Like many other mainstream political commentators, Washington Post columnist Anne Applebaum is outraged and indignant over Donald Trump’s public praise and open embrace of foreign dictators who are allied or friendly with the US government. In an op-ed in the Post’s Sunday edition entitled “How Trump Makes Dictators Stronger,” Applebaum argues that Trump’s words and actions constitute a “paradigm shift” for the United States because they are now, she asserts, going to solidify pro-US dictators, justify their brutality, and reinforce their power.
That’s sheer nonsense. It’s not Trump’s words or actions that are solidifying and reinforcing the brutal, tyrannical rule of these regimes. It is US foreign aid — money and weaponry — that does that. Trump’s words and actions simply confirm the truth.
As I pointed out in last week’s article entitled “The National-Security State’s Tradition of Embracing Dictators,” the US government has been providing cash and weaponry to dictatorial regimes ever since the federal government was converted from a limited-government republic to a national-security state after World War II.
What is the purpose of such aid, which naturally comes from US taxpayers, compliments of the IRS? To help those pro-US dictatorial regimes maintain their power over their citizenry in exchange for their loyalty to the US government. The US-provided money funds the troops, intelligence agents, police, jails, and torture centers that enable the dictatorships to retain power over their citizenry. The US-provided weaponry provides the pro-US regimes with the ability to kill people who dissent or object or to take them into custody for punishment, indoctrination, torture, or execution. There is also the training that US national-security state officials provide to their counterparts in such dictatorial regimes. The School of the Americas, also known as the School of Assassins, comes to mind.
Applebaum, for example, laments Trump’s praise for and embrace of Egypt’s “brutal dictator,” Abdel Fatah al-Sissi. She points out that “Sissi has arrested tens of thousands of people, many of them tortured, many of them imprisoned for the ‘crime’ of running independent charities or organizations.”
Yet, she fails to mention something important: The US government has been providing armaments to the Egyptian military dictatorship for decades, including today. The US-provided tanks, guns, and bullets have enabled al-Sissi and his predecessors to arrest people who object to their dictatorship and jail, torture, and kill them.
While the US government provides cash and weaponry to pro-US dictatorial regimes, the president is expected to publicly maintain the façade that America stands for democracy and human rights. That way, the American people will continue to feel good about their government while the national-security establishment continues to engage in its dark-side activities.
This charade naturally entails the president being the nation’s liar in chief. For example, in 1960 the Pentagon and the CIA were spying on Russia by sending a U-2 spy plane over the country. The flight was secret and illegal. The Soviets, however, discovered it and shot down the plane.
The Pentagon and the CIA prevailed on President Eisenhower to become a liar-in-chief. Ike announced to the world that the flight was not a spy plane. Eisenhower’s ambassador to the United Nations, Adlai Stevenson, angrily denied to the world body that it was a spy plane.
Ike, the Pentagon, and the CIA were certain that their lie would not be uncovered because the Pentagon and the CIA had provided the U-2 pilot, Francis Gary Powers, with a suicide capsule that he was expected to swallow rather than let himself be captured and be forced to disclose national-security secrets to the “enemy.”
Unbeknownst to Ike, the Pentagon, and the CIA, however, Powers had decided that he wasn’t ready to die for the national-security state and its secrets. He parachuted out of the plane and was secretly taken into custody by Soviet national-security state officials. After Ike, Stevenson, and the US national-security establishment angrily and indignantly denied that the US government was illegally spying on Russia, the Soviet communists presented Powers to the world. He refused to lie about his mission, and his revelations disclosed that the US president and his national-security team were the liars.
While Ike was still president, the CIA came up with a plan for regime-change in Cuba that entailed an invasion of the island by CIA-trained Cuban exiles. Since the plan wasn’t ready for execution by the time Eisenhower left office, the CIA presented the plan to the newly elected president, John F. Kennedy. The plan called for the United States to falsely deny that it was involved in the operation. Kennedy’s job, therefore, was to become the nation’s liar-in-chief shortly after he became president. He was supposed to lie to the American people and the world about the US government’s involvement in the operation.
Even before those two episodes, lies by the national security establishment formed the basis for one of the most important cases in the history of the US Supreme Court, US v. Reynolds, where the Court in 1953 acceded to demands by the Pentagon to create a state-secrets doctrine. Ordinarily, when a democratic nation adopts such a doctrine, it is done through the legislature, presumably after public discussion and debate. Not here. US officials told the Court that the Reynolds case involved secrets that, if disclosed, would threaten “national security.” The Court went along, judicially created the doctrine, and protected the secrets.
Many years later, it was discovered that the Pentagon had knowingly lied about the matter. The real reason for not wanting to disclose the secrets had nothing to do with “national security” and everything to do with covering up corruption and malfeasance. Nevertheless, in an implicit acknowledgement of the power and influence of the national-security branch of the federal government, the Court has never reversed the Reynolds case notwithstanding the fact that its original decision was based on Pentagon lies.
In 1975, the director of the CIA, Richard Helms, lied to Congress about CIA involvement in Chile that ultimately succeeded in ousting the democratically elected president of the country from office and installing in his stead one of the world’s most brutal and tyrannical dictatorships, one very similar to the military dictatorship in Egypt today. After a federal court gave Helms a misdemeanor slap on the wrist for what was clearly felony perjury, the CIA celebrated his lies upon his return to CIA headquarters. CIA agents considered Helms’s lying to be heroic and patriotic because it attempted to protect national-security secrets, specifically the illegal and unconstitutional interference in the political affairs of Chile.
In 2013, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper Jr. lied to Congress under oath about the NSA’s illegal surveillance schemes. He has never been indicted and instead has been treated as a patriot and a hero.
Lying has always formed the core of the US national-security state. That’s why the mainstream press is so angry at Trump. He’s not playing the game. He’s not lying about US support of dictatorships. He’s not engaging in the charade of supporting democracy and human rights while providing dictatorships with money and armaments to enable them to continue oppressing their citizenry. With his praise and embrace of pro-US dictators, Trump is just confirming the truth about this particular dark aspect of the US national-security state.
Reprinted with permission from the Future of Freedom Foundation.