It’s interesting how the deficit hawks always discuss wasteful government spending in the context of Social Security, Medicare, health care provision, and education, but seldom analyze this phenomenon in regard to the Pentagon’s mammoth defense budget.. As my friend (and former Pentagon employee) Franklin “Chuck” Spinney has noted, the American military establishment is in a dysfunctional state of decay. It has been politicized by factional interests in the domestic political economy (what Professor Seymour Melman of Columbia called the permanent war economy) that emerged during the permanent mobilization of the Cold War.
Today, the web of political and economic relations weaving together the military-industrial-congressional complex, or MICC, operates according to its own internal rhythms that have almost nothing to do with foreign policy. In fact, foreign policy responds to the needs of the MICC. During the Cold War, the threat of nuclear annihilation kept things relatively pacific, while each side spent gobs of money to buy weapons (Korea and Vietnam were really backdrops against the greater imperative of defending western Europe and nuclear deterrence). But after the end of the Cold War, and with it the threat of annihilation, the MICC has mutated horribly and now requires perpetual small wars to keep the political system lathered up. That means continuing the entrenched politics of fear that evolved during the Cold War, and the mutation has worked: the defense budget has gone through the roof, and Obama’s budget means we are now spending more on defense in constant dollars that at anytime since 1945.
One reason for this mutation is that defense companies, which are now a huge part of our much diminished manufacturing sector, do not have the skills needed to survive in commercial markets. That is why they resisted conversion after the Soviet Union collapsed and opted instead for greater concentration, with the blessing of the Clinton Administration. These companies are the industrial equivalent of welfare queens, and consequently have to build a web of political connections to keep themselves afloat (along with their wholly-owned flaks in the mainstream media, thinktanks on both sides of aisle, and universities, including some of so-called best, like Harvard). The result is welfare for a vast army of over-educated people making up relatively well-off sectors in our society.This state of affairs would have appalled Roosevelt, as well as Eisenhower, who warned about this in his departing address to the nation in 1961.