” and has refused to criticize police for brutality or killings, could easily revoke that ban.
Trump has said he would create “a deportation force” – apparently ignorant of the fact that he’ll inherit one. Obama has increased the budget for immigration enforcement to an all-time high and accelerated the rate of deportations. Obama has deported more than 2.5 million people – already more than any other President – and has made the Department of Homeland Security the largest law enforcement agency in the country.
Obama also already incarcerates hundreds of thousands of immigrants in detention centers, and forces young children to appear before immigration judges without a lawyer.
Trump will also take over the FBI, which has 35,000 employees and a network of 15,000 paid informants. Trump, who has said Muslim Americans should be forced to register on a government list, could easily rewrite its investigative guidelines.
As for the NSA, Congress passed a law in 2015 ending the bulk collection of Americans’ phone records and replaced it with a modified program. But according to a former State Department official, the phone records program is minuscule compared to the government’s “universe of collection” under Executive Order 12333, which Trump is free to reinterpret or modify.
To make matters worse, the Obama administration has convinced courts that citizens cannot challenge the legality of NSA programs until they can prove they are under surveillance. Because government secrecy makes that generally impossible, courts have started to reject anti-surveillance lawsuits on procedural grounds.
Trump may also get his wish to “fill up” Guantanamo Bay. Despite Obama’s efforts this year to rapidly depopulate the prison camp, 60 prisoners remain, along with the architecture to imprison hundreds more.
With an additional stroke of his pen, Trump could reopen the global network of CIA “black sites” and imprison people there without any due process. After the Supreme Court ruled under Bush that Guantanamo detainees have rights under habeas corpus, the Obama administration in 2009 fought to avoid having the same rule applied to military prisons around the world.
Trump could also make good on his promise to resurrect the CIA’s torture program with a “hell of a lot worse than waterboarding,” despite the fact that it would be clearly illegal under a law passed by Congress in 2015. Trump said he would “expand the laws,” but he could probably get away with it regardless, because by refusing to prosecute any CIA officials involved in Bush-era torture, Obama made clear that presidents can get away with illegal torture.
During Trump’s campaign, former CIA director Michael Hayden and current CIA director John Brennan both insisted that CIA officials would disobey any order to commit “torture.” But both have defended the CIA practices, and while Brennan has said he would refuse to engage in “some of these tactics,” he has defended others as useful. Under Brennan, the CIA has also fought to undermine oversight efforts, and has publicly contested the results of an exhaustive Senate investigation into their abuses.
Trump, who has said he would “bomb the shit” out of terror groups and has proposed killing terrorists’ innocent families, will also inherit a global, unaccountable program of drone assassination. Obama started a vast escalation of Bush’s drone program in 2009, and Democrats have trusted him to assassinate people he deems an “imminent threat,” even when they are far away from war zones, and when he doesn’t even know who he is killing.
Obama made it look like he was reining in the program in May 2013, signing guidelines that required “near certainty that a terrorist target is present,” and “near certainty that non-combatants will not be injured or killed.” But a number of disastrous strikes in the following years – including one on a wedding party in Yemen – have led many to believe the administration is not following its own guidelines. And to whatever extent they actually apply, those guidelines could easily be revoked when President Trump gets to decide what is an “imminent threat,” living out his desire to “bomb the shit” out of terror groups.
The Obama administration has also convinced courts that they have no role to play in reviewing the legality of drone strikes – even when it involves killing a U.S. citizen. Lawsuits on behalf of drone victims, filed both before and after strikes took place have all been dismissed, setting the stage for Trump’s targeting decisions never to see their day in court.
When it comes to sustained bombing campaigns, Trump may not have to justify his actions much at all. Obama dramatically reduced the number of ground soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan, but he has continued to bomb seven countries, with virtually no Congressional acknowledgement or debate.
Obama has continued the Presidential tradition of going to war without Congress, sometimes in almost absurd ways. In 2011, for example, the White House needed to argue that it could continue bombing Muammar Gaddafi’s forces in Libya without Congressional authorization. So the top lawyer in the State Department sent a memo to Congress arguing that a bombing campaign did not amount to wartime “hostilities,” mainly because the enemy could not fire back.
