Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Naughty Words Part 3: “Security”

     Senator Rand Paul has drawn quite a lot of flak for his firm stance against the bulk collection of phone call metadata. Some of that flak has come from persons who really ought to know better:

     During debate over renewing the Patriot Act:
     People here in town think I'm making a huge mistake. Some of them, I think, secretly want there to be an attack on the United States so they can blame it on me.

     Takeaways: 1) It's all about Rand, 2) There can be no legitimate disagreements over the pros and cons of the Patriot Act, and 3) If you do disagree with him on this, you're probably a bloodthirsty, spiteful f*ck.

     And in a similar vein:

     Rand Paul is not just criticizing his named enemies in the Senate, then. He's criticizing the millions of GOP voters whose instincts tend to be more conventional and interventionist than his own.

     Mind you, it’s quite all right to disagree with Senator Paul on this or any other issue. But why tar him as self-absorbed, interested solely in his prospects for the presidency? It should be clear by now that he has essentially no shot at gaining the GOP nomination; all the big guns of the Republican establishment have aligned against him. Therefore, we must seek elsewhere for the reason.

     Fortunately for my aching fingers, we don’t have far to seek.

     The following comes from Daniel Yergin’s Shattered Peace: The Origins of the Cold War and the National Security State:

     In the autumn of 1945, civilian and military heads of the different services trooped up to Capitol Hill to testify before the Senate committee on the question of the unification of the military services. Whereas in an earlier round of such hearings, in spring 1944, “national security” barely came up at all; in these 1945 hearings, a year and a half later, the policy makers constantly invoked the idea as a starting point. “Our national security can only be assured on a very broad and comprehensive front,” argued the most forceful advocate of the concept, Navy Secretary James Forrestal. “I am using the word ‘security’ here consistently and continuously rather than ‘defense.’” “I like your words ‘national security,’” Senator Edwin Johnson told him.

     That was the origin of the pernicious phrase national security, which has come to dominate every discussion of military posture, of information classification and handling, of the gathering of intelligence, and of federal surveillance of the American homeland. Pick an arbitrary member of Congress, invade his bedroom at two AM, and dump a bucket of ice water on him, and he’ll come awake sputtering “National security!” But I have a question: What does it mean?

     It doesn’t appear to mean:

  • Protection of Americans’ rights;
  • Enforcement of America’s borders or immigration laws;
  • Rational provisioning and employment of our armed forces.

     If you can define it, please help me out, because the only coherent meaning I can assign to it is:

That which can justify any violation of Constitutional constraints and any abridgement, infringement, or suspension of individuals’ rights.

     Think about it.

     Senator Paul has called into question the use of national security as a password to extra-Constitutional power. The federal government is nowhere granted the power to do what the NSA’s metadata-collection program is doing. It’s neither necessary nor proper to the defense of the United States. Indeed, it’s openly acknowledged that the program has yielded no actionable intelligence. Its masters cannot point to even one terrorist plot that metadata-collection has foiled...and they’re open about it.

     Even leaving Constitutional considerations aside, the metadata-collection program is very difficult to defend. It has yielded nothing of consequence to anti-terrorism efforts. When combined with facilities such as EZ-Pass and cell phones’ GPS facilities, it equips the federal government with the means to determine, within about a quarter mile, exactly where any cell-phone-owning American is at any time. When combined with other data available from the Internet, it provides Washington’s busybodies with an extensive dossier on every last individual within our borders: who and where you are, what you’ve been doing with your money, and how you go about your day.

     Who and what are being secured? Whose interests are being protected in this fashion? Is it not transparently obvious that this program is of far more value to the political establishment than to any private citizen? Is it not equally obvious that it would be invaluable in ferreting out pockets of resistance to unConstitutional federal activity and squashing them before they can become numerous or well organized? And is it not mind-shatteringly obvious that this invasion of our privacy could only have been justified by the claim that it’s “essential to national security” -- ?

     Of course, obvious does mean overlooked.

     Don’t imagine for an instant that it’s only Republicans who constantly plead “national security” to justify the invasion of Americans’ rights. The Democrats do it, too. Indeed, as Daniel Yergin points out in Shattered Peace, it was the Democrats who started it: the Truman Administration, which rationalized its actions as politically necessary to fend off the GOP. “National security” is immensely useful to all elements of the political establishment, for not only does it justify all sorts of unConstitutional federal activity; it also functions as a shield against disclosures that would topple many a political edifice and end many a political career.

     The redaction of documents released in response to Freedom of Information Act requests, which robs the Act of the greater part of its value as a watchtower against federal corruption and overreach, is justified entirely by “national security.” Try to imagine how such excisions could be justified on any other basis. I can’t.

