There are a lot of phrases that live on long after they were first uttered, and most lose their meaning or have it changed over time either through overuse or the necessity of politics. But one phrase remains as clear and important now as it was the day it was first spoken – the military industrial complex.
President Dwight Eisenhower used the phrase in his farewell address to the nation, three days before the inauguration of John F. Kennedy. “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,” the outgoing president warned.
The words carried so much weight because of Eisenhower’s role in leading Allied forces in World War II.
The threat from the MIC isn’t a coup or anything like that. Our military is not like those of countries ruled by strongmen where loyalty to an individual or their commanders is stronger than to the country. We have a citizen military that’s highly unlikely to turn its weapons on their fellow citizens. But there is a threat from the MIC, it’s the same threat posed by the rest of Washington, DC – financial ruin.
Yes, Social Security and Medicare are the biggest fiscal threats we face. The unwillingness of so-called leaders to address their coming financial disaster is one of the longest running bipartisan gamea of “kick the can” the world has ever seen. But financial ruin is financial ruin. No one drop of water is responsible for sinking a boat, it’s the whole ocean and every drop plays its role.
President Trump recently spoke about the MIC, saying, “Well, I’m the one that talks about these wars that are 19 years, and people are just there, and don’t kid yourself, you do have a military-industrial complex. They do like war. You know, in Syria, with the caliphate, so I wipe out 100 percent of the caliphate. … I said I want to bring our troops back home. The place went crazy. You have people here in Washington, they never want to leave.”
The MIC not only wants wars because there’s money in it, they want every slice of the Pentagon pie they can get their hands on, whether what they’re selling is necessary or not. None of those slices are small, by the way.
One of the biggest slices, if not the biggest, is the F-35. Back in 2014, the development of the new fighter plane was already seven years behind schedule and $163 billion…OVER budget. In the private sector, the contract would be terminated and lawsuits would fly (unlike, it seems, the plane). But government is not the private sector. In government, lobbyists spread around enough money to keep the project going. When you’re hundreds of billions over budget, there’s plenty of money to spread around. Who wouldn’t spend tens or hundreds of millions to get hundreds of billions?
Then President-elect Donald Trump even criticized the program as “out of control.”
But, like so much of what happens in Washington, the idea set in that too much money had been spent on the project to abandon it now. Again, a private company would have had its leadership fired in the more than a decade the F-35 has foundered, but government isn’t a private company.
Government doesn’t spend its own money because it doesn’t have any. It takes from us (and our kids and grandkids, at this point), under penalty of prison, and has our credit cards, so it doesn’t care about cost overruns, design failures, or anything else. The program is now expected to cost $1.196 trillion over its lifetime. That is larger than the nominal GDP of all but 14 countries of the world.
The military industrial complex is alive and well, and it is rich.
The F-35 is only one program, there are countless others the military either doesn’t want, doesn’t need, or costs significantly more than they were supposed to – the B-21 and the Bradley Fighting Vehicle come to mind. Yet on they live because, to paraphrase President Ronald Reagan, there’s nothing as permanent as a government program.
All the while, the military industrial complex smiles and hammers checks. President Trump knows it exists, the only question that remains is will he do anything to stop it? I sure hope so.