That’s the question Michael J. Glennon asks in his book “National Security and Double Government.”
His answer: national security policy is determined largely by “the several hundred managers of the military, intelligence, diplomatic, and law enforcement agencies who are responsible for protecting the nation and who have come to operate largely immune from constitutional and electoral restraints.” The president, congress and the courts play largely a symbolic role in national security policy, Glennon claims.
You can read a Harvard National Security Journal article that outlines Glennon’s argument at this link: http://harvardnsj.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/Glennon-Final.pdf. The paper is not an especially easy read, but I found it to be well researched and – for me – persuasive.
His book adds more analysis to the argument, using (from Graham Allison’s Essence of Decision) the rational actor model, the government politics model, and the organizational behavior model. Glennon extends that framework by discussing culture, networks, and the myth of alternative competing hypotheses. The book is richer, in my opinion. But the core of Glennon’s position is in the paper.
This link takes you to a video of Glennon talking about his book at the Cato Institute: http://www.cato.org/events/national-security-double-government (the talk starts at the 5:20 mark).
From the Cato site:
In National Security and Double Government, Michael Glennon examines the continuity in U.S. national security policy from the Bush administration to the Obama administration. Glennon explains the lack of change by pointing to the enervation of America’s “Madisonian institutions,” namely, the Congress, the presidency, and the courts. In Glennon’s view, these institutions have been supplanted by a “Trumanite network” of bureaucrats who make up the permanent national security state. National security policymaking has been removed from public view and largely insulated from law and politics. Glennon warns that leaving security policy in the hands of the Trumanite network threatens Americans’ liberties and the republican form of government.
Some blurb reviews:
“If constitutional government is to endure in the United States, Americans must confront the fundamental challenges presented by this chilling analysis of the national security state.”
“Glennon shows how the underlying national security bureaucracy in Washington – what might be called the deep state – ensures that presidents and their successors act on the world stage like Tweedledee and Tweedledum.”
John J. Mearsheimer
“National Security and Double Government is brilliant, deep, sad, and vastly learned across multiple fields–a work of Weberian power and stature. It deserves to be read and discussed. The book raises philosophical questions in the public sphere in a way not seen at least since Fukuyama’s end of history.”
David A. Westbrook
“In our faux democracy, those we elect to govern serve largely ornamental purposes, while those who actually wield power, especially in the realm of national security, do so chiefly with an eye toward preserving their status and prerogatives. Read this incisive and richly documented book, and you’ll understand why.”
Andrew J. Bacevich
“…Michael Glennon provides a compelling argument that America’s national security policy is growing outside the bounds of existing government institutions. This is at once a constitutional challenge, but is also a case study in how national security can change government institutions, create new ones, and, in effect, stand-up a parallel state….”
“Instead of being responsive to citizens or subject to effective checks and balances, U.S. national security policy is in fact conducted by a shadow government of bureaucrats and a supporting network of think tanks, media insiders, and ambitious policy wonks. Presidents may come and go, but the permanent national security establishment inevitably defeats their efforts to chart a new course….”
Stephen M. Walt, Robert and Renee Belfer
I’ve spoken to three people I consider to be members of the “shadow national security state.” One person said Glennon’s argument is nothing new. The second told me he’s got it exactly right. The third said it’s even worse.