The Triumph of the Military-Industrial-Congressional Complex: To understand perverse military decision-making, follow the money
(Source: Ben Cohen and Winslow Wheeler; published January 25, 2015)

(This article was originally published Jan 25 by
In his farewell address in January 1961, Pres. Dwight Eisenhower famously cautioned the American public to "guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex."

Today it's routine for critics of wasteful military spending to cite Eisenhower's warning. Unfortunately, Eisenhower did not warn us that the military-industrial complex would become increasingly malignant as it morphed into less obvious forms.

The "complex" is no longer just "military" and "industrial," and it has extended far beyond just its congressional branch, which Eisenhower also intended to include.

It's now deeply embedded in the fiber of the American political system, academia, the civilian leadership of the Defense Department and-increasingly-the White House itself.

The military-industrial-complex was on display-but passed without wide notice-on Dec. 5 when Pres. Barack Obama announced, at the White House, his selection of Harvard professor Ashton Carter to replace the ineffectual and effortlessly discarded Chuck Hagel as secretary of defense.

Avuncular in public tone and appearance, Carter-a nuclear physicist with an avowed enthusiasm for medieval history-has already served in multiple high Department of Defense positions, deciding national security policy and later weapons acquisition.

Consequently, Obama described Carter at the White House as "bring[ing] a unique blend of strategic perspective and technical know-how."

Obama even joked that Carter is "one of the few people who actually understands how many of our defense systems work."

But look closer and you'll see that Carter has a dark side. Beyond his early and enthusiastic support for starting and prolonging the 2003 war in Iraq and extending the U.S. combat presence in Afghanistan, he has spoken out in favor of initiating war against North Korea and Iran.

Now that Obama is returning the U.S. military to Iraq and retaining up to 10,000 American troops in Afghanistan, the two men seem to be increasingly of one mind.

"I pledge to you my most candid strategic advice," Carter told Obama at the White House. Expanding the Iraq-Syria conflict and prolonging the war in Afghanistan may very well be what he has in mind.

His advocacy of more and longer wars is not the only troubling element of Carter's track record. Between stints at the Pentagon, he has associated with defense-connected firms including MITRE, Goldman Sachs, Global Technology Partners and Textron.

More darkly, he more recently associated with a firm called SBD Advisors, which has advertised itself as working in Washington's shadows so that "only the inner circle knows that we were involved," according to the company.

The firm professes it has no defense-related clients, but its board includes former Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Mike Mullen and former Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair-a seeming contradiction.

The Harvard credentials and degrees in physics from Yale and Oxford notwithstanding, Obama's characterization of Carter as "one of the few people who actually understands how many of our defense systems work" does not rest comfortably with his record in the Pentagon.

Today's poster children for failing weapons programs prospered with Carter as under secretary for acquisition, logistics and technology and then as deputy secretary of defense. Among the unhappy examples of how not to select and buy weapons are the Navy's grotesquely over-cost $14-billion new aircraft carrier and the $23-billion Littoral Combat Ship program.

The Defense Department has found that the LCSs cannot survive in serious combat, are all too frequently inoperable, and at $680 million apiece are way over budget. But both the carrier and the LCS program prospered under Carter.

Similarly, Carter recommended little more than a makeover for the world's most expensive program, the $400-billion F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.

An embarrassment to all associated with it, the F-35 has doubled in unit cost since its official inception. Its potential combat debut looks to be about a decade late-so far-and its combat capabilities could represent a major step backward from the aircraft it is supposed to replace.

One of the aircraft the F-35 cannot competently replace is the cheap, deadly A-10 Warthog attack plane, which the Pentagon has been desperate to retire. Obama's talking points at White House event had him waxing on about Carter's proficiency at getting rid of "old or inefficient" and "outdated, unneeded" weapons, which is exactly how F-35 boosters see the A-10.

The combat-proven A-10 has been the centerpiece of a knockdown, drag-out fight in Congress between skeptical legislators who want to keep the veteran plane and top Air Force officers who are determined to get rid of all 283 low- and slow-flying A-10s and spend the $4.2 billion in "savings" on the over-budget F-35.

The A-10 has been in the Air Force inventory for more than 30 years, but with recent upgrades it's viable well into the 2030s. In Iraq and Afghanistan, it continues to support ground troops far better than the high-speed, high-altitude multi-mission jets the Air Force prefers.

The Warthog is also the cheapest combat aircraft to operate in the Air Force's inventory.

Knowing full well how effective the A-10 is, a community of current and past Warthog pilots, forward air controllers and soldiers and Marines of virtually all ranks-except generals-whose lives had been saved by A-10s leaped to the jet's defense.

They swept into Congress' office buildings, testifying to the A-10's worth. They wrote articles and analyses, and generally swamped a shamed Air Force with data and compelling combat history.

The result was a pleasant surprise. A vast majority of Congresspeople, most of whom had no contractor or home base links to the A-10 to explain their support as merely pecuniary, voted in all four of the House's and Senate's defense bills to protect and preserve the entire A-10 force.

But all too typically, acting behind closed doors the so-called "Big Four" members of the House and Senate Armed Services Committees undermined the A-10 community. (end of excerpt)

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