As the drumbeat intensifies for what might turn out to be anything but a «splendid little war» against North Korea, it is appropriate to take stock of the ongoing, seemingly successful effort to strip President Donald Trump of his authority to make any foreign and national security policies that fly against the wishes of the so-called Military-Industrial Complex, or MIC. A Google search for «Military-Industrial Complex» (in quotation marks) with «Trump» yields almost 450,000 hits from all sources and almost 26,000 from just news sources.
During the 2016 campaign and into the initial weeks of his administration, Trump was sometimes described as a threat to the MIC. But over time, with the appointment to his administration of more generals and establishment figures (including some allegedly tied to George Soros) while purging Trump loyalists, it’s no surprise that his policies increasingly seem less a departure from those of previous administrations than a continuation of them (for example, welcoming Montenegro into NATO). Some now say that Trump is the MIC’s best friend and maybe always was.
There are those who deny that the MIC exists at all. One self-described conservative blogger writing in the pro-war, pro-intervention, and mostly neoconservative National Review refers to the very existence of the MIC as a «myth» peddled by the «conspiracy-minded». Sure, it is conceded, it was appropriate to refer to such a concept back when President Dwight Eisenhower warned against it in 1961 upon his impending departure from the White House, because back then the military consumed some 10 percent of the American GDP. But now, when the percentage is nominally just 3.2 percent, less than $600 billion per year, the term supposedly is inapplicable. (There are those who argue that the real cost annually is over $1 trillion, but why quibble.)
There is a germ of truth contained in the reference to money. Compared to the «wars of choice» that have characterized US global behavior since the end of the Cold War with the Soviet Union, the MIC of the 1950s and 1960s was relatively less likely to embark upon foreign military escapades. The existence of a world-class nuclear-armed foe in the form of the USSR moderated tendencies toward adventurism. The most serious «combat» the classic MIC preferred to engage in was inter-service battles for budgetary bounty. Reportedly, once General Curtis LeMay, head of the Air Force’s Strategic Air Command, was briefed by a junior officer who repeatedly referred to the USSR as «the enemy». LeMay supposedly interrupted to correct him: «Young man, the Soviet Union is our adversary. Our enemy is the Navy».
But today the «Military-Industrial Complex» is an archaic term that doesn’t begin to describe the complexity and influence of current structures. Indeed, even in Eisenhower’s day the MIC was more than a simple duplex consisting of the Pentagon and military contractors but also included an essential third leg: the Congressional committees that provide the money constituting the MIC’s lifeblood. (Reportedly, an earlier draft of the speech used the term «military-industrial-Congressional» complex, a fuller description of what has come to be called the «Iron Triangle». Asked about the omission from the final text, Eisenhower is said to have answered: «It was more than enough to take on the military and private industry. I couldn’t take on the Congress as well».)
Not only did the Iron Triangle continue to expand during the Cold War, when production of military hardware established itself as the money-making nucleus of the MIC, it swelled to even greater proportions after the designated enemy, the USSR, went out of business in 1991. While for one brief shining moment there was naïve discussion of a «Peace Dividend» that would provide relief for American taxpayers from whose shoulders the burden of a «long twilight struggle» against communism (in John Kennedy’s phrase) had been lifted, that notion faded quickly. Instead, not only did the «hard» side of the MIC maintain itself – first in Iraq to fight «naked aggression» by Saddam Hussein in Kuwait, then in the Balkans in the 1990s as part of NATO’s determination to go «out of area or out of business» – it then branched out into «soft» areas of control.
In the past quarter century what began as Eisenhower’s MIC has become a multifaceted, hybrid entity encompassing an astonishing range and depth in both the public and private sectors. To a large extent, the contours of what former Congressional staffer Mike Lofgren has called the «Deep State» (which largely through Lofgren’s efforts has since become a household word) are those of the incestuous «expert» community that dominates mainstream media thinking but extend beyond it to include elements of all three branches of the US government, private business (especially the financial industry, government contractors, information technology), think tanks, NGOs (many of which are anything but «nongovernmental» but are funded by US official agencies and those of our «allies», satellites, and clients), higher education (especially the recipients of massive research grants from the Department of Defense), and the two political parties and their campaign operatives, plus the multitude of lobbyists, campaign consultants, pollsters, spin doctors, media wizards, lawyers, and other functionaries.
Comparing the MIC of 1961 to its descendant, the Deep State of today, is like comparing a horse and buggy to a Formula One racecar. The Deep State’s principals enjoy power and privileges that would have brought a blush to the cheeks of members of the old Soviet nomenklatura, of which it is reminiscent.
Indeed, the Deep State’s creepy resemblance to its late Soviet counterpart is manifest in its budding venture into the realm of seeking to brand domestic American dissent as treason, to the hearty approval of the loony Left. As described by Daniel McAdams of the Ron Paul Institute for Peace and Prosperity:
‘The government would never compile, analyze, and target private news outlets just because they deviate from the official neocon Washington line.
‘Perhaps not yet. But some US government funded «non-governmental» organizations are already doing just that.
‘The German Marshall Fund has less to do with Germany these days than it did when founded after WWII as a show of appreciation for the US Marshall Fund. These days it’s mostly funded by the US government, allied governments (especially in the Russia-hating Baltics), neocon grant-making foundations, and the military-industrial complex. Through its strangely Soviet-sounding »Alliance for Securing Democracy» project it has launched something called «Hamilton 68: A New Tool to Track Russian Disinformation on Twitter».
‘This project monitors 600 Twitter accounts that the German Marshall Fund claims are «accounts that are involved in promoting Russian influence and disinformation goals». Which accounts does this monitor? It won’t tell us. How does it choose which ones to monitor? It won’t tell us. To what end? Frighteningly, it won’t tell us.
‘How ironic that something called the German Marshall Fund is bringing Stasi-like tactics to silence alternative media and opinions in the United States!’
The Soviet nomenklatura gave up without a fight. It’s unlikely its American counterpart will. Whether Trump in the end decides to fight or to seek accommodation is still under debate. Some suggest that by signing the recent bill imposing sanctions on Russia, Iran, and North Korea, he has already surrendered. But either way, war or not, things are going to get very rocky.