Editor's Note: This is Part II of a series by former CIA analyst Melvin A. Goodman addressing the presidency and the Pentagon.
Part I examined what President Dwight Eisenhower knew about the military as a retired five-star general and what he tried to impart to his successors. Part III will deal with President Obama's mishandling of the military-industrial complex's power and what he should do:
Barack Obama's crippling inheritance as President of the United States is the near-five-decade failure of the nation's political leadership to heed President Dwight D. Eisenhower's warning that "in the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex."
This complex, according to Tom Barry of the Center for International Policy, has now "morphed into a new type of public-private partnership -- one that spans military, intelligence, and homeland-security contracting -- that amounts to a "national security complex'."
Over the past three decades, despite the collapse of the Berlin Wall, the dissolution of the Soviet Union, and the end of the Cold War, U.S. presidents have done next to nothing to challenge or limit the national security complex, which continues to drain the federal treasury and block any potential political threat to the military-industrial status quo.
Through this period, reaching from Ronald Reagan to Obama, military spending has continued to increase, with the United States outspending the entire rest of the world on weapons systems.
The $708 billion defense budget for 2011 is higher than at any point in America's post-World War II history. It is 16 percent higher than the 1952 Korean War budget peak and 36 percent higher than the 1968 Vietnam War budget peak in constant dollars.
Yet some Pentagon leaders see this spending level as restraint. Defense Secretary Robert Gates argues that the budget plan "rebalances" spending by emphasizing near-term challenges of counter-insurgency, counter-terrorism, and stabilization operations.
But the current budget plan makes no effort at prioritizing these near-term commitments against funding for long-term commitments. Instead, it increases funding for both near-term and long-term programs. Despite complaints from deficit hawks, the military-industrial hawks still rule the roost.
Overall procurement spending will rise by nearly 8 percent in the 2011 budget, covering virtually all of the equipment the services wanted. Historically, the costs to operate and maintain the U.S. military tend to grow at about 2.5 percent. Not this year. The basic defense budget request seeks more than $200 billion, or an 8.5 percent increase, in funding for Operations and Maintenance.
Over the past three decades, the military tool also has become the leading instrument of American statecraft. The defense budget is 13 times larger than all U.S. civilian foreign policy budgets combined, and the Defense Department's share of U.S. security assistance has grown from 6 percent in 2002 to more than 50 percent in 2009, when Obama was inaugurated.
There are more members of the military in marching bands than there are Foreign Service Officers, and the Defense Department spends more on fuel ($16 billion) than the State Department spends on operating costs ($13 billion). More than half of U.S. discretionary spending is in the defense budget, and war spending only accounts for half of the increase in defense spending since 1998.
All at Fault
All U.S. presidents since 1981 have contributed to the militarization of national security policy.
President Ronald Reagan was responsible for unprecedented peacetime increases in defense spending even though the Soviet Union was in decline; he also endorsed the Goldwater-Nichols Act in 1986 that enhanced the political role of the regional commanders-in-chief (CINCs) and marginalized the State Department.
President George H.W. Bush's deployment of 26,000 troops (Operation Just Cause) to Panama only one month after the collapse of the Berlin Wall, indicated that the use of force would play a greater role in the new international environment, which Bush dubbed "the new world order."
President Bill Clinton weakened the role of the State Department in implementing foreign policy, when he abolished the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency and the United States Information Agency and substantially reduced funding for the Agency for International Development.