Even when the Obama administration sought Congressional authorization in 2013 to strike Syrian President Bashar Hafez al-Assad’s forces in retaliation for using chemical weapons, he insisted that he didn’t really need to. And he has not sought out a separate authorization to extend the war on terror to fight ISIS in Syria, ISIS in Libya, Al Shabaab in Somalia, or Boko Haram in Nigeria.
With such expansive war powers, and armed with the broad, Bush-era 2001 Congressional resolution authorizing war “in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism,” the next President could conduct military operations on a whim.
And perhaps most alarming is that Trump will inherit a Justice Department that has waged an unprecedented war on press freedom. Rather than shut down the Bush-era office that prosecuted leaks to the press, Obama made it his own, and has prosecuted more than twice as many people under the Espionage Act for leaking information to the press than all of his predecessors combined. His actions met with no resistance from Democrats.
In 2013, Obama’s Justice Department seized the phone records from three Associated Press bureaus to uncover the source for a story. Obama also waged a seven-year legal campaign against New York Times Reporter James Risen, threatening him with prison if he did not reveal his source for a story about a botched CIA operation. The prosecutors dropped the request at the last minute.
The legacy of that system is now passing into the hands of someone who has made a show of his contempt for the media. During his campaign, Trump repeatedly incited crowds against reporters, threatened publications with defamation lawsuits, and expressed his desire to “open up those libel laws.”
President Obama has spent much of his time as commander in chief expanding his own military power, while convincing courts not to limit his detention, surveillance, and assassination capabilities. Most of the new constraints on the security state during the Obama years were self-imposed, and could easily be revoked.
It is too early to tell what Trump will actually do. But if his campaign promises are anything to go on, he will flex all the powers Obama accrued and more, while cutting through Obama’s self-imposed restraints like tissue paper. And the silence of Democrats during the Obama years will play a major role in facilitating his abuses.”
Correction, Nov. 11: An earlier version of this story incorrectly characterized the extent to which Obama has increased the budget for immigration enforcement
Alex Emmons November 11 2016, 3:39 p.m.(https://theintercept.com/2016/11/11/commander-in-chief-donald-trump-will-have-terrifying-powers-thanks-obama/)
I have known, up close and personal in my own family, what the impact of war is on human beings. And I have watched over the last 15 years as my own nation strafed, bombed, kicked the bedroom doors in, and salted the river bottom valleys and fields of country after country of little brown people with depleted uranium that will remain radioactive there and make healthy living for humans and all other creatures essentially impossible until the end of time on Earth.
Some people find this photo of my father glamorous and admirable. I do too, in my own way. But I also know the man, and I know the cost to a human soul of inflicting fire, death, and destruction on innocent women, children, men, and the other creatures who live alongside them.
I wake today more disgusted by, more deeply ashamed of, my country than I have ever been in my life. And I wake in full anticipation that the havoc we have wreaked on the world in our history — that which caused Dr. King to say half a century ago, “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today is my own country,” a statement which is still and has never stopped being true — will pale next to what is to come under the depraved, insane, morally indefensible jackanape just elected President in this mad land.
This is the Afterword to my translation of “The Art of War”, written in 2009 for just one man, Barack Obama. He’s on the cover, along with Sammar Hassan.
Look her up. Many more of her are to come.
THE DEGRADATION OF AMERICA AND THE WORLD BY WAR
This version of “The Art of War” comes to light in a particular time and place, the United States of America in late 2009. The country in which I was born and have lived almost my entire life is mired in the longest war in its history, now in its ninth year, with no end in sight. That war and another were touched off with a Barnum’s blast of treasonous lies from President George W. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, and their fellow chickenhawks. In the years since they intentionally manipulated and misled Congress, the United Nations, and the American public — for empire, gain, and revenge, if truth is told — these conflicts have stolen the blood and lives of thousands of American sons, daughters, and allies.
Hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqis and Afghanis have died. In all of the nations involved, vastly greater numbers are crippled and disabled for life. Huge portions of the Middle East and Southwest Asia are covered in depleted uranium from American and Allied weapons, with catastrophic implications for the health of innocent men, women, and children that will linger for decades at least. (Enter into a web browser the terms “Dr. Jawad al-Ali”, “photographs”, and “depleted uranium”, but don’t do it at meal time).
Besides devastating America’s reputation and long-term security, these wars have consumed our treasure and enriched the military and its contractors to the tune of trillions of dollars at a time when the infrastructure and social services of our country are frayed and disintegrated beyond description. They have saddled a promising new president with a staggering burden. They have by torture taken from us our sense of our own decency, by blood and treasure taken from us our well-being, by a thousand different torments taken our reputation in the world.
