One Percent 2.0
Author: Brendan Chrzanowski, 2019.
“Save for the occasional discussion regarding the abuses of the GWOT, such as torture, invasion of privacy, and extraordinary rendition, there is little substantive dialogue concerning the Doctrine (Herman). Nevertheless, it appears as though the “1%” policy, or something similar, retains relevance when considering the present national security environment…”
Image from Wikimedia Commons.
During a November 2001 national security meeting, then-Vice President Dick Cheney was briefed on intelligence purporting relations between Pakistani nuclear scientists and Al Qaeda’s Osama bin Laden. Cheney interjected that should there be even a 1% chance of nuclear technology falling into the hands of America’s premier jihadist foe, the U.S. national security apparatus was obligated to respond. Five years later, journalist Ron Suskind published The One Percent Doctrine, in which Suskind recounted the 2001 meeting, and deemed Cheney’s policy of responding to “low probability, high impact” threats as the One Percent Doctrine. Such threats were to be acted upon as if they were certain to occur. As Suskind elucidates, the Doctrine is focused on perception-based response rather than evidence or analysis, and became the defining feature of the Bush administration’s so-called Global War on Terror (GWOT) [Gross & Suskind]. The book received favorable reviews, and helped shed some light onto the GWOT’s inner machinations (Kakutani).
The One Percent Doctrine, or the Cheney Doctrine as it is sometimes called, is no longer referred to as frequently as it was throughout the 2000s. Save for the occasional discussion regarding the abuses of the GWOT, such as torture, invasion of privacy, and extraordinary rendition, there is little substantive dialogue concerning the Doctrine (Herman). Nevertheless, it appears as though the “1%” policy, or something similar, retains relevance when considering the present national security environment. There are three forms by which the Cheney Doctrine extends to, and is selectively employed by, the current U.S. presidential administration. The first contemporary use of the Doctrine is in the form of political abuse, which has primarily manifested in response to the supposed threat posed by migration. Secondly, there is the misapplication of the Doctrine wherein a legitimate, moderately-probable threat is treated as if it were existential, namely Iran. Finally, there is the complete absence of the Doctrine in the face of a distinctly-probable, existential threat – climate change.
The following paper seeks to explore how the One Percent Doctrine is being abused, misapplied, or is entirely absent from the present-day U.S. national security theatre. The paper is organized as follows: first, relevant terms are defined; next, the three modern variations of The Doctrine are discussed; and finally, the paper concludes with both a summation and recommendation for how the One Percent Doctrine may be utilized in the future.
To begin with, several key terms necessitate defining. Chief among these is the Doctrine itself. Dick Cheney is quoted, by Suskind’s source (likely former CIA director George Tenet), as having said, “if there is even a one percent chance [that a threat is real] we have to treat it as a certainty in terms of our response” (“The One Percent Doctrine”). Thus, the One Percent Doctrine is defined here as a national security policy whereby the corresponding national security community acts upon every perceivable threat, no matter the improbability. Here, it is important to note that this paper is concerned solely with Americanpolicy, specifically that of the current administration.
Furthermore, national security is broadly meant to encompass the well-being of the nation’s population, economy, and way of life or institutions (Baker 16-22). Next, the national security community or, more narrowly, intelligence community, can be thought of as those agencies and departments tasked with ensuring national security, such as the Department of Defense (DOD), Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), National Security Agency (NSA), National Security Council (NSC) (ODNI). Finally, use of the word “threat” will be in reference to a person, group, or thing that is likely to cause damage or danger (Oxford Dictionary).
Traditionally, abuse of the One Percent Doctrine has been critiqued in terms of America’s controversial “War on Terror” (Parton). The implementation of the 2001 USA PATRIOT ACT, enacted in response to the September 11th terror attacks, allowed the U.S. government to largely ignore established norms and due process in the name of tracking down those responsible for the deaths of thousands of Americans, as well as potential future attackers (ACLU). Furthermore, the United States partook in objectionable techniques, such as torture, as a means for gathering intelligence on the perceived jihadist terrorist threat (ACLU 2006). Arguably, the most long-lasting effect of The Doctrine’s abuse from this time is the war in Iraq. Encouraged by many media outlets and questionable intelligence, the Bush administration apparently perceived at least a 1% chance that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and was in league with Al Qaeda, which could ultimately expose the United States to grave danger (Pan). Consequently, the U.S. invaded Iraq, found no WMDs, and waged war there for eight long years (“Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation New Dawn Fast Facts.”). Though the war ended in 2011, there are many that consider it to have directly influenced the rise of the so-called Islamic State (IS) terrorist organization, which the U.S. has now been fighting against in Iraq since 2014 (Dearden; Copp).
