Michael J. Glennon, National Security and Double Government (2015) — a Brief Review

© 2015 Peter Free


26 January 2015


Introductory observation


I have been peripherally, but closely associated with the American military for more than 20 years.


Even as a passionate defender of our troops’ interests (and those of their leaders), I have long been concerned that the Military Industrial Complex comprises an existential threat to American liberty. Professor Michael J. Glennon’s book brilliantly addresses this development in its narrower form, as comprised by the nation’s security bureaucracy.



The book review — an important question, well answered


Using President Obama’s Bush II-emulating record as a springboard, Professor Michael J. Glennon’s National Security and Double Government (2015) answers the question:



Why does national security policy remain constant even when one President is replaced by another, who as a candidate repeatedly, forcefully, and eloquently promised fundamental changes in policy? (at page 3)


This superbly executed, slim volume goes on to argue that an unaccountable, unwieldy and self-perpetuating “Trumanite” national security bureaucracy has (without malice or conspiracy) taken over the function of directing the nation.


The “Madisonian” branches of government — meaning the Presidency, Congress and Judiciary — have functionally self-demoted. Today, they serve as quasi-ritualistic camouflage for the increasingly totalitarian doings of the Trumanite security bureaucracy. Paradoxically, Madison’s institutionalized checks and balances now serve a supposedly efficient and knowledgeable bureaucracy that no one can control.


The practical result has been a government where:


(a) no one is enforceably accountable for anything


(b) the primary motive of the human cogs that make up the system is to go along to get along


(c) even when their placid acquiescence results in —


(i) furthering obviously failed plans




(ii) sabotaging rationally thought out definitions of our strategic national interest.


Not only is America becoming a totalitarian state, it is a socially and strategically inept one


The worst of both worlds. This is a book for you, if you wonder why American policy is increasingly authoritarian and self-destructively insane.



Combining brevity with cogent thinking


Professor Glennon’s concise 118 page presentation arguably cannot be improved. My intent, therefore, is to recommend the volume, not to dissect it.


This book’s style is suited to the “busy executive” mindset. Glennon is a master of incorporating brief quotations from recent and historical sources into a smoothly flowing, short narrative that never loses sight of its theme.


The book’s integrative strength comes from its facility with history, psychology, and organizational writings. The work’s literary accessibility notwithstanding, Glennon is not writing for the ignorant or thoughtless. His ably researched brevity evidently accepts (a) that any argument can be contested and (b) that an excess of detail and analytical minutiae usually leads to missing the point.


People intimately familiar with the various disciplines that Glennon draws upon will come away persuaded that his insights are on target enough to be tentatively credited with being true. Those with narrower backgrounds, less depth, or holding deep-seated emotional attachments to other points of view may not agree.



Regarding my brevity


There is almost nothing in the book’s few pages that could be edited out, without altering the substance and persuasiveness of Professor Glennon’s proofs. In consequence, I content myself with quoting a few extracts that illustrate his style.



Sample extracts


Regarding the historically recent division of American government into:


(i) a constitutionally based institutional framework




(ii) an allegedly expert, policy-implementing, and bureaucratic national security under-layer,


Glennon says that:



[James] Madison believed that dividing authority among the three branches of government would cause the members of each of the three branches to seek to expand their power but also to rebuff encroachments on their power.16 An equilibrium would result, and this balance would forestall the rise of centralized, despotic power.


Essential to the effectiveness of these checks and the maintenance of balance was civic virtue — an informed and engaged electorate.18 The virtue of the people who held office would rest on the intelligence and public-mindedness of the people who put them there. Absent civic virtue, the governmental equilibrium of power would face collapse.19


President Harry S Truman, more than any other President, is responsible for creating the nation’s “efficient”national security apparatus.20 Under him, Congress enacted the National Security Act of 1947, which unified the military under a new secretary of defense, set up the CIA, created the modern Joint Chiefs of Staff, and established the National Security Council (NSC).21


Honoring Truman’s founding role, let us substitute “Trumanite” for “efficient,” referring to the network of several hundred high-level military, intelligence, diplomatic, and law enforcement officials within the executive branch who are responsible for national security policymaking.


© 2015, Michael J. Glennon, National Security and Double Government (Oxford University Press, 2015) (at pages 12-13) (extracts, footnote numbers included for the purpose of illustrating scholarly style)


From Liberty’s standpoint, everything went to hell from after this division occurred.


Madisonian constraints on power and accountability did not work well, after establishment of the national security bureaucracy escaped even its own ability to self-control.


Arguably worse — if functioning democracy is not the issue and security competence is — is the fact that what the Trumanites spew out is not reality-oriented. Process trumps sound substance in most instances:



The Trumanite network is as little inclined to stake out new policies as it is to abandon old ones. The Trumanites’ grund-norm is stability, and their ultimate objective is preservation of the status quo. The status quo embraces not only American power but the Trumanites’ own careers, which are steadily elevated by the conveyer belt on which they sit.


