Thursday, July 31, 2008

Ike: Dead and Loving It

There are days when Secretary of Defense Robert Gates makes you glad there's a guy in that office who's at least trying to keep Dick Cheney and the Crazies in their box. Other days, Gates says stuff that makes you want to scream. When he warned recently against a risk of "creeping militarization of some aspects of U.S. foreign policy," I wanted to scream "Yo, Rip van Winkle! Eisenhower told us all about it 47 years ago."

Disastrous Rise of Misplaced Power

President Dwight David Eisenhower's farewell speech was hauntingly prescient.

In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military industrial complex, he said in 1961. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist. Nearly a decade into the "New American Century," our erstwhile republic has become a militaristic oligarchy. We annually spend on military security more than the net income of all United States corporations, Ike said. Today, we spend more on military security than the rest of the world combined.

In March 2006, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told the Senate that, "We may face no greater challenge from a single country than from Iran." Iran's defense budget is less than one percent the size of America's. Al Qaeda, which Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell calls "the pre-eminent terrorist threat against the United States," has no defense budget at all.

China, consistently touted by the neocons as our next peer military rival, spends a tenth or less as much as we do on defense, and a large portion of China's defense budget goes to updating the arsenal they still have from when they shot down William Holden in The Bridges of Toko Ri. Hawks claim that the Chinese lie about how much they actually spend on arms, but they can't lie about it as much as we do. Dr. Robert Higgs of The Independent Institute says a good rule of thumb for determining America's actually defense spending is to take the Pentagon's publicized figure and double it. Some estimates project America's 2009 military spending at $1.45 trillion, 54 percent of the entire federal budget. I wouldn't be surprised to learn that the actual figure is even higher.

Yet the neoconservatives insist that we continue excessive levels of defense spending, maintaining that we must exhaust a minimum of four percent of America's gross domestic product on our military. In another one of his remarks that make you wonder what he scored on the SATs, Secretary Gates said in November 2007 that four percent of GDP should be a "benchmark as a rough floor of how much we should spend on defense."

I've said this before but it bears duplicate reiteration: if a nation's defense budget as a percentage of its GDP were representative of its armed might, military juggernauts like Qatar (10%), Eritrea (6.3%) and Barundi (5.9 %) would have us pinned in the receiving end of a kitchen table encounter.

Buck for the Bang

Akin to, and largely responsible for the sweeping changes in our industrial-military posture, has been the technological revolution during recent decades, Ike said, and he told us that we must be alert to the danger that public policy could itself become the captive of a scientific technological elite .

Gates's endorsement of the four percent solution is consternating when we consider his public frustration with the military establishment's determination to arm for a war of national survival with an emerging power to be named later at the expense of focusing on the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Our obsession with fantastical weapons has led to an extravagant burlesque of asymmetrical warfare. F-22 stealth fighter jets carrying state-of-the-art air-to-air missiles have taken on the mission of intercepting commercial aircraft armed with box cutters, nuclear submarines equipped with cruise missiles bomb towns in Somalia on the chance that a terrorist may be hiding in them, and our $2 billion B-2 stealth bombers engage in mortal combat with moisture.

In an attempt to become more relevant to the war on terror, the commander of U.S. air forces in the Middle East, Lieutenant General Gary North, has cobbled together a "detailed plan" for how air power will be "refocused" in Iraq as ground troop strength there is reduced. It's mighty sporting of General North to get his Air Force involved in Operation Iraqi Freedom, but what's been holding them up for the last five years, a battle royal with Monty Python's Flying Circus?

Pouring more funds into Gates-favored programs like unmanned aerial vehicles and special forces may have more application to our woebegone war on terror, but those programs don't require an investment equal to four percent of our economy, and potential threats that warrant that degree of profligacy exist only in science fiction.

Total Influence

Ike told us that the military industrial complex affects the economic, political, even spiritual aspects of American life, and is felt in every city, every Statehouse, every office of the Federal government. At this point in our experiment in democracy, regional economies and political careers are wholly dependent on the influx of federal funds that feed the insatiable U.S. arms industry. It not only drives foreign policy, but every aspect of domestic policies as well, even, as Ike put it, the very structure of our society.

