Friday the 13th seems like a good day to write about defense. After all, though I certainly believe in a strong America, with all due respect to the courage of our fighting men and women, the Defense Establishment, as currently constituted, is deeply disturbing—and, seemingly, cannot be constrained. In any way. For any time. For any reason.
Yes, there are cuts—and much wailing and gnashing of teeth—but much of those cuts are cosmetic, others are not implemented, and where actual cutting occurs, the victims are almost all junior, or on the margin in some way, or the service just hates the program in question (the Air Force’s dislike of the A-10—which basically supports the Army—is legendary). But the generals keep dancing to the defense contractors’ tunes—and the big bucks keep flowing.
Somehow, there is always a sequel because the money flow must never be stopped. As a consequence, the American Way of War is now the most expensive in history—and this in a nation which cannot balance its budget, which is over $17 trillion in debt, where average earnings are in decline, and where the outcomes of its wars and military adventures, have, more often than not, been contrary to the U.S. National Interest. Meanwhile our infrastructure has been neglected for decades, many of our cities require massive investment, and our economic structures are systemically corrupted and flawed.
The Defense Establishment is also known as the MICC—or Military Industrial Congressional Complex—and consists of those who have a vested interest in war, or the threat of war—but don’t have to fight it. Instead they see it, quite correctly, as both a career and profit opportunity—and they are greedy for both. In fact, they are insatiable, largely unaccountable, and normally unidentifiable. Regarding the latter, we tend to be familiar with a few public figures such as the Secretary of Defense, but there it stops.
President Eisenhower left out the word “Congressional” when he made his speech though, reportedly, it was in the original draft. I’ve added it back in. It belongs.
The MICC thrives because it is a network of mutually supporting politicians, lobbyists, civil servants, defense contractors, and complicit media, academics, and think-tank employees, all of whom stand to benefit from the continuity and expansion of the money flow—and because most of the activities of the MICC are—quite deliberately—obscured from public scrutiny. In addition, few Americans are either interested in, or knowledgeable enough, to question the system.
As for the few who do, their progress is blocked by secrecy legislation, endless delays, the excessive classification of documentation, misdirection, outright lying by public affairs officials, jargon, unintelligible briefings, the frequent renaming of projects, stove-piping, careerism, and being frozen out at every stage.
It takes a brave person indeed to defy the MICC, and he or she will, almost invariably pay a heavy price for years thereafter. The MICC is a vast structure, with a long reach, and a vindictive disposition. In extreme cases, where it feels seriously threatened, criminal investigations of its accusers will be initiated—and, reportedly, more extreme actions taken. You risk reputation, career, freedom, health, and your very life when you challenge the MICC—and you will find it a truly exhausting, frustrating, and stressful process. In short, though your cause may be righteous, you will suffer.
The MICC, in essence, is a system of extortion integrated into the very essence of the genuine need a for strong national defense, and designed to extract hundreds of billions of dollars each year to the advantage of its members. It represents a gross abuse of the patriotism of most Americans—and is cynical in the extreme.
The MICC’s corrupt gains have added up to trillions of dollars over the decades—in effect a tax on most Americans. If this reminds you of the Mafia, which originated as a justifiable reaction to oppression—and then turned to extortion and other criminal activates—you will have the right idea. Both the MICC and the MAFIA prey on the very people they purport to defend.
The MICC has operated since World War II, and so alarmed President Eisenhower that he made it the subject of his last speech as president. Over half a century later, his worst fears have been realized—and the MICC is now woven into the fabric of American life. In effect, Americans now think it is normal for the U.S. to spend more on National Security than the rest of the world put together, for the military to maintain more than a thousand foreign bases, for our troops to be in more than 100 countries, and for us to be kept in fear as the MICC hypes threat after threat after threat.
The MICC is as successful as it is because all its members are paid off in one way or another—and because because the very government institution, Congress, which is supposed to oversee the Defense Establishment, is complicit. First of all, Congress is dominated by moneyed interests (who own the defense contractors), and secondly the military have learned to game the system so that every senator and congressman relies on the Pentagon for defense jobs, and thus votes.
As for the other members of the MICC, let me paint you a quick picture.
- The military rely on the MICC for promotion and for well-paid retirement jobs in the defense industry. By military, I am referring mainly to general officers and would-be generals. The MICC is rank-driven and is not interested in the common soldier.
- Lobbyists are rewarded financially, and sometimes with government jobs. The revolving door is endemic.
- The media are rewarded with (controlled) access and information. It is exceedingly difficult for a defense reporter to function without the cooperation of the MICC.
- Members of think-tanks keep their jobs because various MICC components fund their organizations.
If you want to truly understand the degree to which the U.S. is overpaying for defense because of the MICC, it is salutary to look at the costs of other defense establishments—and particularly the Israeli.
The Israelis maintain a truly formidable defense structure for a small fraction of what the U.S. spends, and yet manages to operate at the cutting edge.
We could do exactly the same thing if Congress did its job and the MICC was systematically dismantled.
As matters stand, the MICC is a threat to National Security. It is rotting us from within—and it’s costing us a great deal more than an arm and a leg. It’s costing us hundreds of billions of dollars each year—not mention the lives of a seemingly unending stream of young Americans.
How do I know about the MICC?
Well, as they say about combat, “I have seen the elephant.”
I’ll tell you that story some other time—probably in a book.