America’s Permanent-War Complex
Eisenhower’s worst nightmare has come true, as defense mega-contractors climb into the cockpit to ensure we stay overextended.
What President Dwight D. Eisenhower dubbed the “military-industrial complex” has been constantly evolving over the decades, adjusting to shifts in the economic and political system as well as international events. The result today is a “permanent-war complex,” which is now engaged in conflicts in at least eight countries across the globe, none of which are intended to be temporary.
This new complex has justified its enhanced power and control over the country’s resources primarily by citing threats to U.S. security posed by Islamic terrorists. But like the old military-industrial complex, it is really rooted in the evolving relationship between the national security institutions themselves and the private arms contractors allied with them.
The first phase of this transformation was a far-reaching privatization of U.S. military and intelligence institutions in the two decades after the Cold War, which hollowed out the military’s expertise and made it dependent on big contractors (think Halliburton, Booz Allen Hamilton, CACI). The second phase began with the global “war on terrorism,” which quickly turned into a permanent war, much of which revolves around the use of drone strikes.
The drone wars are uniquely a public-private military endeavor, in which major arms contractors are directly involved in the most strategic aspect of the war. And so the drone contractors—especially the dominant General Atomics—have both a powerful motive and the political power, exercised through its clients in Congress, to ensure that the wars continue for the indefinite future.
The privatization of military and intelligence institutions began even before the end of the Cold War. But during the 1990s, both Congress and the Bush and Clinton administrations opened the floodgates to arms and intelligence contractors and their political allies. The contracts soon became bigger and more concentrated in a handful of dominant companies. Between 1998 and 2003, private contractors were getting roughly half of the entire defense budget each year. The 50 biggest companies were getting more than half of the approximately $900 billion paid out in contracts during that time, and most were no-bid contracts, sole sourced, according to the Center for Public Integrity.
The contracts that had the biggest impact on the complex were for specialists working right in the Pentagon. » Lees verder