A former West Point instructor who has called for American critics of the “war on terror” to be imprisoned or executed as traitors suggests that the U.S. military would be hailed as the “constitutional and political savior” of the country if it overthrew the civilian government – and a surprisingly large number of Americans may agree with him.
Legal scholar William C. Bradford, who was forced to resign from his position as an instructor of law at West Point in August, has privately circulated a draft of an unpublished law review article entitled “Alea Iacta Est: The U.S. Coup of 2017.” An abstract of that essay posted to Bradford’s LinkedIn page adumbrates a scenario in which a U.S. president – presumably, Barack Obama – becomes an undisguised “tyrant” who must be replaced by a military junta.
“What if the American people were to elect a president who want[s] to destroy the nation and works to create division among the people, encourage a culture of ridicule for basic morality and the principles that made and sustained the country, undermine the financial stability of the nation, and weaken and destroy the military?” Bradford writes. “What remedies, if any, did the Framers commend to us in the event a tyrant should every assume the presidency? Do the people have the right to resist a tyrant, and does that really hold any prospect of success without the support of the military? Does the U.S. military have the right or even the duty to intervene in the domestic politics of the United States as constitutional and political savior when the times require it, and who makes that determination?… Is such a duty incumbent upon the U.S. Armed Forces at present?”(Emphasis added.)
The title of Bradford’s essay might be an allusion to a previous treatment of a similar theme:
Brig. Gen. Charles J. Dunlap’s essay “The Origins of the American Military Coup of 2012,” which was published in the Winter 1992—93 issue of the U.S. Army War College journal Parameters. Where Bradford appears to believe that a coup might be a “duty” incumbent on the military, Gen. Dunlap – writing from a constitutionalist, rather than praetorian, perspective – was clearly alarmed by what he saw as an entirely plausible scenario.
Dunlap used the literary device of a smuggled prison letter composed by “Prisoner 222305759,” condemned to death for “treason” by military ruler Gen. E.T. Brutus. Following a series of military disasters overseas and domestic crises at home, Brutus, acting on concerns very similar to those spelled out by Bradford (or, for that matter, described in Robert Heinlein’s premonitory novel Starship Troopers), staged a coup in the name of protecting “public order” from the corruption of the political class.
In the decades leading up to the putsch, the unnamed Prisoner recalled, “The one institution of government in which people retained faith was the military.” Even as the public lamented the corruption and profligacy of Big Government, they had nothing but bottomless respect for the Regime’s chief instrument of death and property destruction. The military retained its prestige in spite of the fact that its structural defects — made painfully visible by a long, bloody, and futile war in the Gulf — left it “unfit to engage an authentic military opponent.”
While the military was no longer well-suited to fight and win wars, its subtle integration into every element of domestic life made it perfectly suited to carry out a coup:
“Eventually, people became acclimated to seeing uniformed military personnel patrolling their neighborhood. Now [meaning 2012 in the essay’s timeline] troops are an adjunct to almost all police forces in the country. In many of the areas where much of our burgeoning population of elderly Americans live — [military dictator] Brutus calls them ‘National Security Zones’ — the military is often the only law enforcement agency. Consequently, the military was ideally positioned in thousands of communities to support the coup.”
Although 2012 passed without an overt military takeover, Dunlap’s projection of trends – especially the disastrous long-term military entanglement in the Middle East, the expanding role of the Pentagon in routine domestic law enforcement, and the pervasive cultural presence of the military in everyday American life — has proven to be uncannily prescient. The same is true of the apparently inexhaustible respect and public deference enjoyed by the military, despite widespread and deepening disillusionment with nearly every other branch of government.
A recent YouGov survey of 1000 people posed the question: “Is there any situation in which you could imagine yourself supporting the U.S. military taking over the powers of [the] federal government?” Nearly one-third of the respondents – thirty percent – answered in the affirmative, with 43 percent of Republicans (as opposed to twenty percent of Democrats) endorsing undisguised military rule.
The poll also found that a substantially higher percentage of respondents (70 percent) believed that military officers want what’s best for the country than police officers (55 percent). This result is broadly reminiscent of public opinion in Egypt during the 2011 uprising that overthrew long-ruling U.S. puppet dictator Hosni Mubarak – and eventually resulted in the installation of a brutal military-led junta ruled by General Abdel al-Sisi. The impenitent corruption and relentless brutality of the Egyptian police led many of that country’s citizens to believe, in the words of protester Mustafa Abdel Wahab, that “The army is all good men by the police, every policeman is bad.”
As the protests spread, observed Steve Coll of The New Yorker, reports proliferated “that protesters are relieved to see the Army in the streets; no doubt, as in many other like countries, the Army has more credibility than the corrupt and often torture-prone police.”
What Egyptians tragically failed to understand – and what many Americans, who have less excuse, are forgetting – is that the police and army are what Alexander Hamilton called “correspondent appendages of military establishments.” In the Federalist, essay number eight, Hamilton, who was no light touch when it came to the exercise of executive power, warned that military bodies (which include police agencies) “have a tendency to destroy … civil and political rights.”
Decades of “emergency” rule in Egypt destroyed whatever trivial substantive differences may once have separated the police from the military, and when the former were discredited a desperate public was manipulated into embracing the latter as “saviors in uniform.”
Although the privations and abuses experienced by Americans have not generally been as severe as those inflicted on the long-suffering subjects of Egypt’s police state, the country has endured a variant of emergency rule since creation of the national security state in 1946 – which was radically deepened and expanded after the incident that should be memorialized as Government Failure Day, September 11, 2001. A crisis of similar magnitude could very easily lead to the consummation of the military coup Gen. Dunlap dreaded, and William C. Bradford eagerly awaits.