Its true Dwight Eisenhawer gave a speech warning about the dangers of the military-industrial complex.
Then there’s the war in Ukraine, where many on both the far left and the far right want to cut off aid, effectively giving Vladimir Putin victory. There are multiple reasons for that convergence, most of which I’ll leave to other analysts. But one common theme on the left and the right is the claim that we can’t afford the expense of that aid.
I’ve written before about right-wing claims to that effect, and why they’re disingenuous. But I’ve been seeing a somewhat different set of arguments from the left — not so much a complaint about the sums being sent to Ukraine as the claim that we have a huge, bloated military budget, and perhaps that “merchants of death” are driving our support both for Ukraine and for Israel.
So, do we have a hugely bloated military budget? No doubt the Pentagon, like any large organization, wastes a lot of money. But recent events have made the case for spending at least as much as we currently do, and perhaps more.
Responsible Statecraft rebuttal:
He notes that Pentagon spending is a smaller share of the national economy than it was in Eisenhower’s day. This is true but irrelevant. There is no reason that Pentagon outlays should track the growth of the overall economy, which is six times as large now as it was in 1961.
As for the relevance of the term “military-industrial complex,” it is more a question of linguistic preference than a reflection on the continuing influence of the arms lobby. Krugman is right to point out that U.S. involvement in the wars in Gaza and Ukraine is not being done at the behest of weapons makers seeking a big payday. But the big contractors are poised to profit from current wars, and their services don’t come cheap.
More importantly, the arms lobby has exploited the war in Ukraine to press for special favors that have nothing to do with defending that country: cushy multi-year contracts; reduced scrutiny that will enable more price gouging, cost overruns and performance problems; rushing arms sales out the door with less vetting of their human rights and strategic impacts; and supersizing the arms manufacturing base at taxpayer expense.
Whether you call it the MIC, the arms lobby, or the Salvation Army, the big weapons makers and their allies in Congress and the Pentagon have as much or more power and influence now as they did when Eisenhower left office.