05/19/2011 12:05 pm ET Updated Jul 19, 2011

Guns and Butter

Ever since the Reagan administration both liberal and conservative members of Congress have shared the belief, if for different reasons, that military action is an acceptable foreign policy strategy. Liberals consent to military intervention on behalf of endangered and enslaved peoples, while conservatives see it as a means to foster democracy and to build nations. The coupling of these odd partners has given birth, in economic, cultural, social, and political terms, to a United States that is engaged in endless war.

I understand and appreciate, on many levels, their rationales and impulses. I have managed projects in Kosovo after the recent war there, done time in similar capacities in the Middle East and Africa, and have a business interest in the People's Republic of Laos. Living and working in these countries has filled me with gratitude for my luck at being born an American.

At the same time, I am an old veteran of a lost war, and I am weary of Congress ignoring the rank impossibility of our having, in Lyndon Johnson's words, both guns and butter. By the time you put an angel on the top of your Christmas tree next December, the cost to the county you live in -- not the state -- of our "war on terror" in Iraq and Afghanistan will be $4 billion dollars if total expenditures are calculated on a county by county basis.

We are long past due worrying about who "started this war" and should be focused entirely on who will end it. Yet, I hear no one of stature in either political party question the integrity of the policy of endless military intervention, or that of the policy makers.

The phrase "military industrial complex" seems quaint and out of date today; after all, it was coined in 1960 by an old and retiring Dwight Eisenhower. There, he warned of policy and monetary relationships between legislators, our military forces, and the industrial sector that supports them through political contributions for legislation, and for oversight beneficial to the industry. Eisenhower called the relationship "an iron triangle."

Why should you care? Because you can't have butter -- bridges, secure medical care, roads, jobs -- in your home town until we stop buying guns with borrowed money.

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