Perpetual War And America’s Military-Industrial Complex 50 Years After Eisenhower’s Farewell Address

220px-Eisenhower_in_the_Oval_Office220px-B-2_spirit_bombingBelow is my article this weekend in Al Jazaerra on the powerful lobby and industry supporting our various conflicts abroad as well as counterterrorism efforts. I previously testified before Congress on this industry and the government’s inflation of counterterrorism numbers to justify huge domestic budgets at the Justice Department FBI, and other agencies. I wrote the article for the anniversary this month of Eisenhower’s famous Military-Industrial Complex speech.

In January 1961, US President Dwight D Eisenhower used his farewell address to warn the nation of what he viewed as one of its greatest threats: the military-industrial complex composed of military contractors and lobbyists perpetuating war.

Eisenhower warned that “an immense military establishment and a large arms industry” had emerged as a hidden force in US politics and that Americans “must not fail to comprehend its grave implications”. The speech may have been Eisenhower’s most courageous and prophetic moment. Fifty years and some later, Americans find themselves in what seems like perpetual war. No sooner do we draw down on operations in Iraq than leaders demand an intervention in Libya or Syria or Iran. While perpetual war constitutes perpetual losses for families, and ever expanding budgets, it also represents perpetual profits for a new and larger complex of business and government interests.

The new military-industrial complex is fuelled by a conveniently ambiguous and unseen enemy: the terrorist. Former President George W Bush and his aides insisted on calling counter-terrorism efforts a “war”. This concerted effort by leaders like former Vice President Dick Cheney (himself the former CEO of defence-contractor Halliburton) was not some empty rhetorical exercise. Not only would a war maximise the inherent powers of the president, but it would maximise the budgets for military and homeland agencies.

This new coalition of companies, agencies, and lobbyists dwarfs the system known by Eisenhower when he warned Americans to “guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence… by the military-industrial complex”. Ironically, it has had some of its best days under President Barack Obama who has radically expanded drone attacks and claimed that he alone determines what a war is for the purposes of consulting Congress.

Investment in homeland security companies is expected to yield a 12 percent annual growth through 2013 – an astronomical return when compared to other parts of the tanking economy.

Good for economy?

While few politicians are willing to admit it, we don’t just endure wars we seem to need war – at least for some people. A study showed that roughly 75 percent of the fallen in these wars come from working class families. They do not need war. They pay the cost of the war. Eisenhower would likely be appalled by the size of the industrial and governmental workforce committed to war or counter-terrorism activities. Military and homeland budgets now support millions of people in an otherwise declining economy. Hundreds of billions of dollars flow each year from the public coffers to agencies and contractors who have an incentive to keep the country on a war-footing – and footing the bill for war.

Across the country, the war-based economy can be seen in an industry which includes everything from Homeland Security educational degrees to counter-terrorism consultants to private-run preferred traveller programmes for airport security gates. Recently, the “black budget” of secret intelligence programmes alone was estimated at $52.6bn for 2013. That is only the secret programmes, not the much larger intelligence and counterintelligence budgets. We now have 16 spy agencies that employ 107,035 employees. This is separate from the over one million people employed by the military and national security law enforcement agencies.

The core of this expanding complex is an axis of influence of corporations, lobbyists, and agencies that have created a massive, self-sustaining terror-based industry.

The contractors

In the last eight years, trillions of dollars have flowed to military and homeland security companies. When the administration starts a war like Libya, it is a windfall for companies who are given generous contracts to produce everything from replacement missiles to ready-to-eat meals.

In the first 10 days of the Libyan war alone, the administration spent roughly $550m. That figure includes about $340m for munitions – mostly cruise missiles that must be replaced. Not only did Democratic members of Congress offer post-hoc support for the Libyan attack, but they also proposed a permanent authorisation for presidents to attack targets deemed connected to terrorism – a perpetual war on terror. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) offers an even steadier profit margin. According to Morgan Keegan, a wealth management and capital firm, investment in homeland security companies is expected to yield a 12 percent annual growth through 2013 – an astronomical return when compared to other parts of the tanking economy.