However, the current administration has taken commendable steps in recognizing the non-existential nature of transnational terrorism. The most recent National Security and National Defense Strategies, released in 2017 and 2018, respectively, do well in subordinating the terror threat to the genuine existential danger posed by great powers, particularly those possessing nuclear arsenals (“A New National Security Strategy for a New Era.”; Mattis; Zenko). Nevertheless, they have still abused the One Percent Doctrine in their approach to immigration policy. As Ron Suskind notes, there is nothing inherently wrong with the One Percent Doctrine (Gross & Suskind). A state could rightly have a contingency in place for each and every potentiality. With such a wide array of threats, ranging from an influenza pandemic to nuclear war, it is undoubtedly prudent to plan for each as if it were certain to occur. The way in which migration has been approached, however, is different. The response to the supposed threat posed by migrants has been maladroit and marred by innumerable levels of abuse, primarily by way of broad interpretations of executive power, which have been met with legal challenges at almost every turn (Nakamura).
From the start, this administration’s stance on migration has been a focal point of its policy initiatives (Kulish, et al.). Fear-mongering and exaggeration of the migrant threat have been liberally used as a manipulative political tool to rouse support amongst a xenophobic and anxiety-ridden voter base (Kumar). Draconian measures, with little to no basis in threat prevention, have been employed regularly since January 20, 2017. Actions that have been taken include, but are by no means limited to: blanket migration bans on entire countries, throttling refugee admissions, and, most prominently, separating and imprisoning migrant families at the Mexican border (Pierce & Selee). Aside from the inhumanity of it all, the administration’s approach to migration can be categorized as One Percent Doctrine abuse because the perception and rhetoric, like that of the Bush era, do not coincide with the facts. The following examples illustrate how the various responses employed to hedge against a supposed migration threat would be ineffectual, assuming said threat were to even exceed the 1% threshold in the first place.First and foremost, by some metrics, there is actually a lessthan one percent chance of migration representing a legitimate threat. In fact, a 2018 study in the journal Criminology found that an increase of “undocumented immigrants” in communities might actually make them safer, and it categoricallydoes not make them more dangerous (Light & Miller). Thus, deporting illegal immigrants may actually have the opposite effect on collective safety. These facts and figures barely scratch the surface of available studies on the U.S. government’s illogical migration policies and ambitions.
A centerpiece of the administration’s migration rhetoric is the infamous border wall. A proposed wall spanning the U.S.-Mexico border intended to decrease border crossings and dramatically decrease illegal migration dates back to the early days of the 2016 campaign, and objective refutations of the validity and practicality of a border wall followed in short order (Massey). Assuming that a wall is not meant to keep out non-threatening migrants, but covert individuals bent on wreaking havoc within the United States or some other professed hazard, a dividing barrier is highly unlikely to act as a deterrent. As has been put forth by countless commentators on the subject, many of whom writing for traditionally conservative publications, a wall would be, and is wherever border walls exist, simply bypassed (Savitz; Bier) . Whether tunneled under, climbed over, or circumvented via some as-yet-to-be-devised method, the age-old adage, “where there’s a will, there’s a way” applies. Not to mention, much of the illicit activity purported to be of concern is trafficked through legal ports of entry, not wall-less border territory (Barajas). A wall does not increase security and is thus an abuse of the Doctrine. To be sure, additional problems with a border wall exist, such as price, terrain, and interstate relations; however, for the purpose of this paper, it is sufficient to highlight the futility of a wall in terms of responding to national security threats (Lin, et al.). The administration has framed the necessity of a wall as essential to protecting America’s “sovereignty,” and has gone so far as to allow the federal government to shut down in an effort to force Congress’s hand in funding the border wall (“Sunday: Miller, Klobuchar, Barrasso, Davis, Potter.”; “Everything You Need to Know about the Government Shutdown.”).The farce wound up as the longest government shutdown in history, costing billions and leaving 800,000 federal employees without pay for weeks (Weinberg). As the pressure of a shutdown failed to achieve the desired results, the administration has since declared the situation at the border to be a national emergency and plans to pull Department of Defense funding in order to pay for the wall. This latest effort is being challenged by a number of states in a joint filing and has been voted down by the House of Representatives (Davis). Furthermore, in recent Senate testimony, a top-ranking Air Force general has explicitly stated that migration at the southern border does not rise to the level of a military threat (Baldor). As of the time of this writing, it is unclear how the widely disputed national emergency will pan out.
