Welcome to Amerika?
July 21, 2002 6:32 PM   Subscribe

Welcome to Amerika? Tom Ridge (with the blessing of George W.) thinks it's time to re-examine the Posse Comitatus Act with an eye toward giving the Armed Forces more power to act in a domestic law enforcement capacity. After having the National Guard here during the Winter Olympics, I'm not so keen on seeing armed soldiers patrolling the streets again.
posted by mr_crash_davis (25 comments total)
Good lord. Citizen Patrols (TIPS), now this? this is getting way to surreal. At what point to we have to stand up and say, "hey, dammit, enough!"

Having not too long ago met a fresh faced Marine Officer (approx. 23 or so) and talking with him for a while, this really scares me. He says that the military these days is more like a halfway house for people who are out of high school, and that he can't wait to leave. And some of the stories he told, if true, frighten me even more. And this isn't hazing, soap on a rope stuff. This is dumbass no common sense stuff.
posted by Ufez Jones at 6:39 PM on July 21, 2002

Tim McVeigh meets the LAPD. Scary.
posted by donkeyschlong at 6:57 PM on July 21, 2002

I agree that most of what is being done against "terrorism" is ridiculous and ineffective--against "terrorism."
However, does all of it become very, very reasonable if the US is about to go to war with China?
Military thinkers in both nations are increasingly pessimistic about the possibilities for a conflict. China has produced white papers with a "by any means necessary" strategy, including attacks that use what are called "terrorist" means, against the US. While, for its part, the US is completely restructuring its air forces, navy and army for what purpose?

Is China planning to do what Japan tried to do in WWII?
If they attack and destroy Bremerton Naval Yard and San Diego, will they really dominate all of southern Asia and the Pacific Ocean?

Has the US pre-positioned enough land and air forces in Central Asia to create a second front?

Does this make the loss of civil rights even scarier? Are we using a phony war to prepare for a real war?
posted by kablam at 7:51 PM on July 21, 2002

Ack ... true, China is another powderkeg, and a militarily formidable one at that. I mean, yeah, we'd kick their ass eventually, but goodbye West Coast.
posted by donkeyschlong at 7:57 PM on July 21, 2002

Thank God for the voice of reason, Dick Armey

posted by Mick at 8:04 PM on July 21, 2002

No kidding, Mick. I swear, if Orrin Hatch starts making sense I'm going to have myself committed.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 8:08 PM on July 21, 2002

I find the prospect of war with China highly unlikely, it would be to the extreme disadvantage of both sides. kablam, can you link to any of the white papers you mentioned?

I am far more concerned about the prospect suggested in this article: Saddam's War Plan Includes Bioweapons to Make U.S. a 'Living Hell'
posted by homunculus at 8:56 PM on July 21, 2002


welcome to the club. Quite a few of us are in the midst of significant ideological crises. Our happy (oblivious?) little world was turned upside down, and most existing models of political alignment and belief don't fit so well anymore. I also find it disconcerting to completely agree with someone I find morally repugnant.
posted by joemaller at 9:01 PM on July 21, 2002

I'm not too surprised by Armey here. TIPS and the other Ashcroftian nightmares are very marginalized views even amongst the GOP. As long as he isn't too critical of Bush and co. its double plus good for the up coming election.
posted by skallas at 9:07 PM on July 21, 2002

Newsmax is hardly a reliable source. According to its standards of journalism, we also have plans to use bioweapons against our own population.
posted by donkeyschlong at 9:27 PM on July 21, 2002

(It makes me happy that the voice of reason is named donkeyschlong.) Maybe so, but I've been wondering about that scenario since Bush first started calling for regime change. It seems like the kind of thing a narcisitic and psychotic schemer like Saddam would think up in the event of his own inevitable demise at an enemy's hands. It also seems like the kind of thing that would call for a re-examination of Posse Comitatus. Hopefully me and the folks at newsmax are just being unnecessarily alarmist.

And speaking of China: U.S. Weighs Stronger Relations With China
posted by homunculus at 9:42 PM on July 21, 2002

Newsmax is hardly a reliable source. According to its standards of journalism, we also have plans to use bioweapons against our own population.