The lobbyists

There are thousands of lobbyists in Washington to guarantee the ever-expanding budgets for war and homeland security. One such example is former DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff who pushed the purchase of the heavily criticised (and little tested) full-body scanners used in airports. When Chertoff was giving dozens of interviews to convince the public that the machines were needed to hold back the terror threat, many people were unaware that the manufacturer of the machine is a client of the Chertoff Group, his highly profitable security consulting agency. (Those hugely expensive machines were later scrapped after Rapiscan, the manufacturer, received the windfall.)

Lobbyists maintain pressure on politicians by framing every budget in “tough on terror” versus “soft on terror” terms. They have the perfect products to pitch – products that are designed to destroy themselves and be replaced in an ever-lasting war on terror.

The agencies

It is not just revolving doors that tie federal agencies to these lobbyists and companies. The war-based economy allows for military and homeland departments to be virtually untouchable. Environmental and social programmes are eliminated or curtailed by billions as war-related budgets continue to expand to meet “new threats”.

A massive counterterrorism system has been created employing tens of thousands of personnel with billions of dollars to search for domestic terrorists.

With the support of an army of lobbyists and companies, cabinet members like former DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano, are invincible in Washington. When citizens complained of watching their children groped by the TSA, Napolitano defiantly retorted that if people did not want their children groped, they should yield and use the unpopular full-body machines – the machines being sold by her predecessor, Chertoff.

It is not just the Defense and DHS departments that enjoy the war windfall. Take the Department of Justice (DOJ). A massive counterterrorism system has been created employing tens of thousands of personnel with billions of dollars to search for domestic terrorists. The problem has been a comparative shortage of actual terrorists to justify the size of this internal security system.

Accordingly, the DOJ has counted everything from simple immigration cases to credit card fraud as terror cases in a body count approach not seen since the Vietnam War. For example, the DOJ claimed to have busted a major terror-network as part of “Operation Cedar Sweep”, where Lebanese citizens were accused of sending money to terrorists. They were later forced to drop all charges against all 27 defendants as unsupportable. It turned out to be a bunch of simple head shops. Nevertheless, the new internal security system continues to grind on with expanding powers and budgets. A few years ago, the DOJ even changed the definition of terrorism to allow for an ever-widening number of cases to be considered “terror-related”.

Symbiotic relationship

Our economic war-dependence is matched by political war-dependence. Many members represent districts with contractors that supply homeland security needs and our on-going wars.

Even with polls showing that the majority of Americans are opposed to continuing the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the new military-industrial complex continues to easily muster the necessary support from both Democrats and Republicans in Congress. It is a testament to the influence of this alliance that hundreds of billions are being spent in Afghanistan and Iraq while Congress is planning to cut billions from core social programmes, including a possible rollback on Medicare due to lack of money. None of that matters. It doesn’t even matter that Afghan President Hamid Karzai has called the US the enemy and said he wishes that he had joined the Taliban. Even the documented billions stolen by government officials in Iraq and Afghanistan are treated as a mere cost of doing business.

It is what Eisenhower described as the “misplaced power” of the military-industrial complex – power that makes public opposition and even thousands of dead soldiers immaterial. War may be hell for some but it is heaven for others in a war-dependent economy.

Jonathan Turley is the Shapiro Professor of Public Interest Law at George Washington University and has testified in Congress on the massive counter-terrorism budgets and bureaucracy in the United States.

94 thoughts on “Perpetual War And America’s Military-Industrial Complex 50 Years After Eisenhower’s Farewell Address”

  1. America’s Secret War in 134 Countries
    The deployment of US Special Operations forces is a growing form of overseas power projection.
    Nick Turse
    January 16, 2014

    They operate in the green glow of night vision in Southwest Asia and stalk through the jungles of South America. They snatch men from their homes in the Maghreb and shoot it out with heavily armed militants in the Horn of Africa. They feel the salty spray while skimming over the tops of waves from the turquoise Caribbean to the deep blue Pacific. They conduct missions in the oppressive heat of Middle Eastern deserts and the deep freeze of Scandinavia. All over the planet, the Obama administration is waging a secret war whose full extent has never been fully revealed—until now.

