Resurgence of the Warfare State: The Crisis Since 9/11
The government's entitlement program
By Steven Martinovich
The terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001 may have ushered in a new era and style of war for Americans but for the American government it was the resumption of business as usual. As with virtually every war the United States has fought, government has used the war against terrorism as a pretext to grow itself. And thanks to the opportunity the war provided, Americans are paying in blood, treasure and civil liberties for the Bush administration to wage open and perpetual war.
So a collection of essays by Robert Higgs in Resurgence of the Warfare State: The Crisis Since 9/11 argues. Representing the libertarian tradition in American politics, Higgs -- a senior fellow at the Independent Institute -- views the Bush administration in nothing less than apocalyptic terms. He accuses the administration of radically expanding the size of government, killing innocent Afghanis and Iraqis, manipulated Americans into unnecessary conflict and threatening the liberties of Americans. It is a blistering assault that leaves few stones unturned in building Higgs' case.
Resurgence of the Warfare State is divided into several sections in which his essays are chronologically arranged, tackling topics like growth in government, domestic security, the arguments used to justify war in Afghanistan and Iraq, the administration's foreign policy and the philosophy that underpins its world view, among others. Often Higgs builds an impressive case, such as detailing the incredible rise in federal spending since the attacks, including a Department of Defense that is now flush with money. Higgs becomes most passionate when he attacks what he refers to as the propaganda war the Bush administration engages.
"If George Orwell were alive today … he would surely have plenty of fresh raw material for his continuing analysis of Newspeak. To listen to political leaders' pronouncements at any time requires a strong stomach, but during the past four years the challenge has often been greater than I could bear. How anyone can actually admire these people surpasses my powers of comprehension."
Referring to Bush's foreign policy as "crackpot realism," he spends his time comparing the Kennedy and Bush administrations (it goes without saying that Higgs is a fan of neither) and declaring that the president's policies clash with historical reality. In keeping with that theme, Higgs also points out that American presidents have a long tradition of 'duplicity' when it comes to promises about war. Although he occasionally goes too far out on the branch -- a chapter asking whether Bush was "unhinged" being a prime example -- Higgs makes some very compelling arguments.
One can hardly doubt the validity of Higgs' arguments, that war is essentially a giant entitlement program for government. As he ably shows, war doesn't grow the economy -- as commonly held -- rather it grows government. Since September 11, 2001, the size and power of the American government has increased enormously as politicians use it as justification for hundreds of new spending programs, regardless of their applicability in the war against terrorism. And whether legislation like the USA PATRIOT Act has been abused, the fact that it can be should worry Americans of every political stripe.
Unfortunately Resurgence of the Warfare State ultimately fails as a critique because Higgs spent virtually all of his time raging against the Bush administration but offered little in the way of alternate solutions. As an example, Higgs was opposed to the war in Afghanistan -- repeatedly describing it as a war against civilians -- but not once does he unveil what his response to September 11, 2001 would have been. Serving as a member of the loyal opposition is a noble role to play in a democracy but at some point you have to stop criticizing and start offering specific alternatives.
For most that will justifiably be a deal breaker but undoubtedly many libertarians, liberals and paleo-conservatives will overlook that flaw in favour of the message that Resurgence of the Warfare State advances. That said, Higgs is certainly correct when he warns us to be careful of the motives of those who would push their nations into war. While the war against terrorism is being fought for mostly noble goals, there are those who are taking advantage of the current climate. If Higgs' book reminds us to be wary, it can at least be considered a success on that ground alone.
Steven Martinovich is a freelance writer in Sudbury, Ontario, Canada.
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