Another example of One Percent Doctrine abuse involves the hotly contested travel ban. After failing on two previous attempts, the administration succeeded in ending visa issuance for seven countries in December of 2018. The countries include: Libya, Iran, North Korea, Somalia, Syria, and Venezuela (Gladstone & Sugiyama). The ban is ostensibly meant to prevent dangerous individuals originating from the aforementioned countries from gaining entrance into the United States. However, there has never been any sort of terrorist attack on U.S. soil carried out by a citizen from any of the seven countries. Rather, prominent and successful attacks on the United States have been orchestrated and executed by individuals from countries not even considered in previous iterations of the travel ban, such as Saudi Arabia (“Trump Travel Ban: What Does This Ruling Mean?”). Furthermore, data indicates that the overwhelming majority of terrorists, both jihadist and otherwise, come from inside the United States, not overseas (“Who Are the Terrorists?”). Thus, this administration’s travel ban would appear to be as superfluous as its desire to build a southern border wall. Again, while the threat of a foreign terrorist entering the country on a legitimate visa can by no means be ruled out, and would thus surpass at least the requisite 1% threshold, the response to said threat is here classifiable as abuse as it speaks more to political motivations than it does security. While firmly grounded to the exhortations of an intolerant electoral base, the travel ban is groundlessin terms of realistic security concerns.
Indeed, the travel ban, which has been challenged in court, may actually be reducing US national security. Dozens of national security practitioners have publicly discussed how the travel ban is harming international perception of America, in turn, stimulating anti-American sentiment, and therefore damaging not only the country’s credibility, but also national security on the whole (Stottlemyer; Clapper). The border wall and travel ban are just two examples of how this administration has used national security to justify a minimal to non-existent threat (Christiansen). In reality, manyof the migration policies put forth by the administration are often recognized as more hurtful than helpful in fostering security and stability within the United States and beyond (Lohr; Hayoun; O’Hagan). Although presented as integral to safeguarding national security, it seems that such policies are almost entirely political rather than practical.
A central component of the current administration’s national security strategy has been its focus on Iran. Similar to the administration’s treatment of migration, the threat posed by Iran has been immoderately inflated. However, differing from migration, Iran does, in fact, represent a substantial threat. However, the threat posed by Iran is more to U.S. interests abroad rather than the homeland. American troops and those of its allies are scattered throughout the Middle East, and Iran, with its ballistic missile arsenal and experienced armed forces, certainly has the potential to harm them. There have been numerous instances of Iranian fast boats provoking Western naval vessels in the Persian Gulf, and it is well-known that Iranian-backed forces obstruct American ambitions in region. There is also the possibility of Iran disrupting the millions of barrels of oil per day that pass through the Strait of Hormuz, which runs along the Iranian coastline (Cordesman; Stratfor). Finally, the disdain the Iranian government has towards the United States, and the West in general, is no secret (Bozorgmehr). Hence, it is entirely legitimate to approach Iran as the regionalthreat that it is. Further, as a hostile regime, the chance of an attack on the United States at the hands of Iran cannot be eliminated, and thus qualifies as a threat under the One Percent Doctrine. However, the present U.S. administration’s response to this genuine, though improbable, threat has been heavy-handed, and, again, rooted in politics as opposed to security, constituting a misapplication of the Doctrine. The administration’s treatment of Iran is better categorized as misapplication than abuse due to the fact that a very real threat exists, while the response has been bungled.
The first and most obvious mishandling of the Iranian threat is the withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), or Iran nuclear deal. Citing the deal’s impermanence and lack of ballistic missile regulation, the U.S. government pulled out of the landmark agreement in May 2018 (Landler). After years of negotiations, the JCPOA was enacted under the Obama administration in an effort to curb Iran’s nuclear ambitions. In exchange for abandoning its nuclear program, various economic sanctions imposed by Western nations were lifted. It was signed by America, Iran, China, France, Germany, Russia, and the United Kingdom in 2015, and was recognized by a United Nations Security Council (UNSC) resolution in the same year (“Iran Nuclear Deal: Key Details.”). As a part of the deal, inspectors were permitted to verify Iran’s compliance, and by all accounts, the country had consistently acted in accordance (Murphy). Despite guarantees from those tasked with ensuring the agreement’s fulfillment, and protestations from other signatories to the deal, the United States chose to pull out (“World Leaders React to US Withdrawal from Iranian Nuclear Deal.”). In doing so, the administration rightfully complained of malign activities on the part of Iran, such as the abovementioned Persian Gulf provocations, proxy support, and ballistic missile buildup (Beauchamp). However, rather than attempt to negotiate an auxiliary deal addressing these non-nuclear issues – a seemingly more prudent endeavor – the U.S. administration decided to act on a campaign promise to demolish Obama-era achievements. The prospect that a flawed agreement could be better than no agreement was apparently of little concern (Fitzpatrick). The fallout from the withdrawal has been substantial. Iran is now more aggressive in its region of influence, and the trustworthiness of the United States has been called into question (Behravesh; Mousavian). Once again, in an act framed as good for U.S. national security, the administration aggravated an adversarial regime as well as damaged American integrity, which was instead detrimental to the nation’s well-being.
