How is foreign policy made? In these, the last days of America’s imperial decline, when the Constitution is but a ragged piece of parchment relegated to the Museum of Archaic Documents, our relations with other countries are entirely governed by the executive branch: all decisions are made by the president and his appointed national security bureaucrats. A recent news story reporting on the procedure whereby President Obama is going to make a decision about whether to escalate the war in Afghanistan illustrates how the process is supposed to work:
"The White House said Tuesday that President Barack Obama considers it ‘tremendously important’ to listen to Congress about the flagging war in Afghanistan but won’t base his decisions on the mood on Capitol Hill or eroding public support for the war. ‘The president is going to make a decision — popular or unpopular — based on what he thinks is in the best interests of the country,’ press secretary Robert Gibbs told reporters. As for support from lawmakers, Gibbs said Obama is focused on getting his war strategy right, not on ‘who’s for or who’s against what.’"
In the age of the imperial presidency, where Congress and the people play only an advisory role, the emperor can certainly choose to "listen" to various petitioners, whether they be members of Congress or just ordinary non-titled mortals, but in the end The Decider decides — and he does so, we are told, in a void, as the vessel of a perfect objectivity, in utter isolation from both lobbyists and the voters who put him in office.
This is utter bollocks.
In reality, all government policy, both foreign and domestic, is made as the result of political pressures brought to bear upon key decision-makers, who must constantly make sure that their hold on power is secure. The idea that our rulers are disinterested scholarly types, "technocrats" removed from the political context of the decisions they make, is self-evidently false: far from being objective, they are concerned with justifying their past actions and statements and ensuring that their future actions don’t expose them to the risk of losing the power, prestige, and pelf they have accumulated up to this point. They may have "ideals," ostensibly "humanitarian" goals, and other objectives seemingly unrelated to the self-interested pursuit of pure power, but in the end, none of these professed ideals mean anything unless they can be implemented and acted upon, and they cannot do this out of power.
In any conflict between holding power and their ideals, the latter must be dumped — and this is especially true when it comes to the self-professed "pragmatists" in the Obama White House. So forget all the campaign promises, the words that thrilled the antiwar movement as Obama moved to take the nomination and then the White House: all of this is just so much baggage waiting to be thrown overboard.
In a democracy, where elections are held periodically, the chief executive must answer to the public, at least in theory. In practice, however, it often doesn’t work out that way, and this is especially true when it comes to foreign policy issues. In America, you see, we have only two legal political parties. The others, the so-called third parties, are quasi-legal in that they do not have ballot status and — just ask Ralph Nader — they can be kicked off the ballot if enough lawyers can be paid to continually harass them via the courts. This is all quite aside from the machinations of partisan election officials. If the War Party controls both parties, then the people can never vote against war and for peace: the interventionist monopoly is a function and consequence of the two-party monopoly in this country.
When it comes to the vital issue of war and peace, the vaunted partisan divide ends at the water’s edge, as the old aphorism goes. The leaders of both major parties staunchly support the Empire, differing only in how best to maintain and expand it. None question the basic assumptions of a foreign policy premised on the notion that America must intervene globally in order to ensure its own security. Which means Americans have never gotten to vote on the question of whether or not they want an empire of bases and "interests" that extend from Iraq to "American" Samoa.
Justin Raimondo [send him mail] is editorial director of Antiwar.com and is the author of An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard and Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement.