THE BLOG

Heeding Eisenhower Now Needed More Than Ever

12/14/2012 03:29 pm ET | Updated Feb 13, 2013

A wise man once said: "avoid the necessity of those overgrown military establishments, which, under any form of government, are inauspicious to liberty, and which are to be regarded as particularly hostile to republican liberty." That man was President George Washington, and the words are taken from his farewell address in 1796.

Another presidential warning: "we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought, or unsought, by the military-industrial complex." These are the words of President Dwight D. Eisenhower, also taken from his farewell address to the nation in 1961.

Despite these prescient warnings of past presidents, who were also leading generals, the expanding war industry is now militarizing our public budgets, foreign policy, civil liberties and commercial culture as never before. In 2012, the United States is a country with an unchecked, even un-audited military-industrial complex. Many more taxpayer dollars are devoted to military expansion than to the vital needs of our citizenry, such as mass poverty, education, public works, and health and safety research and regulation. More than half of federal discretionary spending goes to the military budget (and President Obama's much debated defense spending cuts only aim to slow the growth of the military budget over the next several years, but does little to address its currently swollen size). Despite the cries of the neocon war hawks (many of them Vietnam-era draft dodgers) about a weakened America, one only has to look at the 2012 defense budget. It is just under $806 billion, much more advanced and larger than the combined military budgets of the next twenty nations. (This number does not even include the budgets for the National Security Agency, the Central Intelligence Agency, or disability and compensation benefits for veterans.)

With an increasing inventory of new and expensive weaponry, the White House orders sometimes-reluctant military leaders to use force when it comes to foreign policy. The guiding principle seems to be "if you don't use it, you lose it." This strategy of aggression has led to U.S. soldiers' being sent on costly -- both in dollars and human life -- lawless, foreign adventures in Iraq, Afghanistan, and now, under the Bush/Obama doctrine, anywhere they want. And if it's not armies, it's drone strikes, raining down death and destruction in countries like Yemen and Pakistan from the safety of the remote "battlelab" in Creech Air Force Base in Nevada.

Defense spending has more than doubled since 2001 when the "War on Terror" began. This has bought us a decade of war crimes, torture, indefinite detention, and routine violations of national borders, all under the veil of secrecy known as national security. Consider the fact that that our selected foreign adversaries in this ongoing conflict have no planes, drones, ships or artillery, no tanks, armored personnel carriers or missiles, no advanced logistics, communications or nighttime vision equipment. What justifies the extreme cost? The most advanced military force in the world has devoted tens of billions upon tens of billions of dollars and deployed more than 130,000 troops to fight 30,000 meagerly trained Taliban fighters possessing rifles and improvised explosives. The "War on Terror" has become big business for the corporate economy.

According to Congress's Government Accountability Office (GAO), the Department of Defense budget is "un-auditable." This means there is almost no oversight when it comes to military spending, leading to such outrageous past contracted expenditures as $1,868 for a toilet seat cover, $436 for a claw hammer, or the Air Force purchasing billions of dollars worth of spare parts when it already has an ample stock of them sitting unused in various warehouses. The GAO has done a fine job of documenting these and other major types of wasteful spending, but the GAO's findings have largely fallen on deaf ears in Congress.

Despite the enormous amount of documented redundancies, waste and fraud in the military and its contractors, there are still those who decree that the defense budget is "inadequate," particularly in the corporate-contractor-lobby-laced Republican Party. At the Republican National Convention last August, Sen. John McCain said: "We can't afford another $500 billion [over ten years] in cuts to our defense budget, on top of the nearly $500 billion in cuts that the president is already making" describing this as a "crippling blow to our military." These sentiments were echoed by Mitt Romney and the rest of the Republican establishment.

To lessen the power of an increasingly ravenous, corporatized military will require a coalition of citizens from all walks of life -- retired military and national security leaders, peace advocates, politicians, labor leaders, enlightened business leaders, religious groups, organizers, students, enabling philanthropists, former diplomats, media and more to convene and make the case for defense cuts as a unified body. For too long now, too much of the American public has bought into fear mongering and propaganda spurred by profit-rich corporate contractors like Lockheed Martin, General Dynamics and Boeing for whom enough is never enough. It is time to change this boundless militarization of foreign policy and the enormous cost it is inflicting upon our country.

The engaged, antiwar advocate, investor George Soros, could easily fund a new coalition of these peace-waging Americans into a focused and united effort.

For more on this issue, see the chapter "Reduce Our Bloated Military Budget" of my new book, The Seventeen Solutions: Bold Ideas for Our American Future. Available and autographed from Politics and Prose, an independent book store in Washington D.C.