What they have given us is infinitely vaguer and harder to locate. Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, and the rest of the nauseatingly misnomered neo-conservatives are enamored of crowing at every opportunity how their activities “kept America safe” after 9/11. They do this while simultaneously — and preposterously — overlooking the fact that on the day America suffered the most stunning and deadly attack on its soil in our history, they were the people directly charged with protecting us. They were not new on the job that day, nor uninformed, nor short of tools; they were the people who had been tasked with our security for nearly a year, who were privy to every jot and tittle of intelligence about it, and who had their hands on the keyboards, arming buttons, and nuclear powered aircraft carriers of America’s defense systems.
And they were the people who were absent without leave and well-nigh impossible to locate on that awful day. As we’ve since learned, they were busy confabulating falsehoods to trick the American people into attacking a nation that had absolutely nothing to do with the events of 9/11. They were preparing to hand out billions of dollars in no-bid contracts so their cronies could get rich(er) off war. And they were conspiring to reveal the identity of a very high level undercover CIA agent and director of intelligence operations, Valerie Plame, in a twisted bid to bolster their fraudulent rush to bloodshed. That conspiracy and the perfidy done unto Ms. Plame was treasonous by any lucid accounting, and treason is customarily punished in America by either death or life imprisonment. Instead, somehow the betrayers of Valerie Plame, the CIA, the USA, and in fact the whole world continue to be regular cast members in the open running sewer that is Fox News.
I am not a politician, a military strategist, an expert in foreign affairs. I am, more or less, a writer raised in hillbilly environs, haphazardly educated, somewhat disorganized, occasionally deranged, disinclined to the holding of a regular job, a tripping-and-stumbling spiritual seeker of the crazy wisdom or heyoka sort. However. I am 51 as I write this, and while I have knocked my noggin a few times, I have not knocked it off. I’ve been watching the news, reading the papers, getting all the way through a few books, writing one occasionally, and thinking things over. And I am a writer charged by my late friend and lifelong teacher Edward Abbey with this Writer’s Credo:
It is my belief that the writer and freelance author should be and must be a critic of the society in which he lives. It is easy enough, and always profitable, to rail away at national enemies beyond the sea, at foreign powers beyond our borders, and at those within our borders who question the prevailing order. Easy. And it pays.
But the moral duty of the free writer is to begin his work at home, to be a critic of his own community, his own country, his own government, his own culture. The more freedom a writer possesses the greater the moral obligation to play the role of critic. If the writer is unwilling to fill this part then the writer should abandon pretense and find another line of work: become a shoe repairman, a brain surgeon, a janitor, a cowboy, a nuclear physicist, a bus driver. Whereof one fears to speak thereof one must be silent. Far better silence than the written word sent to shore up the wrong, the false, the ugly, the evil.
Therefore I cannot in good conscience release a book entitled “The Art of War” without telling you one very direct and plain fact. I have read the teachings you came here to read, the ones known as “The Art of War”, and the rest of the Taoist canon of which they are a part for decades. I have read them forward and backward, in more than one language, read the commentaries upon them, which are legion, and read the commentaries on the commentaries. And the fact is this: every single awful and terrible and destructive-to-self-or-others thing that these teachings warn that an inept or unethical leader can do, or that can befall a nation fond of war, has been done by our leaders and is befalling us now. Every one.
What “The Art of War” teaches us, among matters martial and philosophical, is this: War is expensive in every sense of the word. It can bankrupt a nation by consuming its treasury. It can tear out its heart by robbing families of the love and companionship of sons and daughters, husbands and wives, fathers and mothers and friends. It can starve it by sending its resources not to its own dinner tables but abroad to fuel colossal military adventures. It can despoil its good name in the world. It can even end its viability completely as the nation disintegrates at home while dying abroad. Those are chickens of the most serious sort, and they are coming to roost in the United States of America.
Don’t trust my view. Read the book once or twice. Try another translation if you don’t admire this one. Then take a good look around. Contemplate what you’ve beheld. Then, if you’re moved, write your representatives, or perhaps storm their offices. Change your nation, the world, your own mind, someone else’s. Act.
