Prior to leaving the office of the Presidency in 1961, Dwight D. Eisenhower, a five-star Army general, issued a warning to the American people about what he described as the “military industrial complex” (MIC). His language was unusually blunt cautioning against the “immense military establishment” wedded to the “armaments industry” and influencing the “economic, political, and even spiritual” life of the nation. The best defense, he believed, was an “alert and knowledgeable citizenry”.
It is clear that his warning has gone grossly unheeded. Today the military industrial complex, along with the financial sector, together dictate much of our foreign and domestic policy, respectively. It is now almost impossible to even separate foreign and military policy since they have morphed into a single strategy that relies almost exclusively on the threat of (“all options are on the table”) and regular use of the means of destruction to resolve all international disputes. Diplomacy is a lost art; multilateralism is used more as an ad-hoc legitimation strategy than a substantive deliberative process.
In order for the US war machine to gain the consent of the governed -- not that public opinion or preferences will matter one way or another -- the government must convince us that without military action – usually a combination of aerial bombing and “boots on the ground” – our national security is imperiled. Not just geo-strategic interests abroad, but the very security of the homeland. As the senior official of the Third Reich, Herman Goering, noted: “Why of course the people don't want war… But, after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along,.. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the peacemakers for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country."
This is now the classic percussive rhythm of the war drum. We heard it at its fever pitch before the invasion of Iraq in 2003 with manufactured images of mushroom clouds and bogus “evidence” of weapons of mass destruction. We are hearing it again today with dire warnings that the Islamic State (ISIS) is now the world’s greatest threat to civilization. This is the predictable groundwork for another ill-fated military adventure in the mid-East. Senator Lindsey Graham provides just one example of the hyperbolic rhetoric in claiming that: “They are coming here. I think of an American city in flames because of the terrorists’ ability to operate in Syria and Iraq.”
ISIS is obviously an extreme and violent Islamic movement. But it is a small force, it has no navy or air force, its primary objectives are regional. It has no plans to invade the United States.
And based on our recent failures in Iraq and Afghanistan, why would anyone believe US involvement would improve this situation? It may only make matters worse. In fact, many analysts believe the rise of ISIS is the direct result of the past US invasion and occupation of Iraq, and the elimination of the Iraqi state infrastructure. Moreover, the US finds itself in the tragically ironic situation of preparing to take on an enemy armed with US-made captured weapons. The US practice of peddling arms, and promoting the interests of the defense industry, has come home to roost.
And despite the belief that local populations will welcome and embrace our military actions, they have been shown to simply fuel further anti-US hostility and animosity. There is a potentially unlimited supply of “terrorists” and our continuing military actions will likely stimulate a steady stream as we attempt to bomb our way toward an illusory final resolution to the problem. It may be time to consider a different strategy.
Why is the human and financially costly military option the only one available? If, as Senator Graham believes, “they are coming here”, don’t we have a counter-terrorist intelligence and surveillance apparatus to detect and prevent their entry and actions? What is the purpose of the Department of Homeland Security and the now ubiquitous National Security Agency if every prospect of a potential domestic terrorist attack must also require bombs and troops? One would think that the existence of the former, with combined budgets of over $100 billion a year, would preclude the necessity of the latter.
But as the logic of the MIC would suggest, making the case for the imminent threat serves to enrich the budgets of both the intelligence, security, and military arms of the expanding complex.
Add to this the reported $7.5 million daily cost of our current Iraqi operations. An alert and knowledgeable citizenry might demand a better use of these dollars; perhaps to improve the rapidly deteriorating conditions of life in the United States.
To quote, again, the former General and President Eisenhower: “Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and not clothed. “
That such a sentiment now seems quaint or naïve is further testimony to how far the interests and priorities of the MIC have penetrated the American psyche.
It is time to replace the ceaseless impulse toward military warfare with a reasoned commitment to human welfare.