For more thoughts on the absurd reality that is Democracy and Military activities, one need look no further than presidential hopefuls.
Take, for a moment, these two assumptions: that a large part of military intelligence is secret, or at least not widely distributed to the public. The Executive chooses which parts to declassify or publicize whenever they see fit. Secondly, also assume the Executive isn’t operated by trustworthy or completely truthful actors.
How does one operate in this scenario? Well, obviously in any case where the government is deceitful the populous has few tools for discovering and correcting fraud. The Executive must still at least reveal enough information to Congress to persuade them that military action is justified, but can purposefully withhold crucial information about damning evidence that might persuade Congress otherwise. At the very least, the evidence might interest the Congress to pressure the Executive for more information, prying at the deceit. This is the only form of checks and balances that the Congress has against untruthful Executive actors, even if ultimately Congress controls the military budget. In essence, the Executive has few incentives to release information. While Congress can pressure for more information than readily provided, one must first know to ask in the first place.
This has some troubling conclusions. The Executive, withholding any and all information until asked, can act normally by classifying any event, no matter how crucial to the public it may be to discover, as secret. This goes unsuspected, because everything else is classified anyway. With so much classified, the extraordinary is buried beneath the mundane.
And this is where it starts to become interesting. How do those outside of the Executive make promises to Citizens about their intended Executive path for Military Actions, if they themselves are ill-informed? How do the Citizens themselves even know to question the modus operandi if there is no evidence anywhere to suggest its wrong? More plainly, there is no way Presedential hopefuls can ever possibly know the “real” situation with regards to foreign affairs. They can’t campaign effectively, and they certainly can’t campaign truthfully.
But this isn’t the most interesting aspect. What happens when the Executive, as it has extensive sway over public opinion itself, regularly uses propaganda (misdirection, purposeful omitting of crucial information, etc) to confuse the topic? Then the only thing the hopefuls can campaign on is the propaganda, as that is all the public knows, and that is likely all they themselves know. Its terrifying. Congress itself also becomes a willing participant to the Executive’s propaganda apparatus, increasingly so because the President increasingly is revered as a Popular Tyrant, which I have written about many times before. Both Presidential hopefuls and Congress are made inert for enforcing checks and balances. The propaganda is indistinguishable from fact. And as the chorus grows louder, contrarian narratives are rejected, as “how could everyone be wrong”? gains strength with each unwitting participant.
Assuming more generously that the Executive shares more intimate details of military intelligence with Congress, means that only those already in Congress know enough to make informed decisions, but not anyone who wants to join Congress. This creates a kind of Plutocracy/Aristocracy.
Which brings us to the paradox at hand: War is inherently undemocratic. But the most surprising facet of all this is how war itself undoes Democracy. It usurps the Democratic process in favor of Executive Action, and Executive “truth” over Congressional oversight. It brings more validity and power to a singular position without a robust and effective checks and balances system to prevent abuse.
There are, of course, supposed to be many stop-gaps: Congress should vote on military spending fully informed. Congress can ask for details, and can force the Executive to produce those documents. It can write into law demanding information be made public. It can withhold spending unless a clear declaration of war is made, with purposeful and directed intent.
But, you can see where this is going. Suddenly, the War aspect is undermined. With less control over information, and more scrutiny, or one might even say more “Democracy”, decisions are made slower. Less units deployed, less flexibility, more debating on worthwhile targets, more leaks of information on enemy intel.
The question I leave you, the reader, is how much are you willing to let the Executive keep secret? Are you really sure you are informed on the topic? Do you know what is actually true, vs what the Executive wants you to think is true (despite perhaps their potentially good intentions)? And why should you trust anyone running for the Executive office to know anything about the correct military activities? Your own viewpoint is formed entirely out of what the Executive wants you to hear, plus what Congress forces out of them, but minus whatever news source you subscribe to. You can’t actually get “front line” accounts, because even those are reliant on Executive approval for major news outlets. Even in the best-case, where the Executive doesn’t or hasn’t abused its position, do you appreciate the damage that can be wrought by a single bad actor sitting in the Executive, including those who aspire to its office?
Wars leave far more collateral damage to nations than just the parts that are bombed.
More in This SeriesDecontructing the Executive Branch
Wars Undermine Democracy