DISCLAIMER: I do not support going to war without a declaration of war (or at least a Congressional authorization of war), nor do I support going to war for light reasons. But I do believe that sometimes, under certain conditions, going to war is justified.
The pseudoconservative ACU has allowed a pseudoconservative, conspiracy-theorist, libertarian group called “Committee for the Republic” (which is headed by people like Bruce Fein, a libertarian anti-defense propagandist) to open an event during the upcoming 2012 CPAC. I wanted to know what that group is, so I googled it and when I found its website, I was appalled.
This group propagates anti-defense lies that not even the most leftist Democrats would dare to utter (because they know they’d be laughed out of town if they did) and is absolutely opposed not just to a strong defense (i.e. a strong military), but to the US military per se.
Here are the false claims it makes in its goal statement:
“Citizens have a duty to educate themselves about the clear and present dangers to the Republic.” (The C4TR claims later on that the existence of the US military, military spending, and wars per se are dangers to the Republic.)
Then, it quotes James Madison out of context, saying that:
“Madison wrote Thomas Jefferson: “Perhaps it is a universal truth that the loss of liberty at home is to be charged against provisions against danger, real or pretended, from abroad. . . Of all the enemies of public liberty, war is perhaps the most to be dreaded, because it comprises and develops the germ of every other. War is the parent of armies. From these proceed debts and taxes. And armies, debts and taxes are the known instruments for bringing the many under the dominion of the few. . . . No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare.””
Yet, the US is NOT in the midst of continual warfare, and has never been, and Madison himself supported readiness for war and a military ready for war. When other people objected to this, he asked them rhetorically:
“How could a readiness for war in times of peace be safely prohibited, unless we could prohibit, in like manner, the preparations and establishments of every hostile nation?”
The next lies of the C4TR are not just blatant, but also insulting. It falsely claims that:
“Of the hundreds of wars in American history, there have only been five declarations of war and three Presidents lied to Congress to win those declarations. For fifty years, no President has exercised effective civilian control over the military.”
Those are blatant lies. Firstly, there have not been “hundreds of wars in American history” – shorttime interventions like those in the Falklands in 1832 and in Haiti in 1994 were not wars. Secondly, the claim that “three Presidents lied to the Congress” to win declarations of war is also false. The Committee does not explain who it thinks lied, but I’m assuming they meant William McKinley, Woodrow Wilson, and FDR. Kinley didn’t lie; the Spanish DID plant naval mines in the USS Maine’s way, causing it to sink, and WERE committing genocide and other atrocities in Cuba, thus justifying an American intervention. Wilson did not lie about German aggression against half of Europe or the sinking of the Lusitania and other unarmed ships carrying unarmed American civilians, which was an act of barbarity. FDR didn’t lie about Japanese aggression, which DID happen in Pearl Harbor on December 7th, 1941, and was unprovoked. (Don’t try to claim that the Japanese were provoked or forced to do so by American sanctions recommended by Lt. Arthur McCollum – these sanctions were imposed in response to Japanese aggression and genocide in Asia and were not deadly for Japan, which was exploiting half of the continent for its economic benefit, which was the purpose of its conquests).
The claim that for the last 50 years no President has exercised “effective civilian control over the military” is also a blatant, unproven lie. Every President has exercised effective civilian control over the US military. JFK refused to listen to his generals (who demanded that Cuba be bombed during the Cuban Missile Crisis) and instituted a naval blockade instead. LBJ prohibited his generals from bombing North Vietnam effectively and imposed restrictive Rules of Engagement on the US military, thus ensuring that it would not be allowed to fight effectively. He also berated his Joint Chiefs of Staff weekly. Obama has imposed restrictive ROE on the military and has no qualms about “retiring” generals whom he doesn’t like or those who make arrogant remarks, such as David McKiernan and Stanley McChrystal. For the last 23 years, senior US generals have been nothing more than mouthpieces and spokesmen for the Presidents they’ve served under. The US military is, and has always been, under civilian control. The President (not the Congress) is the Commander-in-Chief; all senior DOD officials, from the Secretary of Defense down to Principal Under Secretaries and Service Secretaries, are civilians. No person may be appointed SECDEF or Deputy SECDEF less than 7 years after retiring from active duty with the military. The military is also required to be apolitical and not to criticize the President or the DOD leadership publicly. All combatant commands are subordinated directly to the SECDEF, omitting the Joint Chiefs of Staff. No military commander has the title of “commander-in-chief” since 2002, because the President is the military’s ONLY commander-in-chief.