    Since September 11, 2001, US Special Operations forces have grown in every conceivable way, from their numbers to their budget. Most telling, however, has been the exponential rise in special ops deployments globally. This presence—now, in nearly 70 percent of the world’s nations—provides new evidence of the size and scope of a secret war being waged from Latin America to the backlands of Afghanistan, from training missions with African allies to information operations launched in cyberspace.

    In the waning days of the Bush presidency, Special Operations forces were reportedly deployed in about sixty countries around the world. By 2010, that number had swelled to seventy-five, according to Karen DeYoung and Greg Jaffe of The Washington Post. In 2011, Special Operations Command (SOCOM) spokesman Colonel Tim Nye told TomDispatch that the total would reach 120. Today, that figure has risen higher still.

    In 2013, elite US forces were deployed in 134 countries around the globe, according to Major Matthew Robert Bockholt of SOCOM Public Affairs. This 123 percent increase during the Obama years demonstrates how, in addition to conventional wars and a CIA drone campaign, public diplomacy and extensive electronic spying, the US has engaged in still another significant and growing form of overseas power projection. Conducted largely in the shadows by America’s most elite troops, the vast majority of these missions take place far from prying eyes, media scrutiny, or any type of outside oversight, increasing the chances of unforeseen blowback and catastrophic consequences.

    1. Elaine – good work. Many believe this is as much a currency war with central banking as the ultimate achievement. I’ll try to explain. Central banking allows the bankers to have dominant controls over their respective countries.

      With the use of fiat currency, which can literally be printed to satisfy almost any desire, their power becomes almost unlimited. However, central banking also provides unjust benefits to the central bankers and their cronies because of their dominance, to the detriment of the majority both because of cronyism and the inflation it causes. The majority of course are going to fight bank, just as we see the various groups such as libertarians and TeaParty fighting against central banksters, as we like to call them in this country.

      It appears that those governments that do not want to be a part of the international central banking cartel, (the BIS) are the ones being attacked by those countries that are participants in the BIS. They are actually trying to place into power those people who will be inclined to be a part of this central banking system, to what many believe is to the detriment of the majority.

      No taking into consideration what side is right, this appears to be what is happening. Iraq and Afghanistan are no exceptions.

      One of the reasons why gold and silver are so important, as they obviously cannot be printed like fiat currencies, as they retain their values unlike fiat currencies that are continually debased thus causing inflation. India right now is suffering from very high inflation.

      Now here is the interesting and scary thing. Each country or groups such as the EU also are in conflict i.e. as to the value of it’s currency as compared to others. The U.S. right now, because of it’s huge expansion of the money supply over the last 15 years, the greatest of all countries except perhaps Japan, are also trying to force other counties, to maintain the trade value of the USD in the international trade markets. The question is; is this the real reason why we are in these specific countries or is it just a.Coincidence? Most don’t think so.

      That’s why so many investment and commodity brokers and analyst are so concerned, and have been with the continued levels of government and deficit spending by our government. The future is all knowing.

      I hope that I have done this justice in explaining it. If not there are some good books on it as well as many articles.

  2. hskiprob: I think you have put your finger on one of our basic problems. I was well into middle age before I acknowledged the awful truth and made my choice. Before that, I was just about as deluded as anyone else. Once you realize what’s going on and what’s at stake, you can no longer be at ease. What are we to do? I don’t know, but we’ll have to do something sooner, rather than later. Our present course leads straight to perdition.

    1. Sadly, the more you learn and read the more it corroborates the truth. The ruling class/oligarchy has placed our entire society into a sort of economic slavery, and as we are all seeing, it is not easy to get them to change. Almost every single piece of major legislation since the Civil War, was designed, not to enhance the general welfare, but to benefit special interests, to the detriment of the majority and that can be proven.

