23 04 2012


Problems have transformed the conceptual framework of the USA

For the most part of the twentieth century, the USA was a great, rich, happy nation. People were well off, free and had great confidence. Large cars, tall buildings and large steaks summed it all up. The crisis has severely tested the USA. With the crisis, the UA has changed a lot.

For this reason the “American dream” is no longer a phrase one hears often. The USA increasingly looks like a strong state whose glory days are in the past and which has entered a period of decline. There are also less visible developments which run in parallel and which actually deserve the attention of the whole world.

Executive Orders

On the 16th of March 2012, US President Obama has signed an executive order. We may view executive orders as presidential orders. Before concentrating on this particular executive order, we should take a look at the meaning and significance of this type of document.

The executive order has been used by the US administration since 17789. The executive order is not based on the Constitution or federal law. The presidential executive order is binding on the entire federal state with all its institutions of the executive branch.

Presidents sign an executive order for a number of purposes. In part the executive order allows the president to carry out the regulation deemed fit as part of the freedom of action given to the president by federal law.  Other executive orders have to do with security, defence and internal security. The executive order is often confused with the presidential proclamation, which is usually on foreign policy. Although executive orders and presidential proclamations are technically distinct, their effect on the USA and on the world is much the same.

Until the beginning of the 20th century, executive orders concerned only the internal workings of federal bodies and domestic policy, were unofficial and undocumented. Later executive orders were numbered, recorded and ordered. Today only national security directives are kept confidential or off the record.

In 1952 there was an important development regarding executive orders. The High Court ruled that the executive order signed by Harry Truman, bringing all steel plants under the control of the federal government to be invalid. This is one out of the two executive orders ever overturned. The other was about union rights and working life signed by Clinton.

In 1952 the High Court ruled that the executive orders could not implement new legislation and were bound by existing laws and constitutional clauses. Since then executive orders also state the laws on which they are based.

The Congress has two ways in which it can prevent executive orders from coming into effect. It may refuse to ratify the necessary budget, or it may pass a new law rendering the relevant executive order invalid. However, since the president holds a veto, the second option could lead to a number of complications.

Executive orders do not need to be ratified by Congress. It is therefore an often criticised practice. For example executive order 9066 signed by F.D. Roosevelt gave the army the power to remove civilian groups from civilian areas. Based on this document 11,000 US citizens of German origin and many of Japanese origin were held in internment camps on the west coast throughout the Second World War.

The deployment of US troops on the military operation in Kosovo in 1999 was through an executive order of President Clinton. The framework in which the UA takes up terrorism since September the 11th, 2001 has been determined by executive order 13224.

Obama’s Executive Order

On the 16th of March 2011, President Obama has signed executive order 13603. The executive order which was announced on the 22nd of March is titled “National Defense Resources Preparedness”.

The said document openly gives the president the power to take over all the resources in the country “in support of the defence of the country”. The institutions which are authorised for the said transactions and the resources they will be in charge of are as follows:

-Department of Food and Agriculture; facilities for food, husbandry, veterinary services and agricultural resources.

-Department of Energy: All relevant to energy.

-Department of Health: All relevant to healthcare.

-Department of Transport: All relevant to civilian transportation.

-Department of Defence: All water resources.

-Department of Trade: All material, services, facilities and especially construction material.

Although it has been said that this authorisation is intended to procure the resources the military will need for national defence, one should nevertheless be careful in interpreting the emerging view.

The fields of energy, healthcare, transportation and construction meet the eye as standard requirements of every period of mobilisation and preparation for war.

Parallel History

The USA had undertaken some preparation before the Iraq War, but nothing so comprehensive had been observed. The last time the USA resorted to similar measures was during the Korean War.

The Defense Production Act of the 8th of September 1950 contains regulation for “large scale civilian defence and mobilisation in the context of the Cold War”. According to act, the president has the authority to sign the contracts and give the orders necessary for national defence. Furthermore, the president has the power to order the procurement or the requisition of the materials, services and facilities necessary for national defence. So much so that the law gives the president authority on all matters such as the provision of production and raw materials, wages and prices, resolution of labour disputes. With this act, the necessary mobilisation structure was set up during the Cold War. It can be seen that Obama’s executive order bears traces of this act.

The USA in Increasing Axial Shift

Executive orders are a critical issue. Although the US system may contain strong balances and brakes, one cannot foresee all the possibilities opened up under crisis conditions and in extraordinary phases.       

Of course no one expects US military police to travel up and down the Mid West, requisitioning bales of wheat and crates of eggs. Nevertheless there must be some way to explain and interpret this development and there are not many options. There is only half a year to go until the presidential elections. Whatever it is that will happen and why, it seems likely to happen in the coming period.

First Afghanistan and Iraq were freed and now there are others in line to be freed. While dictatorships await toppling and nations wait to take up their respectful positions within the world states systematic and the international community, there are other things going on.

“Free America” has taken a different turn. Following the terrorist attacks of September 2011 and the resulting anxiety, fear, perceived threats and the wars may have partially subsided, but they are not over. With the lessons of September the 11th period learned, the USA has a stricter view of security compared to previous periods.

In other words, security issues are ascendant in this period. For the USA freedoms and democracy are still in the shadow of security risks.

With the said executive order, state authority has been taken a step further and rendered sovereign over the entire chain of production and consumption in the USA, where security still has priority over individual rights and freedoms.

The administration which has not saved the people losing their hoes but the banks which left them homeless and which dished out conjectural packages to pay bonuses to bank executives is now taking its next step.

The executive order in question could degenerate the functioning, natural rhythm and the structure of the economy. Furthermore, this interventionism may be carried out not in the interests of the public or the individual but for the benefit of lobbies and sectors.

Executive order 13603 contains a very important detail. The implementation of the executive order will be carried out in cooperation by the National Security Council, the Homeland Security Council and the National Economic Council. The Secretary of Homeland Security is tasked with advising the president on preparation of national defence resources, to deal with relevant institutions and functions, coordinating planning and reporting to the president.

Therefore the National Security Council, the Homeland Security Council and the National Economic Council have come to the fore within the US executive system as a troika. To this must be added the Secretary of Homeland Defence. Therefore one can expect a new structure and conjecture to emerge.

How should one assess all of this? It is farfetched to think that the USA is undertaking such planning for a small war or an indirect intervention. A blockade of Iran and of the Strait of Hormuz and a multi-dimensional war in the Middle are likely possibilities which spring to mind.

The world economy has always exited major crises with major wars. At a time in which the world economy is on the threshold of a heavy recession and when discussion turns on the possibility of consecutive state bankruptcies in Europe, “anything might happen”.

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