“The last to do so, Eisenhower, reviewed the budgets of the Army, the Marines, the Navy and the Air Force and grilled each service chief for one day each month. In his Farewell Address a half a century ago, Eisenhower warned:
“In the counsels 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.”“
This is supposed to imply that Eisenhower supported deep defense cuts and that he would’ve supported them today if he were alive today. Nothing could be further from the truth. Not only is this quote incorrect (Eisenhower actually said “In the councils of government”), it is taken out of context and misused, as is habitual for the opponents of a strong defense. Here is the full relevant quote:
“Now 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.”
If one reads the entire speech, rather than just one sentence quoted out of context, it is clear that Eisenhower did not call for any defense cuts. What he did do was to call for “the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals”, and not to allow it to subvert America’s ordinary democratic political process, “so that security and liberty may prosper together”, which he rightly believed possible, and which has been achieved in the United States. The defense establishment HAS been combined with America’s peaceful methods and goals, and has NOT skewed the democratic political process. As for the establishment of a large peacetime standing army and a large arms industry, Eisenhower said, “we recognize the imperative need for this development.”
Morever, earlier in the speech, Eisenhower said:
“A vital element in keeping the peace is our military establishment. “our arms must be mighty, ready for instant action, so that no aggressor will risk his self-destruction.”
So, instead of seeing the military establishment as a threat to America’s civil liberties, its economy, or its prosperity, he called it “a vital element in keeping the peace” – which it is. Without a strong defense you cannot have peace. So the implication that he called for defense cuts in his farewell address, or that the defense industry and the US military rule the country or have corrupted the democratic political process, is a blatant lie.
Moreover, Eisenhower’s presidential and post-presidential papers, available at the Eisenhower Library and on its website, have shed additional light onto the speech and President Eisenhower’s intent. They confirm what I’ve been saying all along. In a 1966 letter to a Special Committee of the American Veterans Council, President Eisenhower wrote:
“Dear Mr Karson
Thank you for your complimentary remarks on the TV address I made just as I left the Presidency. I am glad to know that your organization is devoting time and energy to studying the ramifications of what I then called the “military-industrial complex”.
The influence of tremendous munitions expenditures is felt in every phase of our national life – millions today owe their prosperity, indeed their livelihood to this kind of production. Communities, and manufacturers, compete for new munitions facilities or contracts; to obtain such favorable situations political influence is sought and often given. Manifestly all of us should be alert to the possibility that munitions production could become so imprtant that whole communities will look upon it as a way of life; we may forget that these expenditures are merely for the purpose of defending ourselves and what we now have.
Our struggle against world Communist involves military, economic, and spiritual factors. Each is equally important and it is up to us to see that we maintain the necessary strength in each and the proper balance among the three.
As one can clearly read from this letter from the man himself – President Eisenhower – he was NOT calling for any defense cuts, nor did he label the US military or the US defense industry a grave threat to civil liberties and democracy. What he did call for was 1) making sure that munitions production does not become a way of life for the country; 2) keeping all three elements of national power – military, economic, and spiritual – equally strong, and keeping a proper balance among the three.
So, instead of wanting defense cuts, he wanted a strong, adequately funded defense – but also balance between military, economic, and spiritual power, as he considered all of them equally important for protecting America and for defeating the Communists.