      If you try to explain that and provide the evidence though, it is not easy to do it in a couple of paragraphs. That is why it is so important to read books like, the Creature from Jekyll Island by Griffin, How Capitalism Saves America by DiLorenzo, The Forgotten Man by Shaels, The Law by Basitiat. There are a host of others, to long to list that go into detail, as to who, what, when, why and “HOW MUCH”. It’s all about the money.

      Even Rand who is being demonized by the anti-capitalists today, was one of the best selling authors of her time. People read back than. Obviously not enough though. You can see from the comments of those that demonize her today, that they obviously have not even read her, since the say the most ridiculous things.

      If I were to give just one book it would be DiLorenzo’s. As well written and extremely well documented as anything I’ve read. He has been able to take what has been researched by all those in the past 300 years and incorporate enough into his book. The level of information is expanding exponentially is recent years which helps so he has incorporated a lot of recent studies as well . I wish it was required reading for all history, economic and political science classes starting from 10 or 11th grade on. In one generation, it’s reading, would change the entire societies undertanding of American economic history.

      If any of you give a damn about our world, and don’t believe what I and others are saying, you will after you read this book. As I said before, I disrespect, distrust and loath all but a few politicians, now more that ever, this book is that convincing. Just wait to you read about FDR and the scoundrels of that period and Shaels book, as well as Griffins backs it up.

      As an example, as noted in Griffin’s book. FDR was Assistant Secretary of the Navy during WWI and Churchill was Secretary of the British Navy. To get America into he war, they sent the Lusitania, despite warning from the Germans, into heavily patrolled waters (U-boats) “unescorted”. The Germans had found out that the passenger ship was being used to transport war supplies, making it fair game for attack under the Geneva Convention, and warned both the government and the Citizens through press releases to all the major newspapers. Only one or two newspaper in the entire country published the warning and the rest is history. Low an behold, both men went on to be Commander and Chiefs of their countries. You talk about the military industrial complex in action?

      It started way before WWII. Yea, it was there during the Civil War as well. Behind every war is a group of political entreprenuers, and politicians as DiLorenzo calls them, promoting war for profit.

  3. Lance, I don’t know who you mean by MM. I didn’t know that was a Vietnam cadence. One of my best friends and an older kid I really looked up to, Chuck Manarel, died there. My cousin, who was like a brother to me, came back a heroin addict. He was able to kick it but mostly because the heroin in the states was horseshit and it cost too much for him to get high. You said your piece, I said mine. Let’s just shake hands and move on. Thanks for your service, sir.

  4. Most people prefer to believe that their political leaders are just and fair, even in the face of evidence to the contrary, because once a citizen acknowledges that the government under which they live is fraught with deception and corruption, the citizen has to choose how he or she will live under such conditions. To take action against a corrupt government entails risks of harm to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. To choose to do nothing is to acquiesce one’s self-image of being socially conscious, caring and principled. Most people do not have the courage to face that choice. Hence, most propaganda is “not” designed to fool the critical thinker, but only to give cowards an excuse not to think or do anything at all.

  5. Endless wars to keep some fat and happy, while military members and their families scrape by, then get ignored as veterans. Our troops should not be any General or Admiral or American’s sacrificial lambs. Every time I hear some ignoramus say “keep our troops there so we don’t get attacked here” I want to scream.

  6. maybe because Obama is getting rid of the leadership he doesnt agree with and is keeping the officers he finds more compatible with his ideology.

  7. Elaine,
    The leadership behavior of our present military is beginning to look more and more like that of the Axis powers of the 1930s.

  8. Michael Murry,

    The endless Army
    Is ‘Pacific Pathways’ a necessary pivot, or a military budget grab?
    By Andrew J. Bacevich
    January 10, 2014

    On the scale of outrages emanating from Washington, D.C., which has become a byword for tomfoolery and cockamamie schemes, it barely registers. Yet let us pause for a moment to contemplate the US Army’s new initiative known as “Pacific Pathways,” established to counter threats in the Asia-Pacific region.