     Just how secure are you feeling right now, Gentle Reader?

     In a rather different context, Robert A. Heinlein wrote:

     I no longer gave a damn about three-car garages and swimming pools, nor any other status symbol or "security." There was no security in this world and only damn fools and mice thought there could be.
     Somewhere back in the jungle I had shucked off all ambition of that sort. I had been shot at too many times and had lost interest in supermarkets and exurban subdivisions and tonight is the PTA supper don’t forget dear you promised.

     The entire notion of “security” is a phantasm, a shiny bit of colored glass used to lure us away from that which is possible and attainable, and toward that which is not, has never been, and never can be. This is true at any level of organization, from individuals to nation-states. Indeed, the Earth itself is irremediably insecure, as earthquakes, volcanoes, hurricanes, tornadoes, tsunamis, meteorites, near-encounters with asteroids, and the occasional solar flare should demonstrate to anyone’s satisfaction.

     There is risk in everything. There are defenses against some sorts of risks, but no defense is “secure” in any sense that holds water. Human life is an ongoing game of rock / paper / scissors. So also is the bizarre perversion of social organization we call government – but no member of the political class, high, middle, or low, has ever dared to admit it. That is, until Rand Paul, United States Senator from the state of Kentucky, dared to challenge the concept in open Senate session, at least by implication.

     No, Senator Paul will not be the GOP nominee for president, nor should he be. But it would bring a smile to this old face if a larger fraction of the Republicans on Capitol Hill were to admit what’s become so glaringly obvious since 2001:

  • That we are not “secure;”
  • That we cannot be made “secure,” even at the cost of all freedom;
  • That only the Leviathan on the Potomac has any interest in imagining otherwise.

     Remember you read it here first.


Reg T said...

And only the "Old Guard", mainstream Republicans are allowed to decide which candidates are viable and which are not. Ron Paul, whatever you thought of him, supposedly got zero votes in a number of towns during the primaries where many town citizens who had voted for him were amazed to discover that their votes obviously were ignored. Those primary votes were counted by Republicans - not by Democrats.

HoundOfDoom said...

Extra points for quoting from Heinlein's 'Glory Road'. Now on my rereading list. :)

Anonymous said...

Excellent piece, but I would disagree with your comment that Rand Paul should not be the GOP nominee for President. I cannot imagine any other candidate that could lure me from the golf course to the voting booth on election day.

Francis W. Porretto said...

Well, Anon, the reason I think so isn't that he would make a poor president -- he'd be at least passable, and probably better than anyone else in the GOP field except (possibly) for Ted Cruz -- but that he'd lose in November 2016. There are too many big guns aimed at him for him to prevail in the general election.

I was Ron Paul's New York State campaign coordinator in 1988, so I'm familiar with the Pauls, though I have differences with them on several matters.

Anonymous said...

This is a topic of frequent discussions I have with my friends and colleagues. My view is that the big guns will be aimed at anyone who is a threat to alter the disastrous course we have been on for decades. If the choice is to have Rand Paul lose the general election or win with a Republican who will maintain the status quo, I would take Rand Paul every time. The American people may surprise you if given a real choice, something we have not had for a long time. If Rand makes it to the general election and loses, at least we will know where the country stands. Right now, it's hard to tell.


ΛΕΟΝΙΔΑΣ said...

I was a delegate for Ron Paul at the local county "repuglican" convention in 2012 and suffered personally the rotten skulduggery of the "old bulls" of the "Grand Old Politbureau". NEVER AGAIN will I cast a national vote for the "slightly less evil" party. As I do not golf, the local pistol range must suffice.
Forgive the plethora of contempt quotes.


Francis W. Porretto said...

I hope you're right and I'm wrong, Anon. But I'm not wrong very often...and it's as important to keep another Democrat (especially Hillary Clinton) out of the Oval Office as it is to get someone decent into it.

Anonymous said...

Again that comes to the lesser of two evils Francis. Just keep Shrillary out.

And I know that even if it is Crispy Creme from NJ or another 'compassionate conservative' Bush, most of the government won't be much different than if Bill of the blue dress's wife or Fauxchahontas won. Big point of difference though is that not one of the SQRLS (status quo Rethuglican Liberals) would ever nominate anyone so blatantly liberal as Kagan or Sotomayor, or have such an obvious racist as AG like Lynch and Holder.

Sure, Breyer turned. Sh*t happens. But wouldn't one at least prefer to attempt to get a moderate or even a REAL conservative on the SC and in as AG?