Act as if your life depends on it, because it does. We have nuclear weapons on this planet, and in the country where the vastest number and very much the most powerful of them are ticking and humming and idling away, why, just a few minutes ago during a Presidential campaign, one of the two chaps proposed to be in charge of them all suggested to us, and thus to the world, that the person most qualified to assist him in that endeavor, and to succeed him in it should he, a multiple-occurrence survivor of malignant melanoma, a highly lethal form of cancer, perish, was Sarah Palin — Princess Poptart herself, a woman who has never had a thought in her head about anything other than her own vacuous yet vigorous megalomania, her delusions of grandeur, her “religious” ramblings, her festering resentments, her grandiose persecution complexes, her petty revenge fantasies.
Sorry to remind you. But it matters. Diagram, if you dare, a Sarah Palin sentence. Ask a linguist, if he is not barking at the moon after reading it, to explain to you what it tells us about her mind. He will tell you, blanching the while, that it is a confused, chaotic, unstructured, unsound place. A profoundly unwise place.
The point of this is not that an unhinged lunatic empty of everything but ambition aspired to power — that is as common as dirt. What is uncommon is the kind of power to which so colossal a clown came so perilously close: the nearest thing to absolute power humans can know, the power of nuclear annihilation of the Earth and its inhabitants. What is uncommon is that one of the two viable political parties in the most powerful nation on Earth saw fit to chance that — saw fit to seat at the right hand of the most powerful man on Earth, a man in his eighth decade, the grumpy geezer with control of the by-a-very-great-measure most awesome military machine and arsenal the world has ever known, this woman Sarah, this Palin person.
Saw fit to try to sell to us as potentially our next leader this documented evangelical nutcase, this cheerleading member of an “end times” church, this garrulous aw-shucks huckster who promoted her wilderness state as a goshdarn good place for folks to reconnoiter after Armageddon, this feeble-minded fool whose mutated and mutating sense of her own manifest destiny nearly became America’s, and thus the world’s. What is uncommon is that when it came time for people to go to the polls, nearly half of the United States of America was on board this bizarre, barmy, bugged-out bandwagon.
Well. In this, the 21st century, if America loses its mind, the world must fear. The consequences can be (and at the moment certainly seem to be) so far-reaching as to be endless. But let’s focus on what the worst of them can be: Once a nuke flies, a second will almost certainly follow. After the second, a handful, surely, so that India and Pakistan can finally settle scores, China stake a flag or two, Israel assert itself. Then the skies will grow dark with them, the skies will grow darker than we can even conceive, the lights will go out on the beautiful luminescent blue pearl we call our Earth.
That’s where we are. As this 2,500 year old book teaches us, war has ever been a high-stakes affair. But today the stakes in armed conflict are so unutterably high that our minds cannot begin to grasp them. Like they cannot begin to grasp the breadth of the universe, the breath of the universe, the mind of God, the vast and mysterious tao. Humility, then, yes? Humility is in order. Calm is called for. Wisdom in leaders has never mattered more. If they cannot cultivate it, if we do not call for it, we are condemned. That is all.
I don’t lightly attach words like these to a set of ancient teachings beloved by so many, nor do I do so to press any agenda other than good sense and as much decency as we Americans and Earthlings can muster. I’d like people of all political stripes to have the benefit of the wisdom found in The Art of War in whatever way they can. While translating the words and ideas, I had no thought of directly denouncing the craven and contemptible of the world — generally I reckon they denounce themselves with the facts of their lives (hello, Cheney, hello, Bush) — nor of bending these words to one particular use or another. That said, I have found in The Art of War remarks that, when related to the modern moment, reach back to what is recent with deep disdain and reach forward to what is immediate with terrible trepidation. As Americans, as citizens of the greater Earth, we surely ought to attend, and attend closely, to what this slender scroll says to us.
May we learn, may we prevail over our worst selves, may we somehow join what D. H. Lawrence called “the only true aristocracy” — that of the conscious. May we escape with our hides and souls and daughters the perilous times in which we live. May we evolve to a good and positive condition. May the road rise to meet us and the stars light our way. May we find God, Allah, Buddha, Tao, the great mystery — whichever appeals to us — above and below, within ourselves, within each other, within all.
Good luck, leaders, soldiers, citizens, Mr. President. Good luck, America. Good luck, beloved world.
Brian Browne Walker Boulder, Colorado 15 November 2009