BACEVICH: The question that arises is whether, in fact, we’re not already experiencing what is in essence a creeping coup d’état. But it’s not people in uniform who are seizing power. It’s militarized civilians, who conceive of the world as such a dangerous place that military power has to predominate, that constitutional constraints on the military need to be loosened. The ideology of national security has become ever more woventhere are some days i think our best chance is a military coup...
into our politics. It has been especially apparent since 9/11, but more broadly it’s been going on since the beginning of the Cold War.
KOHN: The Constitution is being warped.
BACEVICH: Here we don’t need to conjure up hypothetical scenarios of the president deploying troops, etc. We have a president who created a program that directs the National Security Agency, which is part of the military, to engage in domestic eavesdropping.
LUTTWAK: I don’t know if this would be called a coup.
KOHN: Because it’s so incremental?
LUTTWAK: It’s more like an erosion. The president is usurping additional powers. Although what’s interesting is that the president’s usurpation of this particular power was entirely unnecessary. The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act court, which approves terrorism-related requests for wiretaps, can be summoned over the telephone in a matter of minutes. In its entire history, it has said no to a request for surveillance only a handful of times, and those were cases where there was a mistake in the request. Really, even a small-town sheriff can get any interception he wants, so long as after the fact he can show a judge that there was reasonable cause.
BACEVICH: Bush’s move was unnecessary if the object of the exercise was to engage in surveillance. It was very useful indeed if the object is to expand executive power.
KOHN: Which is exactly what has been the agenda since the beginning of this administration.
LUTTWAK: Now you’re attributing motives.
BACEVICH: Yes, I am! If you read John Yoo, he suggests that one conscious aim of the project was to eliminate constraints on the chief executive when it comes to matters of national security.
DUNLAP: I will say that even if it was a completely legal project, there is a question of how appropriate it is for the armed forces to be involved in that kind of activity. Since, as I noted before, the American people have much less confidence in those institutions of civilian control than they do in the armed forces, we need to be very careful about what we ask the military to do, even assuming it’s legal.
WASIK: If we are talking about a “creeping coup” that is already under way, in what direction is it creeping?
BACEVICH: The creeping coup deflects attention away from domestic priorities and toward national-security matters, so that is where all our resources get deployed. “Leadership” today is what is demonstrated in the national-security realm. The current presidency is interesting in that regard. What has Bush accomplished apart from posturing in the role of commander in chief? He declares wars, he prosecutes wars, he insists we must continue to prosecute wars.
KOHN: By framing the terrorist threat itself as a war, we tend to look upon our national security from a much more military perspective.
BACEVICH: We don’t get Social Security reform, we don’t get immigration reform. The role of the president increasingly comes to be defined by his military function.
KOHN: And so our foreign policy becomes militarized. We neglect our diplomacy, de-emphasize allies.
LUTTWAK: Bipartisan madness. This is not even militarism. Militarism had to do with eminent professors of Greek desperate to become reserve officers so they could be invited to the military ball. That’s militarism. This is an intoxication about what the actual capabilities of any military force could be.
DUNLAP: This intoxication with the military’s capabilities certainly isn’t coming from the uniformed military officers.
BACEVICH: Except insofar as they are involved in the playing of politics, in constantly pressing for more resources. Meanwhile, we’ve underfunded the State Department for twenty-five years.
LUTTWAK: But it is still the military that has the resources.
BACEVICH: And so over time—because this has happened over time—you create a bias for military action. Which agency of government has the capacity to act? Well, the Department of Defense does. And that bias gets continually reinforced, and helps to create a circumstance in which any president who wants to appear effective, and therefore to win reelection, sees that the opportunity to do so is by acting in the military sphere.
BACEVICH: But there is a more subtle danger too. The civilian leadership knows that in dealing with the military, they are dealing with an institution whose behavior is not purely defined by adherence to the military professional ethic, disinterested service, civilian subordination. Instead, the politicians know that they’re dealing with an institution that to some degree has its own agenda. And if you’re dealing with somebody who has his own agenda, well, you can bargain, you can trade. That creates a small opening—again, not to a coup but to the military making deals with politicians whose purposes may not be consistent with the Constitution.
(and of course, sam gardiner and others have suggested that there'd be a revolt if the egadministration ordered a nuke attack on iran)