“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.”
– Dwight Eisenhower, 1961 Farewell Address to the Nation
This speech by Eisenhower demonstrates reflection and honesty that is all too often missing from the Oval Office. The great and wonderful POTUS that we all have come to know nowadays, displaying an image of unreserved authority and grave conviction, is conspicuously missing here in Ike’s speech. Instead, in this brief, bizarre moment of time, we the people were given a glimpse into the little old man behind the curtain; small and stout in stature, yet honest, forthcoming and surprisingly human. Eisenhower’s warning was startling: he dared expose the looming beasts of fascism from within the very den where they dwell and multiply – dogs of war he himself had helped feed and grow over the course of his two terms in office.
How can the military-industrial complex be counterbalanced? It bears repeating: “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.” This is precisely where journalism ought to come in, educating and alerting the masses so to keep their representatives in check through a sustained, coordinated effort of dissent. The corporatized for-profit Hill, however, has co-opted and annexed the Fourth Estate, providing a nice little addition that’s just down the hall and around the corner from Congress, where representatives can throw it a bone from time to time to keep it happy. Vietnam, The Gulf War, Iraq/Afghanistan – along with multiple covert operations in between, like Operation Cyclone and Iran-Contra, to name a few – clearly indicates war has never been so plentiful and profitable. Had we an informed citizenry by way of a muckraking press, guarded with an intellectual ability to think critically about the powers that be, then perhaps these wars would have never been.
It would appear Eisenhower’s words of wisdom have fallen on deaf ears.
A disclaimer is in order: my intentions are not to nostalgically wax poetic about Eisenhower because quite frankly he did nothing short of solidifying the idea of not just an unchecked permanent armaments industry but also perpetual military/intelligence operations overseas in order to keep the balance in favor of Western norms and ideology. For instance, under Eisenhower, both Operation Ajax and Operation PBSUCCESS ousted two democratically elected leaders through coups orchestrated by the CIA; that being the Prime Minister of Iran, Mohammad Mosaddegh, and President of Guatemala, Jacobo Árbenz. This set the precedent for dozens of more coups later on down the road, all in the name of stopping the red menace.
Eisenhower’s reign is an example of the deceptive “benevolent dictator” our framers of the Constitution had duly warned us about, unchained by the inherent checks and balances made explicit in the role of the Executive. Indeed, American foreign policy has effectively dethroned the rule of law, replacing it with the arbitrary whims of officials. The “law is king,” Paine once said; nowadays the order has been reversed, where elitist officials decide when to apply the law as they see fit. President Eisenhower, like our leaders today, said “trust me” to the rest of our governmental branches, conducting military strikes and operations without congressional oversight and thereby paying little mind to constitutional law. And as of recent, we have seen the same rationale entertained by the likes of Secretary of State John Kerry and President Obama in their bid to conduct military strikes in Syria. They too have said “just trust us,” asserting that Assad used Sarin on his people without feeling the need to prove it as such.
Nevertheless Eisenhower had his moment of clarity in the Farewell Speech of 1961. But not only were his words a warning of the commodification of war itself, moreover it warns of the perpetual specter of war according to government narratives alone – with zero factual basis. And with a disinformed citizenry, one has not the power to act because one is not in the know to begin with. Just trust us, they say. Here, embedded in the warning of Ike’s Farewell Address, we have the original prototype of the eventual Wolfowitz doctrine: a maximalist Executive that boxes out congressional oversight, engaging in covert and overt preemptive “operations” in order to prevent large scale wars in the future, operations based on so-called intelligence that never sees the light of day, top-secret and hushed – for elitist eyes only. Give us your uninformed consent; we promise to do the best we can with it.
The American political system has effectively substituted constitutional law for a pinky swear doctrine.
To say the least, our leaders didn’t get Ike’s memo. Or maybe they did – they just made it into a paper airplane, kicking their feet up on the table of discourse and reason, carelessly wielding their duties with a flick of the wrist. Indeed, to make matters worse, the soaring commodification of war has forayed into a sort of fetish for American officials, where they childishly revel in all things related to war on a superficial level that is astounding.
We now have the likes of NSA Chief Gen. Keith Alexander donning himself a modern day Picard by virtue of his spy facility modeled after the bridge of the starship Enterprise from Star Trek. And, furthermore, to add axe-murderer to Creep Street, the NSA facility is known as the “Information Domination Center.”
I have two questions for our trekkie NSA Chief:
While conducting unreasonable searches and seizures, when an analyst inquires whether or not to hack somebody’s private information, do you say “make it so!” whilst swiveling in your armchair? Also, when shredding everything the Fourth Amendment in the Constitution stands for with, presumably, photon torpedos, if you miss the target do you reenact the Annoyed Picard meme? Really, I’m seriously interested.
Likewise, we have Obama and his so-called Terror Tuesdays, where he meets with top national security officials and flips through baseball cards of bad guys, greenlighting drone strikes with an arbitrary point of the finger. Clearly the former Constitutional lawyer must be dyslexic, because he thinks that you are presumed guilty until proven innocent, rather than the other way around. Also, seeing that these hits are based primarily on intelligence reports that are not vetted by any congressional oversight, I do hope nobody is throwing Obama a Curveball.
Actually, check that, it would appear the al-Majala massacre was just that, a curveball by way of faulty intelligence – and Obama whiffed. But I’m sure he was just doing the best he could with what he had. Mistakes happen. I mean, maybe he just pointed to the wrong baseball card because he was too busy working on his dance moves for the Ellen DeGeneres Show.
While it’s all fun and games for armchair government officials, for those serving on the front lines of war, it’s dead serious. Yet since our media has been bought like a cheap suit, the citizenry isn’t privy to instances where the likes of Seal Team Six pick bullets out of the skulls of innocent victims in a special ops raid gone bad so as not to be held culpable for murder. Nope, in a world where fluffy disinformation is rife and the fetishist military-industrial complex runs amok in all its glory, the Gardez massacre got zero fucking traction by news outlets.
Preeminent war exercised through a permanent arms and intelligence industry, in theory, is supposed to stymie future wars. But whether it’s special operations in the dark of night or drones used via the disposition matrix, there is no such thing as a surgical and precise war. As the anti-war activist meme goes, bombing for peace is like fucking for virginity. Make no mistake about it, we invade countries to harvest their resources, build bases and gain a geopolitical foothold against other superpowers like Russia.
Here’s a rule of thumb: whenever politicians promise their efforts are good and just when it comes to military action, you can be damn sure they have something up their sleeve. That is the simple fact.
And that is precisely why we shouldn’t just trust them.
Yet while officials of yesteryear had the decency to button up their hegemony and jingoism in some semblance of reality and reason, like Eisenhower, nowadays officials just flaunt it braggadocio-style and care not about the ramifications of their actions. The likes of Obama and Alexander have zero compunction when it comes to the actual cost of war because both of them have been deluded by their own power and prestige as indispensable do-gooders in the world.
A similar delusion was enjoyed by Roman elites. They too dedicated their glory to games and reenactments of old battles in the Colosseum; meanwhile they crumbled within, due to a morally bankrupt autocrat and defanged Senate. Sound familiar?
Written by Mike Micklow for Media Roots