    Note that the 21st century has not been kind to the Army. Since 9/11, it has engaged in two protracted and debilitating conflicts. The Iraq war, launched in 2003, finally ended more than eight years later in something other than victory. The Afghanistan war, begun even earlier, shambles toward its own ambiguous conclusion, having become the longest and least popular war in the nation’s history.

    One might think that the soldiers who’ve born the brunt of these wars have earned a breather. But Army generals apparently disagree. Demonstrably uninterested in taking stock of what their exertions in the Greater Middle East have yielded — how much gain for all that pain? — they are hard at work searching for new venues in which to demonstrate the Army’s relevance. For relevance translates into budget share, within Pentagon circles the ne plus ultra. “This We’ll Defend” provides the Army with an appropriately crisp official motto. But the “this” that generals defend most fiercely is their slice of the Defense Department’s budgetary pie.

    One of the top underreported news stories of recent years is this: The United States is done with invading and occupying countries in the Islamic world. Whatever course events in Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, or Iran may follow, Washington is unlikely to dispatch thousands of US troops to fix the problem. Done that. Didn’t work.

    Soldiers and their families may view this shift in policy as a welcome development. But for Army generals, it represents a threat far more dangerous than that posed by Al Qaeda or the Taliban.

    As the global war on terror peters out, what does the Army exist to do? For the Army’s top brass, the question has existential implications. They have apparently found their answer by looking East, the Obama administration’s much-ballyhooed “pivot” toward Asia offering the Army a chance to rebrand itself. Goodbye parched desert. Hello steamy jungle.

    In national security circles, “pivot” is a euphemism, shorthand for “payday” as the Pentagon salivates over the implications of China’s rise. In evaluating how China might threaten regional stability (itself a euphemism for US hegemony), Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps planners have had a relatively easy time conjuring up scenarios allotting major roles for their own service. By comparison, the Army has lagged behind. Until now. Pacific Pathways signals the Army’s intention of claiming a piece of the action.

  9. Lance,

    I don’t read every post–nor every comment on this blog. Suggesting that a poem may not bear repeating isn’t censorship. It’s called stating an opinion.

    BTW, I know that it’s a military cadence. You’re the one who called it a poem.

  10. Lance,
    Instead of Kumbayah, I have a veteran’s song for you. And before you dismiss me as just another “liberal a..hole,” we are a military family going back hundreds of years. I have already buried one son in a National Cemetery….less than forty yards from his gg..grandfather. You may want to go back and read what I wrote about his cousin, Jimmy Gates. Eisenhower was right, and I am old enough to remember that speech. It made quite an impression on me.

  11. Wait here folks. I’ll go get my harmonica, build a fire, and we can fire up a Kumbayah session. You guys get the marshmallows. Perhaps we could also take turns quoting from the Qur’an.

  12. I see this new wireless keyboard likes to drop keystrokes intermittently. Should be “It appears you missed the irony”

    1. Coming back to this thread, I appreciate the parody and the irony of the literary selections. But the personal invective just distracts from the fact that as a society and a nation we’re in deep s**t and that if we don’t break out of our present ways of doing things we’ll have the Devil to pay.

  13. nick and Elaine M. – You both were quiet as church mice when MM was flinging vitriol and calling this honorably discharged/disabled veteran a coward. Maybe I missed the meeting where you two were appointed blog censors. It’s still mostly a free country last time I checked, albeit waning on a daily basis. Are you two under the mistaken impression that I give a puck about what you think? I couldn’t care less about your sensibilities.

    BTW. It’s not a poem. It’s an old military cadence from the Vietnam era. You know, when MM was purportedly over there serving for the Military Industrial Complex. I appears you missed the irony.

  14. Bron“They think that people who think like you aren’t real because they don’t think that way so it must be fabricated.”

    Perhaps, but it may be that I’m just too good to be true. I humbly write this fact serving solely to point out the obvious.

    hskiprob – Amen to that.

    annieofwi – I believe high IQs and real intelligence are mutually exclusive.

    nick – I’ve also spent time in the combat TO (Theater of Operations). As long as I’m packing heat and MOPP 4, I’m a happy trooper.

