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Problems in Democracy

July 24th, 2006 (07:33 pm)

The assignment:
Paper #1: Since the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States, our country has faced the issue of how to balance national security and civil liberties. For example, critics of the USA PATRIOT Act say that civil liberties are trampled under the umbrella of national security. Supporters say the Act gives the government the authority to act in a proactive manner against those who would commit terrorist acts against the US. As the issues of national security and civil liberties are both foundations of American democracy, how does the US strike the balance?

The Response:

Democracy provides the basis for the best that can be brought out in humanity. However, there is no consensus on the definition, implementation, and maintenance of democracy and this lack of agreement leads to a consistent and constant grappling with issues of civil liberties and national security. American democracy is one that is disputed throughout many political and intellectual circles as to whether or not it is actually democratic. Thus, it is difficult if one does not believe that the United States has always worked in the democratic interest of its entire people to defend the principles and policies of national security. There has been a long history with the United States acting undemocratically which can be seen globally through imperialism and now- globalization. It can also be justified locally through historical examples of slavery, segregation, indigenous rights, and the treatment of Queer people, immigrants, women, and dissidents in the United States. It has usually been a struggle against policies of security and policing that have led to more human freedom and security- not the opposite.
However, the threat of terrorism in the United States is rampant due to the September 11th attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City and this has brought the political problem of radical reactionary Islam to the forefront of political discourse. As a response to these attacks, the PATRIOT act was established and it was marketed as a way to protect the nation from anymore attacks from radical Islamist terrorism by giving the FBI and CIA more room to do counterintelligence programs. The greatest critique of the PATRIOT act has come from leftist and libertarians because it pushes back civil liberties that make the United States a more democratic place to live than other countries. Most people have stated that there needs to be a balance between national security and civil liberties. However, given the history of the repressive and undemocratic function of the security forces in the United States, it is difficult to say that a balance should exist because of this oppressive nature of the police and intelligence institutions. Therefore, one way to acknowledge national security issues is to look at this history and look at what causes these threats. With a more holistic view of international relations with a focus on the instability that is caused by colonialism, imperialism and globalization will do wonders for security that is democratic. Thus, a rejection of new laws such as the PATRIOT act and a push for justice and civil liberties will lead to a more secure and free nation. A reliance on the CIA to protect civil liberties- or stating that a balance should exist is a naïve position at best and a dangerous one at worst.
There is plenty of evidence that many countries have been politically de-stabilized because of the systems that were set up by colonialism and this destabilization was perpetuated by security forces, which have in turn have jeopardized the security of people in the United States. Noam Chomsky, professor of linguistics at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) articulates the destruction of developing countries due to colonialism and the United States security forces in his October 18th speech at MIT titled The New War on Terror. He sites examples of “the Reagan-US war against Nicaragua which left tens of thousands of people dead, the country ruined, perhaps beyond recovery” and relates it to the CIA backed coup in Chile, the Bay of Pigs fiasco in Cuba, overthrow of the Shah in Iran, and the CIA’s involvement in Afghanistan during the 1980’s. These situations, under the guise of national security and intelligence gathering for security caused political instability and were rooted in colonialism and imperialism. Thus, with a look towards history, we can see that that PATRIOT act serves nearly the same function as the COINTELPRO during the 1970’s at home, and the political destruction of developing countries abroad. The instability caused by these interventions is rearing its ugly head and as Chomsky states “We’re seeing some of these effects now. September 11th is one.”
“It’s hard to find many rays of light [with post-September 11th policy] but one of them is that there is an increased openness” meaning that there needs to be a critical look at the CIA, FBI and the functions of imperialism that will help achieve a balance between civil liberties and security in the United States. Since the track record of intelligence and security forces has shown that it fails to provide security for its constituents and has eroded the freedoms of people all over the world, it is fair to say that the only way a balance can be achieved is through a radical change in policy. From there, the doors can be opened to a more democratic nation for the United States that is based on cooperation and respect as opposed to exploitation and destruction.

Works Cited:

Chomsky, Noam. "The New War Against Terror." Massachusetts Institute of Technology. 18102001