The Threat from Within
Friends Committee for National Legislation
Washington Newsletter, May 2002
Through much of the Cold War, many people in the U.S., including
policy-makers, worried about the violent overthrow of the U.S.
government by communists bent on a new world order. These fears
led both to domestic repression and to extraordinary military
In the end, the U.S. democracy and capitalist economy outlived
any threat that communism may have posed. The Cold War-era damage
to U.S. society and citizens came not from without the U.S., nor
from Fifth Columnists within the U.S., but rather from forces
unleashed through the words and actions of elected officials.
Some lives were destroyed by allegations of communist leanings.
Others were damaged or destroyed by nuclear fallout or wastes,
a direct consequence of the nuclear arms race.
With the fall of the Iron Curtain, communism ceased to be
the great threat. Since September 11, terrorism has been given
Violent acts such as occurred on September 11 must be addressed.
However, it is not those acts that pose the greatest threat to
U.S. society. Rather, the threat will come - and is already coming
- from elected officials carrying out their lawful duties.
The events of September 11 did not destroy the Bill of Rights.
But the USA-Patriot Act and the continuing maneuvers of the Department
of Justice under Attorney General Ashcroft threaten to turn the
U.S. into a permanent security state.
The events of September 11, as destructive as they were, did
not constitute an act of war directed against the U.S. by another
nation. Yet, the Administration responded (with overwhelming congressional
blessing) by making war on Taliban-controlled Afghanistan in an
ill-conceived effort to stamp out terrorism.
The events of September 11 did not involve nuclear or biological
weapons, though the events did raise legitimate concerns about
possible future use of such weapons. But the Administration, with
help from many in Congress, is turning the U.S. away from international
cooperation in arms control and disarmament that could reduce
such threats. U.S. and global security are diminished as a result.
The events of September 11 did not direct the U.S. to increase
its reliance on the military. It is the Administration and its
congressional allies that have raised military spending to new
heights and that are subtly shifting responsibilities (such as
diplomacy and nation-building) from civil society to military
The events of September 11 did not damage the constitutional
system of checks and balances nor public accountability. But constitutional
protections and democratic government are under great threat from
an Administration that seeks to aggrandize power and from members
of Congress who are both reluctant to exercise legitimate oversight
and eager to strip the courts of their responsibility for oversight.
The U.S. is poised at a Rubicon and the world with it. Those
in U.S. government who press to cross the river are, like Caesar,
committed to being victorious. But Caesar recognized that failure
to conquer would mean death, for himself and all those under his
leadership. Do U.S. leaders who are so eager for U.S. military
domination recognize all that is at stake?
It is not too late to change course. The U.S. does not have
to exercise military domination of the world. U.S. civil society
and democratic government do not have to be sacrificed. The world
does not have to face the nightmare of global war with weapons
of mass destruction.
The U.S., through strong congressional action, can take the
path of multilateral cooperation and treaties to prevent or deal
with violence. Congress can authorize and fund strong national
policy for the peaceful prevention of deadly conflict. Congress
can reassert its legitimate oversight of agencies responsible
for domestic security. Congress, through the power of the purse,
can block the development of new nuclear weapons.
The greatest threat to the continued existence of a free and
democratic U.S. will not come from al Qaeda or Saddam Hussein.
Rather, it will come from U.S. leaders who are willing to sacrifice
those values to achieve other goals.