The Military-Industrial Complex, Plus Congress

The Military-Industrial Complex, Plus Congress

by Thomas Gale Moore, November 03, 2010 In his farewell address to the nation, Jan. 17, 1961, President Eisenhower warned of the military-industrial complex. At the time, the U.S. defense budget accounted for 47 percent of the world’s arms expenditures; today it is over 50 percent. Eisenhower advised:

“This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence – economic, political, and even spiritual – is felt in every city, every statehouse, and every office of the federal government. We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources, and livelihood are all involved; so is the very structure of our society. In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist. We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. 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.”

The Constitution of the United States makes the president “the commander in chief of the Army and the Navy of the United States,” implying that he can order the troops to withdraw from a war or battleground. But can he? The power to command the troops is limited by the power of Congress to authorize funds for the military and by the actions of the members of the armed forces.

Generals and the officers of the military under them are trained to win battles and wars. Their purpose is to win. If they fail, they will not be promoted, and their military careers will be short. The military is unwilling and probably unable to provide an exit strategy for any significant conflict in which it is engaged. Losing is not an option.

The military, of course, likes to have access to the best, most modern equipment. The Air Force wants the fastest fighter planes, even if they are unsuitable for the types of combat in which the U.S. is engaged. In Afghanistan, for example, fast fighter planes are almost useless; slow, low-flying aircraft that can shoot at a building or a group of combatants would be more effective. The Air Force generals resist buying such planes. The Navy wants nuclear submarines and aircraft carriers even though, over the last several decades, they have had virtually no role to play in any American conflict.

Defense contractors want to build and sell expensive military equipment. To ensure that they will be funded, they subcontract the manufacturing of the equipment to as many states and congressional districts as possible. Representatives and senators, knowing that their constituents hold jobs producing that equipment, have strong incentives to keep the funds flowing for military hardware. Many, if not most, legislators, will naturally oppose reducing the size or reach of the military….

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