Additionally, in a 1985 letter to Mark Teasley (an employee of the Eisenhower Library), Ralph E. Williams, who worked with President Eisenhower on writing speeches and participated in the writing of the speech, remarked:
“I have always been astonished at the attention that has been given to the “military-industrial complex” portion of President Eisenhower’s last speech, and agree with Pete aurand that its true significance has been distorted beyond recognition. I am sure that had it been uttered by anyone except a President who had also been the Army’s five-star Chief of Staff it would long since have been forgotten. But as things were, it became red meat for the media, who have gleefully gnawed on it for twenty five years.”
Moreover, the context matters. When Eisenhower took office, defense spending amounted to 14% of GDP and when he was leaving office, it still amounted to 10% of GDP and the majority of the entire federal budget. Today, total US military spending amounts to a tiny 4.51% of GDP and just 19% of the total federal budget, with the absolute majority of the TFB, 63%, being consumed by entitlements. It was one thing for Eisenhower to express doubts about the kind of military spending he oversaw in his day. It is quite another to deliberately quote a tiny, selected part of his speech out of context more than half a century later and misportray it as something it was not.
And as for Eisenhower grilling service chiefs for one day each month and reviewing service budgets, I would much rather have that kind of President than Bush the Elder, Clinton, George W. Bush, or Obama. Whereas Eisenhower reviewed defense budgets, Bush I, Clinton, and Obama have all cut them deeply (and Obama plans to make even deeper cuts). Bush I and Clinton closed hundreds of weapon programs, started a procurement holiday that continues to this day, cut the force structure in half, closed hundreds of bases, cut the US nuclear arsenal by more than half, and cut defense spending by 35% in real terms. As a share of GDP, it shrank from roughly 6% of GDP in FY1989 to 3.0% of GDP in FY2001. In doing so, they gutted the military. Obama began defense cuts on his first day as President, closing over 50 weapon programs. He has already cut defense spending by more than $400 bn by his own admission, and now plans to cut it by $487 bn. Even worse, he threatens to veto any legislation that would abolish the sequestration mechanism or change the distribution of its cuts, which is currently configure to hit the DOD by an additional $600 bn, forcing it to bear 50% of the brunt of the budget cuts even though it accounts for only 19% of total federal spending. Eisenhower was very generous by comparison.
Last but not least, Eisenhower was the author of several large-scale defense projects of the 1950s, including the procurement of 1000 bombers and tankers, the procurement of 41 ballistic missile submarines, and the construction of a complete Air Defense System consisting of radars, SAMs, and interceptor aircraft. Does the Committee like these projects? Would the Committee approve of them if they were proposed today? Of course not. Today, such projects would not stand any chance of implementation at all; they would be dismissed as too costly, not to mention all the EISes. But Eisenhower carried them out in the 1950s.
Furthermore, the C4TR lies that
“Better than any other President, Eisenhower gave voice to the original fear the Founders felt about the military.”
Actually, most of the Founders did not feel “fears” about the US military, because they understood that it was necessary and had to be strong and ready for war in order to defend America. Some of them, such as George Washington, were former professional military officers. John Adams said, “National defense is one of the cardinal duties of a statesman.” For his part, George Washington said in his first State of the Union Address to the Congress:
“Among the many interesting objects which will engage your attention, that of providing for the common defence will merit particular regard. (…) To be prepared for war is one of the effective means of preserving the peace.”
And as stated above, James Madison supported a military ready for war and a state of readiness for war, and when hearing objections, he asked: “How could a readiness for war in times of peace be safely prohibited, unless we could prohibit, in like manner, the preparations and establishments of every hostile nation?”
Furthermore, the Committee falsely claims:
“He reminded Americans that military spending competes with American businesses and undermines the nation’s economic strength. “We must not destroy from within,” Eisenhower warned, “what we are trying to defend from without.” Each armament diverts resources from the free enterprise system.”
