To put the rhetoric in context, fire up your VCR or DVD player and watch Why We Fight. This award-winning 2005 documentary on the military-industrial complex is based on the farewell address of President Dwight D. Eisenhower (two terms, Republican, January 1961).
Eisenhower was concerned about a defense industry that could easily become emeshed in every corner of the US economy, permeating the halls of Congress in the process. He didn't know about think-tanks, they weren't a force then. Nevertheless, he warns:
This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence - economic, political, even spiritual - is felt in every city, every Statehouse, 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.
Have we heeded his warning? Are we alert? Are we knowledgable? The data suggest "no" is the answer.
Defense Spending Today
In 2005, US corporate profits after taxes (as well as inventory valuation and capital consumption adjustments) were $931.4 billion, according to the US Bureau of Economic Analysis.
Why don't we know how much, exactly? First, the spending is spread throughout several bills and agency authorizations. In addition, the GAO regularly reports that it can't successfully audit defense accounts:
In fact the situation is so appalling that, according to the Controller General, over 3,000 different financial systems are in use, audits have been impossible for years, and the most recent Pentagon proposal gives 2016 as the nearest achievable date for an audit.
2016! Do not laugh (unless hysterically from shock); and please understand that I really did mean 2016, roughly the year that war with China is supposed to break out according to Pentagon planning. That date is neither a joke nor a misprint...
Using a weapons analogy to illustrate the scale of the Pentagon control problem, if the Enron scandal was a rifle – and it was still one of the largest corporate collapses in history - the Department of Defense’s criminal irresponsibility can be rated at nuclear bomb level; and think serious megatons. - Victor O'Reilly
The thought of us taxpayers chained to an unauditable liability called the military-industrial complex -- a liability that may cost as much as the combined profits of US corporations -- spooks me.
A large part of this cost is the run-up in defense spending since 2001. (chart) Even though Iraq was not involved in the attacks on the US five years ago, an enormous amount of that unaditable expense is tied to our presence in Iraq. (Note, too, that much of the Iraq expense is unaditable and/or full of abuses, according to the GAO.)
Experts project the cost of the Iraqi war at "$750 billion to $1.2 trillion in Iraq, assuming that the US begins to withdraw troops in 2006 and maintains a diminishing presence in Iraq for the next five years." (pdf)
Defense Spending In Context
Earlier this year, the Congressional Budget Office told the Senate the current defense spending exceeds the Cold War average (deflated dollars). Not only that, it's more than half of global defense spending.
"If you count just the costs of the National Defense budget function, the approximate $538 billion we spend is $29 billion more than the $509 billion the entire rest of the world spends," according to Winslow Wheeler. This translates to about $5,000 per family, according to William Nordhaus, Yale University. (pdf)
The US has 2 percent of the world population. And puts more tax money into its defense than the rest of the world, combined.
This is so wrong, on so many levels.
Think Different (Apologies To Apple)
Here's a proposition: Say you don't like your neighbor. You want to beat him up. Fine -- but first you have to manufacture your own weapons, if your fists won't do.
In other words, let's end the global market in arms and see what happens to world peace and the US budget. Let's end the out-sourcing, too ... my dad's generation peeled potatoes and washed clothes ... why pay Halliburton contractors big bucks to do the same?
And there's a bonus. Since defense spending accounts for more than half of all discretionary federal spending, we might be able to balance the budget and pay down the debt, too.
Also, see US Gross National Debt As Percent of Gross Domestic Product, Deficit Spending, Trade Deficits Threaten Economic Health Sobering Budget News: "Spending Our Way to Financial Ruin", Vietnam and Iraq: The Tragedy of Unlearned Lessons