Though Ike cautioned that we must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes, we have allowed the Machiavellian fabrication of the hollow ogres and bogeymen that justify our military industrial welfare state to transform the land of the free into the home of the Patriot Act, unwarranted wiretaps, torture and worse. More than half our tax dollars have bought us a security apparatus that didn't defend us from the 9/11 attacks or deter them, that has increased rather than decreased the threat of terrorism, and that only a Cheney-class lunatic would argue is promoting our interests overseas.

Reversing this sad state of our union will take a lot more than a new president who's a clone of the present one, and will require a Secretary of Defense far more astute than Robert Gates.

But the most important requirement will be the one Ike identified nearly a half century ago: Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.

Commander Jeff Huber, U.S. Navy (Retired) writes at Pen and Sword . Jeff's novel Bathtub Admirals (Kunati Books), a lampoon on America's rise to global dominance, is on sale now. Also catch Russ Wellen's interview with Jeff at The Huffington Post and Scholars and Rogues.


  1. A very interesting article. I was thinking that perhaps the best thing Obama could do was keep Gates in post (though Gates apparently insists he is not available in '09). If there is anybody who has caged the lunies and kept us out of another terrible war it is Gates who seems to have redirected the administration into a more realist/realistic track. I would have been happy to see him get the peace prize.

    Of course I agree with you about the evils of an over-sized defense budget. But how can a defense secretary ask for less money. What does he tell the mother of kids that get blown away because of a shortage of armor, etc. I can't see it.

    Of course somebody has to do it though. It would be by far the most effective way of increasing security. When I go to places like the Republic of Ireland they don't have notices on ATMs to warn you of suspicious packages and gangs of police officers that descend on foreign-looking people 'acting suspiciously' on public transport.

    Gates has an integrity and toughness that I can't help respect. He would be a safe pair of hands and would cover that flank.

  2. Anonymous1:20 PM

    Superb! Post!
    President Eisenhower left a great legacy of excellent level-headed advice and not a few serious warnings. It is a shame that none of our congresscritters follow his lead. Unless a citizen has a wad of large denomination bills in outstretched hand, getting a congresscritter's attention works just like talking down a well.
    Now we have a congresscritter served with multiple indictments
    planning to run for another term. A perfect example of the quality types we elect. And re-elect. What a terrible joke.

  3. Looks like we're on the same page today EH?

    And then there are Jewish American journalists beginning the pushback on the neocons.

  4. I half expected to get flamed by the commander and the rest for that defense of Gates.

    Ike did everyone a huge favour in warning us about the M-I-C, but didn't he do it on the way out the door. My point is that it is much easier to see and say these things at the end, and much better late than never. But getting the problem tackled--I am trying to think of how anyone could do it without some massive shock to help, and the imagination is failing. Too much inertia.

  5. Well, okay Chris, if you insist on getting flamed... ;-)

    Ike has much to answer for. That MIC speech was pretty much a deathbed contrition. Ike was pretty much responsible for creating the MIC. He also stayed on the bench on civil rights, and he could have put McCarthy down like the mad dog he was but didn't.

    There are many things to like about Gates, but the most notable among them is that he isn't Rumsfeld. One has to be blind as a bat not to see that the DOD has run roughshod over State under Bush, and there's no quantifiable reason why Gates is sticking to the four percent solution. We need somebody better than him in the office if we're going to move away from military empire.


  6. Anonymous11:42 AM

    It's the Money - Men
    Follow the Money

    Bankers Away

    Bankers away my Boys Bankers away
    we're off to foreign shores
    to get our friends to pay our way
    through our last night at home
    think of those loans
    until we re-Fi once more
    here's wishing you a happy voyage home.


  7. Anonymous4:47 PM

    Your thoughts on the USS George Washington fire and the aftermath?

  8. Interestingly enough, the skipper who got the ax is the guy I replaced as operations officer of CAG 9 when then Captain (now four-star Admiral) Tim Keating commanded it.

    I don't know enough about the incident to make a judgment on whether LANTFLT should or shouldn't have handed down the discipline he did.

    I can say, however, that that's the first instance I know of where both the CO and XO of a carrier got canned over a single incident. I can also say that becoming CO of a nuclear aircraft carrier is probably the most arduous career path in the history of organized militaries.

    I can further say that I was onboard the Constellation and the Range when they had their major fires in the 80s and neither of those skippers got the ax.


  9. Kerstin5:50 PM

    And the Sovjet Union was consciously forced, by the western powers, to arm itself to death - and it did.

    Who is next?


  10. Now we're arming ourselves to death for no rational reason.

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