A second instance of a mismanaged response to the Iran threat can be found in the partnerships the United States has gone to great lengths to maintain, in part, as a means to counter Iran. While there are of course additional factors at play, the current administration has established warmer relationships with a number of problematic states in an effort to hedge against the proliferation of Iranian influence in the Middle East. This primarily includes the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) and Israel, but extends also to the United Arab Emirates (UAE). These states have atrocious human rights records, which are more or less overlooked as their governments, inter alia, are aligned against Iran (Sullivan; “Israel: 50 Years of Occupation Abuses.”; “UN Raises Concern over Human Rights in UAE.”; Marcus). The complete intricacies of this anti-Iran alliance are well beyond the scope of this paper; therefore, this paper will specifically focus on KSA to illustrate this particular point. Saudi Arabia is arguably the quintessential Iran counter. KSA is predominantly Sunni Muslim, while Iran is predominantly Shia (though that distinction is reductive in and of itself, it is helpful to demonstrate the vast divide between the two countries). Throughout a decades-long rivalry, KSA has traditionally been aligned with the U.S. and Iran against (“The Iranian–Saudi Hegemonic Rivalry.”). However, under the current administration, the desire to coordinate against Iran, as well as make arms sales, has driven the United States to actively lend support to an unjust war affecting millions of civilians in Yemen and forcefully defend a murderous crown prince (Gramer & Seligman; Shesgreen). Such behavior is further eroding America’s moral authority, and doing little to prevent any of the authentic threats the U.S. faces from Iran.
In 2018, there is simply no denying that climate change symbolizes an existential threat to not only the United States, but also the entire world. Among those that study the phenomenon professionally, debate over the existence of catastrophic global warming and its associated effects has been reduced to virtually zero (“Scientific Consensus: Earth’s Climate Is Warming.”). Earth’s temperatures are increasing, ice caps are melting, sea levels are rising, resources are dwindling, and habitats are disappearing (Plummer & McGoogan). The above is all beyond dispute. Some models have placed the likelihood of a climate-related event wiping out humanity at around 5% (“New Climate Risk Classification Created to Account for Potential ‘Existential’ Threats.”). If there were ever a sure threat to national security, climate change would be it– a sentiment shared by national security experts far and wide, including those in government (Werrell & Femia; “U.S. Government.”). Despite this preponderance of evidence and agreement, the White House has not just ignored the threat posed by climate change, but has actively rejected it (“Trump on Climate Change Report: ‘I Don’t Believe It’.”).Thus, in a most egregious sense, the One Percent Doctrine has been absent in regard to the calamitous and impending danger that is climate change.
Since 2009, pundits have half-jokingly invoked the One Percent Doctrine in the context of climate change (Friedman, T). As it goes, the certainty of climate change far exceeds the 1% minimum threat level, so why is it not treated as such? The abundant evidence should prompt a sweeping national security response, yet that has not been the case, particularly under the present administration. This has prompted mocking suggestions that even a 95% or 100% Doctrine is not enough when it comes to climate change (Goldberg; Fowler). More satirical desperation than humor, the authors of such propositions recognize the utter gravity of climate change neglect. Unfortunately, as with the rest of the previous examples in this paper, the current administration’s position on climate change appears to be driven by politics, and in this instance, economic advancement.
America’s withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement is an example of political affiliation trumping national security, resulting in a One Percent Doctrine deficit. Signed by 195 countries in 2015, including the United States under the Obama administration, the agreement seeks to lower worldwide carbon emissions in an effort to rein in global warming (“Paris Agreement.”). However, in 2017, the current administration followed through on a campaign promise to pull out of the deal. The White House claimed the agreement was “bad” and that climate change was a “hoax”. Nevertheless, the Paris agreement was non-binding and the U.S. was not obligated to fulfill any conditions. Furthermore, the United States is still contractually a part of the agreement through 2025, regardless of the spectacle made when pulling out. Thus, it would appear that the withdrawal was once again a transparent effort to pander to a political base (Becket). This is in line with a litany of additional Obama-initiated environmental enterprises the current White House has sought to dismantle (Holden).
