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On the morning of President Barack Obama's inauguration in 2009, America was ready for a change. Tufts political scientist Michael Glennon explains why that change never came. (Photo: Eddie Codel/flickr/cc)

Reality of National Security State Trumps 'Delusions' of U.S. Democracy

In the halls of U.S. government, "policy in the national security realm is made by the concealed institutions," political scientist argues in new book

Deirdre Fulton

"I think the American people are deluded."

So says Tufts University political scientist Michael J. Glennon, whose new book, National Security and Double Government (Oxford University Press), describes a powerful bureaucratic network that's really pulling the strings on key aspects of U.S. foreign policy.

The 'double government' explains why the Obama version of national security is virtually indistinguishable from the one he inherited from President George W. Bush.

"I think the American people are deluded... that the institutions that provide the public face actually set American national security policy. They believe that when they vote for a president or member of Congress or succeed in bringing a case before the courts, that policy is going to change," Glennon told the Boston Globe in an interview published Sunday. "Now, there are many counter-examples in which these branches do affect policy... But the larger picture is still true—policy by and large in the national security realm is made by the concealed institutions."

Glennon argues that because managers of the military, intelligence, diplomatic, and law enforcement agencies operate largely outside the institutions meant to check or constrain them—the executive branch, the courts, Congress—national security policy changes very little from one administration to the next.

This explains, he says, why the Obama version of national security is virtually indistinguishable from the one he inherited from President George W. Bush. It's also why Guantanamo is still open; why whistleblowers are being prosecuted more; why NSA surveillance has expanded; why drone strikes have increased.

"I was curious why a president such as Barack Obama would embrace the very same national security and counterterrorism policies that he campaigned eloquently against," Glennon said. Drawing on his own personal experiences as former legal counsel to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, as well as conversations with dozens of individuals in U.S. military, law enforcement, and intelligence agencies and elected officials, Glennon drew the following conclusion: "National security policy actually bubbles up from within the bureaucracy. Many of the more controversial policies, from the mining of Nicaragua’s harbors to the NSA surveillance program, originated within the bureaucracy."

To dismantle this so-called "double government"—a phrase coined by British journalist and businessman Walter Bagehot to describe the British government in the 1860s—will be a challenge, Glennon admits. After all, "There is very little profit to be had in learning about, and being active about, problems that you can’t affect, policies that you can’t change."

But he is not hopeless. "The ultimate problem is the pervasive political ignorance on the part of the American people. And indifference to the threat that is emerging from these concealed institutions. That is where the energy for reform has to come from: the American people," he said. "The people have to take the bull by the horns."


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