Preoccupied as they are with cascading crises, swamped with memos and email and overwhelmed with meetings, Trumanites have not time to re-examine the cosmological premises on which policy is based.109 Their business is reacting, day and night.


Trumanites are therefore, above all, team players. They are disinclined to disagree openly.


The Trumanites’ commitment is therefore to process rather than outcome.


© 2015, Michael J. Glennon, National Security and Double Government (Oxford University Press, 2015) (at pages 25-27) (extracts)


Professor Glennon goes on to show, in persuasive detail, how and why the Madisonian branches have individually ceded meaningful control of policy-making and policy-implementation to the Trumanite cog people.




As a former state assistant attorney general and constitutionally knowledgeable lawyer, I have been particularly upset by the Judiciary’s capitulation to the Trumanite component of government.


This development, Glennon accurately says, is due to the Presidency’s population of involved federal courts, including the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISA court), with former prosecutors and members of (what I call) the Right Wing’s foam-at-the-mouth legal brigade. Totalitarians (or at least monarchists) in disguise.


Professor Glennon concludes that the Trumanite network continues to camouflage itself behind the illusory and now ritualistic rectitude of Madison’s three branches of government:



Enough examples exist to persuade the public that the [Trumanite] network is subject to judicial, legislative, and executive constraints. This appearance is important to its operation, for the network derives legitimacy from the ostensible authority of the public, constitutional branches of government.


The appearance of accountability is, however, largely an illusion fostered by those institutions’ pedigree, ritual, intelligibility, mystery, and superficial harmony with the network’s ambitions.


The courts, Congress, and even the President in reality impose little constraint. Judicial review is negligible, congressional oversight dysfunctional, and presidential control nominal.


© 2015, Michael J. Glennon, National Security and Double Government (Oxford University Press, 2015) (at page 114) (paragraph split)


The anti-democratic trend in this development is clear:




The risk . . . is the risk of slowly tightening centralize power, growing and evolving organically beyond public view, increasing unresponsive to Madisonian checks and balances.19


A want of civic virtue, in the form of political ignorance, amplifies that risk.


“If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization,” Thomas Jefferson wrote, “it expects what never was and never will be.”22


What form of government ultimately will emerge from the United States’ experiment with double government is uncertain. The risk is considerable, however, that it will not be a democracy.


The Trumanite network holds, in short, the power of irreversibility. No democracy worthy of its name can permit that power to escape control of the people.


© 2015, Michael J. Glennon, National Security and Double Government (Oxford University Press, 2015) (at pages 116-118) (extracts)




What is to be done about the emerging Trumanite Autocracy?


Glennon does not address a solution, except by implication. Either “We the People” have to get off our behinds, educate ourselves, and take back our government — or — Liberty is going to piss itself away in a long series of overlooked and irrecoverable dribbles.


My view, sadly, is that the United States probably has passed the point of no return.


Our population is more ignorant, apathetic, self-destructively arrogant (when it comes to foreign peoples and their experiences) — and probably more reflexively afraid of external threats — than those in other currently successful Western democracies. Nothing in this list of national character traits argues in favor the development of an anti-totalitarian political wave, comprised of the blooming American civic virtue that Madison and Friends counted upon.


There is another consideration that I repeatedly raise among this website’s pages. The Military Industrial Complex, which includes the Trumanite network, spreads invisibly (and indivisibly) out into the rest of American society. Given the Complex’s reach and ability to profit us individually, many of us tolerate and even advance its liberty-reducing penchants.


In our love for self-advancement and self-enrichment, we are no different than those, who cooperate with each other in the inextricably tangled Madisonian-Trumanite webs.



Book’s footnotes — another strength


Though transparent and easy to follow for lay readers, National Security and Double Government also serves as a scholar’s book. Glennon’s (legal style) footnotes are numerous, conscientiously cited and helpfully detailed. They serve as a rewarding list for further reading.


In short, Professor Glennon and Oxford University Press did the time-consuming tracking and layout work that virtually every other author and publisher seeks to avoid. Superscripted footnote numbers in the main text denote which thought is being sourced. The back of the volume contains the pertinent citation and accompanying thoughts, both referenced to the main text by footnote number and book page.



The moral? — A genuinely important book


National Security and Double Government is a must read for anyone concerned about the causes of the United States’ destructive strategic directions and collapsing democracy.


The fact that (as of this writing) only 16 Amazon.com readers have reviewed this very short work evidences the frequent allegation that the American public is too apathetic to tie its own Liberty Shoes.


Brilliant acuity is usually not treasured Stateside. Were the nation’s Founders to show up today, I am reasonably sure that their aspiring intelligences would be shouted down by dominating choruses of vacuous, but popular Ignorami. Which, in a sense, is Michael Glennon’s (apparently lonely) point about civic virtue.