Along with political motives, the absence of climate change from the current administration’s national security radar is also a result of financial influence. For one, the administration is beholden to a number of campaign donors hailing from the fossil fuel industry, who have an express interest in denying climate change as it is their product that emits the very carbon that is destroying the environment (Friedman, L. 2018). A further fiscal complication involves the numerous administration appointees who have direct connections to the fossil fuel industry. Moreover, these officials have been strategically placed inside positions that give them oversight of various environmental agencies, such as former industry lobbyist and recently confirmed Environmental Protection Agency administrator, Andrew Wheeler (Keller; Roberts; Friedman, L. 2019). As if this were not damaging enough, the administration has been encouraging the fossil fuel industry to continue its trade in environmentally-devastating commodities by way of tax cuts, kickbacks, and subsidies (Auel).
Discerning the reasoning behind the absence of climate change in official White House national security policy is thus relatively straightforward. As with most national security responses from this administration, politics plays an outsized role; though, monetary incentives also seem to be an integral aspect of this particular non-policy. In an especially grim twist of irony, the United Nations has just recently proclaimed climate change as a “driver of migration” (Beeler). Therefore, it would seem as though the absence of one national security issue for this administration is aggravating another that is at the forefront of their agenda. As of yet, it is unclear what current administration’s abandonment of the climate change agenda will mean for the environment. Many are concerned that without the United States leading the way, climate change initiatives such as the Paris Agreement could falter (Chemnick). Civil society and local governments are, encouragingly, attempting to pick up the slack; however, this administration’s conscious decision to disregard a principal national security threat could have lasting and drastic consequences (“Unprecedented Coalition of American Leaders Demonstrates United States Is ‘Still In’ Paris Agreement”).
Though jettisoned by the Obama administration, it would appear that some mutant variant of the One Percent Doctrine is back. No longer focused on terrorism, but similar to its original use under the Bush administration – in that it is prone to exaggeration when it comes to responding to unlikely threats – the current Doctrine is being employed anddismissed in an interest-driven manner. Rather than true national security concerns, the Doctrine seems to be invoked based on political and monetary considerations. Given the self-interested nature of the Doctrine’s utilization, it has manifested in abusive, misapplied, and absent ways.
First, the One Percent Doctrine has been abused in regard to the current administration’s response to the supposed threat that migration presents. However, not only has it been proven that migrants serve no threat to collective safety in the United States, but the policies imposed to manage migration are counterproductive, and in some cases damaging to US national security. Next, the present administration has misapplied the Doctrine in its response to the Iran threat. Although Iran does pose a moderate, regional and low, domestic threat, this administration has been clumsy and hyperbolic in its response, which has, in turn, harmed the United States. Finally, the very real and critical national security issue of climate change has been entirely absent from White House policy. The administration has continually gone out of its way to deny the danger, and even existence, of climate change – a hazard that is certain to affect the United States, and in some areas already has. The above examination of what could potentially be called a modern One Percent Doctrine is by no means comprehensive, however. There are endless considerations to probe regarding the current administration’s genuine and perceived national security threat responses and non-responses. The formation of an exhaustive conceptual understanding of a contemporary One Percent Doctrine would require further research.
As alluded to earlier, there is nothing inherently reprehensible about incorporating the One Percent Doctrine. A nation faces a diverse array of threats, and it is the duty of the elected government to keep those threats at bay. The efficacy of responding to all threats with even a 1% probability of occurring depends, it would seem, on the interests of those tasked with devising and orchestrating said responses. An additional requirement would necessarily involve funding, or means. However, given the appropriate motivation and means, a One Percent Doctrine could be employed effectively. In fact, a number of national security matters could stand to receive the added attention that such a doctrine would entail. Aside from climate change, which necessitates the highest priority on any national security agenda, concerns such as firearms, the opioid epidemic, health insecurity, domestic/right-wing terror, artificial intelligence, rising suicide rates, crumbling infrastructure, widening inequality, and biosecurity risks all represent conceivable national security threats, but have yet to be treated as such. Thus, if the current administration, or any future one for that matter, intends to implement One Percent-style governance in the national security realm, they would do well to respond to those threats that far exceed the 1% threshold, not merely those that can be exploited for political or fiscal expediency.
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