by Jacob G. Hornberger
An article in last Sunday’s New York Times provided an interesting analysis of the Egyptian military, one that holds some important lessons for America.
The article described the military in Egypt as “the single most powerful institution in an autocratic state facing its toughest test in decades, an imminent presidential succession.” The military, which has been the recipient of almost $40 billion in U.S. foreign aid for the past 30 years, has made it clear that it will not permit anyone to assume the presidency “without ironclad guarantees that it would retain its pre-eminent position in the nation’s affairs.”
The paper pointed out the big role that the military and military-industrial complex have come to play in Egyptian life: “The Egyptian military has turned into a behemoth that controls not only security and a burgeoning defense industry, but has also branched into civilian businesses like road and housing construction, consumer goods and resort management.”
When he was leaving office, President Dwight D. Eisenhower, who had been an army general in World War II, issued a fascinating warning to the American people:
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 State house, 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.
In other words, Big Government was a necessary evil but because of the Cold War. Once the communist threat was vanquished, Big Government proponents argued, we could dismantle the standing army and the military-industrial complex.
Alas, however, it was not to be. When the Soviet Union disintegrated in 1991, along with the Berlin Wall, the time had finally come to dismantle the huge military behemoth that had been constructed over the almost 5 decades of the Cold War. There was no foreign regime that had the military means or even the desire to invade and occupy the United States. The time had arrived to relieve the American people of the tremendous (and always growing) tax burden needed to fund the enormous military machine along with the grave danger it posed to the American people, as per Eisenhower’s warning.
But the military and the military-industrial complex would hear nothing of it. Notwithstanding the demise of the Soviet threat and the end of the Cold War, they were as determined as the Egyptian military behemoth to preserve their pre-eminent position in American society.
Now, it’s true that the military behemoth in the United States doesn’t use its vast resources to engage in commerce and industry, as the one in Egypt does. But it spends its money in a way that the Egyptian military cannot — by maintaining an enormous string of expensive overseas military bases in more than a hundred countries, as part of the biggest overseas military empire in history.
What happens if U.S. troops are forced to suddenly exit Iraq and Afghanistan, thereby diminishing the threat of terrorist blowback against the United States? No problem — U.S. officials are already preparing for that contingency, by falling back on the drug war as a way to preserve the existence of America’s military behemoth.
Last week Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said that drug cartels in Mexico are looking more like “insurgencies” and pointed to the growing threat they are posing. She said that the situation is “looking more and more like Colombia looked 20 years ago.”
In other words, if the “war on terrorism” starts to lose steam, there’s always the possibility of stationing U.S. troops in Mexico to fight the drug war, thereby provoking them into retaliating with some sort of attack on U.S. troops or even on federal officials or federal buildings in the United States.
Then, we’ve got a new excuse to keep the military behemoth in existence, along with a new round of illegal enemy combatants, indefinite detention, torture, kangaroo tribunals, denial of federal court trials, threats to national security, suspension of habeas corpus, illegal wiretapping, kidnapping, rendition, assassinations, etc., etc., etc.
The American people would be wise to heed the warning of President Eisenhower. There is no better time than now to dismantle America’s military behemoth (as well as to legalize drugs). It’s a necessary prerequisite to restoring a free and prosperous society and a limited-government republic to our land.
Jacob Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation.
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