The Peril of Unrestrained Executive Power; the Defining Moment for Climate Change Has Come and Gone, Again

Article excerpt

Byline: Ted Galen Carpenter - Special to The Washington Times


In "The Shock and Awing of America," author Ximena Ortiz argues that the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks "made a direct hit on the country's collective psyche" and that they still "carry a strong, damaging resonance."

Miss Ortiz contends that a severely traumatized society has reacted with counterproductive, and at times disastrous, policies. Indeed, measures that officials and members of the opinion-shaping elite adopted have led to major missteps in both the international and domestic arenas. The consequences of those blunders may plague the American republic for decades to come.

Miss Ortiz makes the provocative assertion that the aftermath of Sept. 11 has even caused the United States to resemble some of the chronically dysfunctional political, economic and social systems in the Third World. Manifestations include acute fiscal irresponsibility, an unhealthy drift toward unrestrained executive power, growing violations of civil liberties and foreign-policy jingoism -- all in the name of preserving national security.

By debasing American values in that fashion, she argues, U.S. leaders have responded in precisely the way that radical Islamic terrorists intended.

It is a troubling indictment, made all the more credible because the author is not a leftist basher of all things American. Miss Ortiz comes from the conservative side of the political spectrum, having served as an editorial writer for The Washington Times and executive editor of the respected foreign-policy journal The National Interest. Her arguments, therefore, deserve to be taken seriously.

Much of her evidence is very hard to dispute. Only the most perpetually optimistic types can regard the military interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan as even remotely successful. In the former case, Washington sacrificed more than $850 billion and 4,400 American lives to replace a staunchly anti-Iranian Sunni dictator with a generally pro-Iranian Shiite autocrat. Post-Saddam Iraq is a maelstrom of fighting between sectarian factions that has caused the country to be on the brink of civil war and fragmentation.

The outcome in Afghanistan is scarcely better. The corrupt, often ineffectual, rule of President Hamid Karzai has made a mockery of U.S. nation-building objectives. As in Iraq, the United States spent a great amount of blood and treasure, only to experience never-ending frustration.

Miss Ortiz also makes a powerful case that what President Dwight Eisenhower termed "the military-industrial complex" exploited the Sept. 11 attacks to advance its political and budgetary agendas. She notes that "America dramatically outspends other rich countries on defense even when measured as a percentage of their wealth."

Moreover, that spending has not been driven solely or even primarily by the costs associated with wars conducted in the name of combating the terrorist threat. …