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The Extra-Legal Backstop for a Dangerous President

Robert Mugabe

The military in Zimbabwe announced yesterday that it had arrested the country’s president, Robert Mugabe. While a military spokesman denied that a military takeover was underway, all signs indicate that he is lying.

The president’s whereabouts are unknown, military checkpoints have been established on streets in the capital, tanks have been seen near the capital, and the military has taken control over state television. A military spokesman warned that “any provocation will be met with an appropriate response.”

The 93-year-old Mugabe is the oldest head of state. Given that his economic philosophy is socialism; his policies have thrown the country into ever-increasing poverty. While he has been democratically elected, he has ruled Zimbabwe with an iron, dictatorial fist. He recently fired his vice president, paving the way for his wife to succeed him as president. Just a few days ago, an American woman living in the country was arrested for insulting Mugabe in a tweet and is now facing 20 years in prison for plotting to overthrow the government.

Thus, the military has stepped in to save the country from a democratically elected president whose policies, the military decided, posed a grave threat to national security.

That’s not to say, of course, that the military’s actions are legal. They are clearly illegal under Zimbabwe’ system of government. Nonetheless, when the choice was between letting the country go down and saving the country with an illegal action, the military chose the latter, which, not surprisingly, has made some Zimbabweans very happy.

People in Chile will immediately be able to relate because the same thing happened to them back in 1973. A self-avowed socialist physician named Salvador Allende had been democratically elected president of the country. Just as Mugabe’s socialist economic policies have thrown Zimbabwe into economic crisis, so had Allende’s. And just like in Zimbabwe, Chile’s national-security establishment ousted Allende in a coup, replacing him with a military regime headed by a general named Augusto Pinochet.

But Chileans aren’t the only ones who should be able to relate to what is happening in Zimbabwe. So should Americans, given the fact that their national-security establishment was the entity that instigated the coup in Chile. It was U.S. national-security state officials who convinced their Chilean counterparts that the national-security sector of a government has a moral duty to save the nation from a president whose policies are perceived to be a grave threat to national security by removing him from office, even if the removal is illegal under the country’s constitution or laws.

President Eisenhower would have been able to relate to what is going on in Zimbabwe. In his Farewell Address in 1961, he told the American people that the U.S. national-security state way of life, which Americans adopted after World War II and which Ike called “the military-industrial complex, posed a grave threat to the liberties and democratic processes of the American people. He was referring to the possibility of a coup, one by which the military and the CIA saved the country from a president whose policies were perceived to be a threat to “national security.”

President Kennedy also would have been able to relate. When asked by a friend whether there was a danger of a military coup in the United States, Kennedy said that there was such a danger if, for example, a young president made what the military and the CIA perceived to be big policy mistakes, ones that posed a grave threat to “national security.” To drive the point home, Kennedy persuaded friends in Hollywood to turn the novel Seven Days in May, which was about a domestic military coup, into a movie. Later, during the Cuban Missile Crisis, JFK’s brother Bobby told a Soviet representative that JFK was under so much pressure from the military that a coup could be imminent, especially since Kennedy favored a negotiated end to the crisis when the military and the CIA favored an invasion and bombing of Cuba.

President Truman would have been able to relate. Thirty days after the assassination of President Kennedy, an op-ed of his was published by the Washington Post which he stated that the CIA had exceeded its original intended purposes and had, as a consequence, become a sinister force in the world.

When a government becomes a national security state, as Zimbabwe, Chile, and the United States are, the military-intelligence segment of the government wields the power to oust people from public office, with impunity. When that happens, there is nothing anyone can do about it because of the overwhelming power of the military and intelligence agencies. A regime change may be illegal and unconstitutional but under a national-security state, it becomes a distinct possibility.

Jacob G. Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation.

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