Wait, I thought that was IndyMedia. Have they merged?
posted by joemaller at 9:44 PM on July 21, 2002

Thanks for the link Mick; very refreshing.
posted by holycola at 9:47 PM on July 21, 2002

alea jacta est?

let's damned well hope not.
posted by dorian at 10:37 PM on July 21, 2002

kablam is, somewhat inexplicably, referencing Beyond Rules (aka Total War, Unlimited War, etc.; there is no English translation available), a strategic think piece by two Chinese officers. Calling it a "white paper" is a little bit of an overstatement; we have people at the RAND Corp. who do nothing all day long but write up similar worst-case scenarios. There's also scant evidence that Chinese Red Army doctrine has in any way reformed to embrace this thinking, much as the US Army continues to wrestle with its own overlapping reform movements including the Revolution in Miltiary Affairs and fresh, smart work such as John Arquilla's "netwar" concepts {self-link}. Heck, the Chinese still seem to be thinking about getting real aircraft carriers -- that's totally the opposite of what this book would recommend.

China's one strategic beef with us on which they'd rather not budge is Taiwan. Beyond that, they've shown little inclination to become a regional military power with a strong navy.

In any case, future collisions of interests between the US and China aside, the present war must needs be fought first. We may not want to sacrifice certain long-held principles in order to fight this war; at present, we may not need to. But there's no guarantee we won't be forced to in the future. A militarized, secure society is not the same as a fascist one, with the examples of Northern Ireland or Israel before us (not to mention wartime Britain). I believe it's too early to make this decision, though I don't believe it's too early to begin discussing it. If we have a blueprint in place before the inevitable emergency arises, we'll be in a much better position to apply it judiciously and as needed.

When citing Newsmax, it's important to note whetehr you have a wire service story, a reported story, or a column. (The former two are often accurate in the basics, but heavily spun.) In this case, it's a column, but by UPI editor Arnaud de Borchgrave, who is generally reliable; and the column previously appeared in the Washington Times (same analysis approach, though the spin is less hyperbolic) and at CSIS. It's probably accurate insofar as it's no great revelation that if Saddam is attacked, this time it will be for keeps, on both sides. Or it may be just disinformation of the kind we've been sowing with our Monday-Wednesday-Friday war plans leaks.
posted by dhartung at 10:41 PM on July 21, 2002

Wait, I thought that was IndyMedia. Have they merged?

I guess if you go far enough to both extremes eventually they'll meet...
posted by gyc at 10:41 PM on July 21, 2002

Brief history (but a bit longer than the NYT link) of the Posse Comitatus Act. As the SpinTech article points out, the law actually was first amended in 1986, to 'help' the Reagan administration fight the Holy War on Drugs.

While indeed, the Act was passed as a response to Northern occupation of the South, it has its historical roots in the founding, and its philosophical roots even earlier, as a part of the historic development of English common law and jurisprudence.

The PCA essentially bans a standing army, a subject many of the founders were sensitive to:

"A standing army is one of the greatest mischiefs that can possibly happen." - James Madison 1

"What, Sir, is the use of a militia? It is to prevent the establishment of a standing army, the bane of liberty." - Elbridge Gerry 2

"When a government wishes to deprive its citizens of freedom, and reduce them to slavery, it generally makes use of a standing army." - Luther Martin 3

The problem with the standing army is that its presence conditions the people to a 'benign despotism' where they become used to the sight of coercive military rule. The people become complacent, and most importantly of all, obedient. It sets the people up for tyranny, and greases the rails for the right person to step into power.

With this in mind, the founders believed that local militias, supplied by an armed local populace and administered by local governments, were the best antidote to defend people against the virus of the standing army. If there was going to be a federally funded, centrally controlled army, a balance had to be struck, and that was by ensuring that the people were armed (many representatives spoke of the necessity of every citizen being armed). This view was certainly understandable, especially regarding their recent experience with the British tyranny. If you don't think guns are a good or neccessary way to figh off tyrants (left or right), just read Orwell's Homage to Catalonia. You'll see.

Of course, today the military is huge, and it occupies quite a large amount of land in this country, but it does not occupy or patrol the places people live. Even in World War II, we had civilian police and air wardens keeping an eye on communities. The chance of a military coup is also extremely minimal, due to the strong budgetary control held by the civilian sector and the sheer size and diversity of the military. However, a standing army would dovetail nicely into a right-wing or left-wing civilian tyranny. The last time a real standing army had a chance to install its chosen leader was at the end of the Revolutionary War, and if General Washington had not been dedicated to his principles, Americans would have been calling him King George rather than President Washington.

