April 16, 2004
Why DDE Would Have Feared GWB
by P.M. Carpenter
Anyone with even a passing knowledge of American history is familiar with President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s farewell speech, the famous address in which he spoke of the "military-industrial complex." Given the dangers of the Cold War era, said Ike, no one could doubt America’s "imperative need" for "this conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry."
So much for the upside. He then let drop the other well-known shoe.
Though imperative, we "must not fail to comprehend [the] grave implications" or bow to the "unwarranted influence" of a military-industrial fraternity on the "councils of government." Such a leviathan’s unchecked appetite would consume the fruits of our toil, our national income, "our liberties" and our "democratic processes" as it went about replacing "our peaceful methods" of conflict resolution with belligerence. It’s the nature of the beast.
These words reflect the wisdom that Ike honed in his Oval Office years. And he did more than mouth this wisdom; he lived it. As a two-term commander in chief in a nervous age, Ike suffered unrelenting demands from political agents of the military-industrial complex to vastly expand the defense establishment no matter the cost, whether fiscal, societal, or spiritual. He resisted, knowing the cost was too high.
This much is broadly known. What is less known is that Ike not only left office with this wisdom; he entered with it. Fifteen months before taking his first presidential oath, Eisenhower privately expressed what years later would become so public: "Any person who doesn’t clearly understand that national security and national solvency are mutually dependent and that permanent maintenance of a crushing weight of military power would eventually produce dictatorship should not be entrusted with any kind of responsibility in our country."
To paraphrase Oliver Wendell Holmes on Franklin Roosevelt, Eisenhower was possessed of a second-rate intellect, perhaps, but for sure a first-rate insight. In his travels up military rank and through political circles, Ike, unlike so many in similar shoes, took time to notice the absurdities of power. He didn’t need White House on-the-job training to learn the theoretically possible and the realistically probable: that the politics of deficit-financed, resource-draining, permanent mobilization are socially destructive.
But Ike was a Republican of authentic conservatism, which is to say, a Republican of yesteryear. He understood that the nation’s security depends on more than that gained at the end of a gun barrel, paid for in buckets of red ink. And most of all, he understood what other cultures have learned the hard way: the harsh inevitability of the "crushing weight of military power" -- ill-afforded and in league with demagoguery.
And that brings us to the present.
Even with nearly four years on the job, so to speak, today’s deficit-loving, military-obsessed Republican president has all the stature of a Dwight Eisenhower in garbled syntax only. With a chronic aversion to everything but hidebound ideology, George W. Bush has redefined what it means to be a conservative. He has taken all that was once wise about his party and tanked it.
In reinvigorating and retooling the military-industrial complex, Mr. Bush is burdening generations to come in proportions we never imagined. He throws more than a borrowed billion dollars a day at the Pentagon (which constitutes one-half of the world’s military spending), wastes precious national resources on such oddities as a useless trillion-dollar missile system, and deploys unbudgeted occupation forces with no exit strategy -- and thus no exit spending -- in sight. The resulting debt would make the most liberal Democrat blush and Dwight Eisenhower barf.
In short, Mr. Bush is precisely the kind of politician the 34th president so insightfully warned of. See again quotation, paragraph five.
otherwise noted, all original