    Another poem for my new friends here at Turley’s:

    We shoot the sick, the young, the lame,
    We do our best to maim,
    Because the kills all count the same,
    Napalm sticks to kids.

    Chorus: Napalm sticks to kids,
    Napalm sticks to kids.

    Flying low across the trees,
    Pilots doing what they please,
    Dropping frags on refugees,
    Napalm sticks to kids.

    Goods in the open, making hay,
    But I can hear the gunships say,
    “There’ll be no Chieu Hoi today,”
    Napalm sticks to kids.

    See those farmers over there,
    Watch me get them with a pair,
    Blood and guts just everywhere,
    Napalm sticks to kids.

    I’ve only seen it happen twice,
    But both times it was mighty nice,
    Shooting peasants planting rice,
    Napalm sticks to kids.

    Napalm, son, is lots of fun,
    Dropped in a bomb or shot from a gun,
    It gets the gooks when on the run,
    Napalm sticks to kids.

    Drop some napalm on a farm,
    It won’t do them any harm,
    Just burn off their legs and arms,
    Napalm sticks to kids.

    CIA with guns for hire,
    Montagnards around a fire,
    Napalm makes the fire go higher,
    Napalm sticks to kids.

    I’ve been told it’s not so neat,
    To catch gooks burning in the street,
    But burning flesh, it smells to sweet,
    Napalm sticks to kids.

    Children sucking on a mother’s tit,
    Wounded gooks down in a pit,
    Dow Chemical doesn’t give a shit,
    Napalm sticks to kids.

    Bombadiers don’t care a bit,
    Just as long as the pieces fit,
    When you stuff the bodies in a pit,
    Napalm sticks to kids.

    Eighteen kids in a No Fire Zone,
    Rooks under arms and going home,
    Last in line goes home alone,
    Napalm sticks to kids.

    Chuck in a sampan, sitting in the stern,
    They don’t think their boats will burn,
    Those damn gooks will never learn,
    Napalm sticks to kids.

    Cobras flying in the sun,
    Killing gooks is lots of fun,
    Get one pregnant and it’s two for one,
    Napalm sticks to kids.

    Shoot civilians where they sit,
    Take some pictures as you split,
    All your life you’ll remember it,
    Napalm sticks to kids.

    NVA are all hard core,
    Flechettes never are a bore,
    Throw those PSYOPS out the door,
    Napalm sticks to kids.

    Gather kids as you fly over town,
    By throwing candy on the ground,
    Then grease ’em when they gather ’round,
    Napalm sticks to kids.

    Military-Industrial Complex, “Napalm Sticks to Kids.”

  15. And the hits just keep coming. Or as they say in the U.S. military: “Hup, Too,Tree, Fawr.”

    Marching Backwards Through Georgia

    Republicans have done it once again
    And proved that boys do not belong with men,
    Since playing G.I. Joe with little toys
    Leaves idiots undone by their own ploys

    The pundit takes time off from sucking toes
    And thinks he’s had a thought about what goes
    To them who come back in the very door
    Wherefrom they just came out an hour before

    It takes a grasp of history quite slim
    To think invading Russia on a whim
    Makes Hitler and Napoleon look smart
    Or Cheney’s threats a diplomatic art

    Yet still Republicans try chewing gum
    While walking, which for them means looking glum
    As choking, gagging, gasping, they implore
    Someone to tell them time and date and score

    For as the game has ended with such loss
    They only now await the final toss
    As voters whom they’ve lied to and betrayed
    Now plan, with sharpened knives, to have them spayed

    Michael Murry, “The Misfortune Teller,” Copyright 2008

    Could someone please recommend a competent accountant for the Pentagram? At least one?

  16. Lance w/ a primal rant. Keep it up and welcome to the blog. I live in Madison, Wi. I’m a libertarian so I feel your pain, brother.

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