In conclusion? If Ridge gets his way, the Bush administration can put another notch in their rifles as they will have killed yet another pillar of American liberty. It won't be long now. I definitely plan on arming myself, to the teeth. I want to be prepared for the future, just in case.
posted by insomnyuk at 11:53 PM on July 21, 2002

Well, I guess this is one step toward becoming a Western European country...military troops to police is very common in Italy and other European countries. The war on terror is indeed strange.
posted by Bag Man at 7:18 AM on July 22, 2002

dhartung's point that China is only interested in Taiwan misses the bigger picture. At least 20 years ago, China realized that it needed massive international trade to maintain and grow its economy. To support this, it needed an enormous merchant marine (private/public (read military) corporations.) To protect its merchant marine, it needed to upgrade its navy from a coastal defense fleet to a deep water navy.
It also needed Taiwan, as one must control both the mainland and Taiwan to own the South China Sea. The Sea of Japan would always be under Japanese scrutiny, far too powerful to militarily assault, but "bullyable" into cooperation or neutrality.

The last obstacle is the US. A Chinese corporation now controls both ends of the Panama Canal and has just built a huge deep water port shipping port in the Carribean.
If the US fleet in the Pacific can be neutralized, the Pacific is wide open.

The US and China have also been engaged in a weird technology/culture cold war for many years, involving sending Chinese students for preferential advanced degrees at US universities. China figures these students will return with massive amounts of information. The US figures it will "corrupt" them into embracing western values that will spread to China. Very odd.

So, in the final analysis, the question really isn't "Will the US and China have a war?", but "Are our leaders getting us ready for a war with China?" The first is based on facts and reason, the second on the perception of the Bush Administration.
posted by kablam at 8:34 AM on July 22, 2002

kablam, you really are funny. If, if, if, if, if, if, if. We're a long way from any of these strategic considerations being meaningful. You make it sound like they're under your bed. Well, something is. Boo!
posted by dhartung at 9:12 AM on July 22, 2002

The U.S. is becoming a dictatorship so slowly, you wouldn't even notice. I suppose it beats a kleptocracy.

This is the same old Bush tactic. Float a trial balloon and call it a policy review or proposal. Then, if there is no opposition, grab as much power as you can get your filthy hands on.
posted by euphorb at 11:40 AM on July 22, 2002

This is the same old Bush tactic.

Modify that to

This is the same old <insert politicians surname here> tactic.

And you have it exactly right.
posted by insomnyuk at 11:44 AM on July 22, 2002

Politicians: The Gologotha Shit Monsters We Createdâ?¢.
posted by donkeyschlong at 11:49 AM on July 22, 2002

No dhartung, you are missing the point. Whether or not you agree with *this* China war scenario, what do the US political leaders think? If they thought we were going to have a war with the planet Mars, and were planning for it, using "terrorism" as an excuse for their preparations, it would be no different. What do the leaders of the US (and China) think?

To their credit, if all of the US post 9-11 activities are just a subterfuge to plan for a real war, then their actions *are* justified. And no, a "war on terrorism" is not enough. It is a folly.

As far as "if" goes, I used that word a total of two times in the two previous posts. Perhaps you were confused by the over-use of question marks in the first post. The questions were meant to be rhetorical. The statements of fact are supportable, and are seen by many military strategists as being "meaningful." And no, it is not the job of military strategists to evalutate peaceful coexistence.
posted by kablam at 11:58 AM on July 22, 2002

And you should have used the word "if" about four times as often. We out here in the real world also have the ability to evaluate the military strategists. I am perfectly happy (unlike some of my liberal friends) with miltiary strategies that posit a potential conflict with China, and with long-term procurement and planning that would permit us to counter such a threat; I simply don't believe that it's anywhere near imminent, not under the current conditions and leadership. Thus, the threat remains theoretical.

Example: it's going to take them 20 years to build a navy that will challenge the Pacific fleet. I think, during that time, we'd notice. Bremerton and San Diego are safe for the time being.

Example: assuming the civilian contractors running the Panama Canal are indeed dangerous to the canal, it's going to take the Southern Command about five minutes to dislodge them if it ever becomes necessary. They're 3000 miles from any conceivable support. What if they mine the canal and deny it to us? Well, we can't get a carrier battle group through there anyway. It makes things trickier in the initial stages, but we still have transcontinental highways and railroads for materiel. Let's even say that there are no People's Army action figures in suggestive poses on the rim of the canal. How else could China deny us its use? Ah, yes, one of those infamous conex bombs. So the whole Whampoa business is that much smokescreen.

I still don't see the direct connection to a discussion of Posse Comitatus. And rightie-side or leftie-side, I eschew the idea of Sooper Seekrit Konspirassies that are boiling away behind the scenes; I find them tremendously unenlightening.
posted by dhartung at 11:35 PM on July 22, 2002

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