By Richard Kagan
Six years ago, I reviewed Rachel Maddow’s book, Drift, which argued that the President’s executive power has moved gradually “outside” the control of Congress. Generally, the cause for the weakness of the Congress has been laid at the internecine civil war like atmosphere of the political parties. This erosion of governance has quietly affected the military through the privatization of military contractors with enormous authority to engage the threats to our security which result in hidden costs, a lack of transparency, and limited oversight.
Rereading the book today, it appears prescient yet too mild. “Drift” is hardly an appropriate term for the erosion of public policy in the hands of a leader on the loose and his unsupervised military forces. President Trump has led the charge to refinance the military with super-sized new funds for large-scale weapons, for proposed trips to outer space, and for plans to make a spectacle of a massive and expensive military parade. The purpose of these budgets is not to engage in long-term military strategy but to enhance President Trump’s popularity. Strategically, they have had little impact on our adversaries.
In fact, Trump wants to withdraw our military from Asia, Europe, and the Middle East. His policy is to disconnect with the military forces of our allies. He arbitrarily canceled military exercises with South Korea. He also shuns the E.U. and NATO, argues for the retreat of our advisors and soldiers from Syria, and denies the threat from Russia.
The major organs of the military have been shopped out. Beginning with Erik Prince–American businessman, former U.S. navy SEAL officer, known for founding a government services and security company– there has been a proliferation of private and often secret operations in America and abroad. Prince himself has several secretive training camps for anti-terrorism in China. Veterans are involved in corporate security operations throughout the world.
The White House has initiated a wholesale change of employees and medical services in the Veterans Administration which will place it more in private hands. The new administration is being staffed by Trump loyalists and by people with less experience and professionalism than their predecessors. The Veterans are given the opportunity to receive medical care in clinics and hospitals outside the domain of the VA. This private care is not necessarily included within the guide lines of Federal regulations nor does it provide venues of public complaints and evaluations.
The President is the Commander and Chief of the Armed Forces. But the executive office has control of other agencies that possess the authority to use weapons and the right to arrest and punish civilians. A primary example of this is the Border Police along with the officers in Homeland Security, ICE, and Federal Marshalls among others. All of them can evade necessary transparency, and they have territorial jurisdiction throughout the United States.
We are now witnessing the products of this conglomeration of violent authority which is abusing immigrant families, kidnapping yet limited in returning children who are separated from their parents, holding infants, young men and women in secret prisons without any legal recourse to investigate abuse, and expending a budget of billions of dollars over which there is no public accountability.
This system and these repressive behaviors could consume investigators who are trained in the issues of crimes against humanity. We need to sensitize the public to the ingredients and enforcement of this “Drift” by an executive power unmoored from law, democracy, and our values by realizing the negative present and future consequences to our national security and way of life.
A re-edited Maddow book demands a new title to reflect these changes. Perhaps something like: Scuba Diving—Seeking a Submerged America.
Richard Kagan, Ph.D., is a regular contributor to the Asian American Press and is considered a foremost scholar on Taiwan and China. He is a professor emeritus of East Asian history at Hamline University in St. Paul, Minn.
Kagan writes a regular column for the Fergus Falls Daily Journal in Minnesota and also provides it to the Asian American Press.