That is also a blatant lie. Defense spending (or spending on armaments) does NOT take away money from the free enterprise system, because everything that the DOD buys – every weapon, every barrel of fuel, every missile, every bullet – has to be bought from and produced by the same free enterprise system – specifically, by the private companies that function in this system. Every DOD contract for every weapon and every piece of ammunition ploughs money back into the free enterprise system, allowing private companies to make a profit and to hire employees. Every DOD contract for every armament is fulfilled by private companies that produce all of the weapons, ammunition and equipment that the US military uses. There is no state-owned defense industry in the US. Everything the DOD buys has to be produced by private companies.
Moreover, the idea that the current military budget is somehow strangulating the free enterprise system or undermining America’s economic strength is false. America’s current military budget ($662 bn) amounts to a paltry 4.51% of GDP. It is a historically and absolutely light “burden” on the US economy.
Military spending is NOT competing with private businesses. All DOD contracts are awarded to, and have to be fulfilled, by private businesses, without whom the DOD would not have even one rifle.
Furthermore, the C4TR is ignoring the fact that without a secure country (i.e. without a strong defense), there will be NO free enterprise system – the US will be exposed to blackmail and attacks, both of which will, like the 9/11 attacks, inflict significant damage on the US economy. In short, if the country is not secure, it will be neither free nor prosperous. Just one example will illustrate the point: without a strong Navy to protect the world’s sealanes and American merchant ships, the US won’t be able to trade safely with the outside world (except Mexico and Canada), because sealanes such as the Strait of Hormuz may face closure by hostile belligerents such as Iran and merchant ships may (and are) attacked by pirates.
“Eisenhower foresaw that the American economy would suffer from a special interest takeover of the federal government. “There is no defense for any country that busts its own economy.””
The idea that defense spending is somehow busting the US economy is downright ridiculous and laughable. America’s current military budget ($662 bn) amounts to a mere 19% of the total federal budget and a paltry 4.51% of GDP. Throughout the entire Cold War except FY1948, it claimed a larger – usually much larger – share of both the federal budget and America’s GDP than that. During Eisenhower’s time, it amounted to 10% of GDP (14% when he began his first term) and more than half (i.e. the absolute majority) of all federal spending. Therefore, while it might have been high or “unsustainable” during Eisenhower’s time – given that it was as high as 10-14% of GDP – it is not any longer.
“Eisenhower warned that it was unsustainable for the U.S. to continue spending more on defense than “the net income of all U.S. corporations”. Last year, the Fortune 500 earned $600 Billion while the federal government spent $1 Trillion on defense.”
The US does NOT spend $1 trillion a year (or even anything close to that figure) on defense. The current (FY2012) defense budget, signed into law on Dec. 31st, amounts to $662 bn: $645 bn for the DOD and $17 bn for the DOE’s defense-related programs (nuclear weapons, nuclear reactors, nuclear fuel for USN warships, etc.). The DOD’s current $645 bn budget consists of a core defense budget of $526 bn and a $119 bn GWOT supplemental.
Even counting the budgets of the DHS, VA, and the DOS as “defense spending” – even though these civilian agencies have nothing to do with defense or with spending on it – does not increase the figure to $1 trillion per year or anything even close to it.
The claim that the US spends $1 trillion per year on defense is a complete fabrication. The US has never had a $1 trillion defense budget. Not this fiscal year. Not ever.
Moreover, as stated above, America’s total annual military budget amounts to just 4.51% of the country’s GDP, and the DOD’s budget request for the next FY ($613.5 bn) would amount to just 4.08% of GDP. This is not an unsustainable amount by any honest standards. Throughout the entire Cold War except FY1948 – even during the Carter years – the US was spending more on defense than now.
Furthermore, I don’t recall Eisenhower ever saying that the US should not spend more on defense per year than the annual profits of Fortune 500 companies, and in any case, tying defense spending to any fixed limit is wrong and foolish. America’s defense spending should be determined only by its defense needs and the threat environment, not by any fixed limits.
In short, the C4TR’s entire website, including its goals statement, is a litany of blatant lies.