“We must guard against the unwarranted influence of the military-industrial complex ...the potential for disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.”
These prophetic words by former United States president Dwight Eisenhower resonate with the scenes around Afghanistan, as the Taleban took over after the US military concluded 20 years prosecuting that “never-ending war”.
Known for his heroic military leadership during the Second World War and his impeccable integrity, “Ike” understood the danger of misplaced power.
Estimates suggest that between $1 trillion and $2.5 trillion had been spent to prosecute this war over two decades in one of the poorest countries in the world. Commentators are describing the precipitous collapse of the regime as a “humiliation for the US military”.
Scenes at Kabul’s airport were reminiscent of those in Saigon in the mid-1970s.
The scenario fits Ike’s definition of misplaced power, since the 20-year war had no authorisation from either the Senate or the House of Representatives — as is required under the US Constitution. On the unprecedented amounts of taxpayer dollars that were spent, there was only one question raised by the Senate Finance Committee over those 20 years and four questions raised by a sub-committee.
Here is data from studies by Harvard’s Kennedy School and Brown University on the human costs. (N.B. Civilian deaths are mainly owing to aerial bombing; the data is likely a conservative estimate.)
• American Military: 2,448
• American contractors/mercenaries: 3,846
• Afghan military: 66,000
• Nato combatants: 1,144
• Taleban: 51,191
• Afghan civilians: 47,245
• Journalists and civic organisations: 500
(The figures suggest that the wounded are tenfold.)
Zero authorisation for a war that spent record amounts of money with little to no fiscal oversight describes a “perfect storm”.
President Eisenhower implicitly raised the alarm regarding the danger of allowing “the fox to be in charge of the henhouse”. Ike was warning that the military-industrial complex included various corporations that made large profits from war. One can only imagine the profits posted from Afghanistan alone.
Ike’s concern is reinforced when one examines the links between key political figures — irrespective of party — and those corporations that profited. Let’s look at the past few defence secretaries’ links with the corporate sector, which benefits from military expenditures:
• (incumbent) Lloyd Austin: former general who just had lucrative role as a board member at Raytheon, a major defence contractor
• Mark Espen, Secretary of Defence between 2018 and 2021, and former board member at Raytheon
• James Mathis, Secretary of Defence between 2016 and 2018, and former general and board member at General Dynamics, a major defence contracting firm
•Ash Carter, Secretary of Defence under Barack Obama, and board member at Goldman Sachs, a major investment firm that had championed the development of drones, which have been widely used by the military
These are only the “tips of icebergs”, about which Eisenhower was concerned. There is much evidence of a revolving door between these corporations and numerous key government civil service positions.
There is also the misplaced power of lobbyists, who use some of those unprecedented profits to influence those in political office — House of Representatives and the Senate. This explains the lack of formal inquiry and accountability into the rampant corruption that was bred over the 20 years of the Afghanistan war.
There are a few politicians who have been calling this system into question. This includes Vermont senator Bernie Sanders, along with a small group of persons in Congress, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
Since the United States military budget exceeds that of the next dozen nations, combined — including Russia, China, Britain, Germany, France and India — this is a global concern. Please use a variety of sources to research the issue further.
A new book, The Afghanistan Papers by The Washington Post and three-times Pulitzer finalist Craig Whitlock, accessed the “real deal” via the Freedom Information Act. Conclusions include that the US generals intentionally misled the public regarding any progress of that war. They confirm endemic corruption, which includes that occupied Afghanistan is the main global heroin supplier
Another source: the late M. Scott Peck, who served as a psychiatrist for the US military in the 1960s, including a posting at the Pentagon. Peck subsequently became an award-winning author. His book, Different Drum, addresses the military-industrial complex.
Present champions include veterans such as Noam Chomsky, Professor Emeritus of MIT, and Cornel West, a professor who has served at several renowned US universities. Both are academics, authors and activists who have addressed this longstanding concern, which was first highlighted by Ike.
• Glenn Fubler represents Imagine Bermuda