Militarization and the Implications of Eisenhower’s Prescience

Sunday, August 12th, 2012

Eapen Thampy, Americans for Forfeiture Reform

This article titled “The Slow Motion Coup: Militarization and the Implications of Eisenhower’s Prescience” is certainly one of the most important articles I’ve read all year; the author is William J. Olsen, Chairman of the Department of Strategic Studies at the College of International Security Affairs at the National Defense University:

President Eisenhower made these observations on the eve of leaving office in 1961.  Close on fifty years ago he warned of the dangers to America—heart, body, and soul—of a threat from the militarization of US social, economic, and political life.  Little heeded, the concern he raised then has had two generations to work its work ever more surely than he foresaw.  The consequence today is the militarization of our foreign policy and the dominance of the military in planning and implementing broad areas of domestic policy as well.  It is, in effect, a slow motion coup in which increasingly military officers and military counsel dominates strategic thinking and significant parts of the political agenda, in a reversal of Clausewitz’s dictum that war is an extension of politics.  Unlike most military coup d’etat, however, this is not the result of a small cabal of military officers plotting, ala Seven Days in May, to seize the government in a bold, overnight military take over.  Instead, it has been years in the making and is the result of contributions from a broad spectrum of politicians, businessmen, think tanks and lobbyists, a complacent public, and the military responding to real and genuine threats to national survival for over 70 years.  This is not a story, yet, of sinister conspirators.  The question is, is there any way to undo what is done and walk back from a situation that so concerned Eisenhower for the fate of the country he served so long and so well.

The rest of the article is hard to excerpt, but:

There is no shortage of advice, but advice will not help in this situation…

Take just one simple question: Does the United States need a military establishment as large as it now has?  Two simple answers: yes, which is the default position that will be pushed by those with a stake—and they are legion—in the answer; and no, which is the subject matter for an intense and excruciating soul searching that goes all the way down leaving nothing untouched.  But, on what criteria would an answer be based?  Interest in the outcome or concern by itself are not adequate.  And how does one establish any sort of consensus on the necessary criteria?  Or establish convincingly that any analysis arriving at the criteria is not self-interested, biased, or partisan?  And who is the best source to bring such an issue to the table?  There is no shortage of opinion.  But where does wisdom lie?  And how to know it?  It is a simple question.  There are no easy answers.  To ask it is only the beginning.

To take one example.  If ‘small wars’ are the most likely circumstance for the future of conflict, these, of necessity, require ‘small’ responses.  Not just an appropriate force structure but a support establishment short of the scale and scope of the current Department of Defense with all its rococo embellishments.  There is a need for specialized, scaled components specific to the need and not large, general purpose forces.  But if this is the case, then promotion opportunities, justifications for large, regular military formations and the resources necessary are likely to follow the requirements of a much reduced overall force structure.  The system as outlined above, however, is not only not geared to such a need but is designed to resist any effort to reduce the current establishment or to accept missions that suggest such a course.  This is one reason why China is increasingly seen as a military threat.  It putatively offers a threat of a ‘regular’ sort on a scale to justify a large force structure, which, according to the argument, is then more than capable of dealing with ‘lesser’ threats.  Whether this is strategically valid is less a consideration.  And the shift is itself not part of a politically considered strategy but a process driven by the military and its imperatives that now drives the process.

The current military establishment rejects the logic of small responses expect as ‘other duties as assigned’.  Such a mentality, which pervades military leadership, leads to an insistence on wars that will employ large, regular forces or turning lesser circumstances into those wars it is equipped to fight, creating a capability-requirement mismatch.  Thus, for example, although the United States was engaged in Iraq for almost ten years, the military that the US took to war was only trained and equipped for the first eight weeks of the ten years.

Or another simple question: Why do we have Combatant Commanders?  This is a model drawn from WWII, made formal and deeply rooted as the result of the Cold War.  Both are over.  Why does the establishment linger?  And if we are to have a pro-consul per region, why a military officer?  Why not a senior civilian with a military adviser?

Despite the comment above on commissions, there is one commissioner that needs to engage to follow up on the dialogue that President Eisenhower began.  To echo Cohen’s argument, that commissioner is the President, now and all his colleagues as former presidents.  The immediate demands of the office generally overwhelm the ability of presidents to deal in grand issues, which is one reason why Eisenhower made his observations at the end of his tenure.  It needs to begin the tenure and sustain itself through successive presidents, regardless of party.  It needs presidents to engage members of Congress in the discussion.  It needs leadership and patience and a serious, sustained dialogue with the public.


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11 Responses to “Militarization and the Implications of Eisenhower’s Prescience”

  1. #1 |  Militarization and the Implications of Eisenhower’s Prescience « Ducks and Economics | 

    […] Cross-posted at The Agitator. […]

  2. #2 |  Mike T | 

    One of the biggest reasons for the size of the military establishment is the unwillingness of Congress to reform the civil service. The era of the underpaid civil servant who traded higher pay for job security has ended; the civil service pay is comparable or superior to most private sector jobs (especially when adjusted for work hours and expectations). All civilian employees of the federal government, especially DoD, should be transitioned to at-will employment.

    You could probably cut a few hundred thousand government contractor jobs by shifting to an at-will employment program. By allowing federal agencies to directly hire new talent and fire bad employees with the same ease as private companies, you would get rid of the main justification for having government contracting outside of materiel production.

    I don’t suspect this will happen mainly because the dirty little secret is that the military and DoD at large have been turned into jobs programs by people across the spectrum. Not the uniformed military in most cases, but its contracting support apparatus as well as much of the civilian support agencies. Reforming the employment and procurement processes would result in a holocaust of jobs…

  3. #3 |  Michael S | 

    In terms of Eisenhower’s prescience, you might want to check out the “Why We Fight” political documentary.

  4. #4 |  Leon Wolfeson | 

    @2 – But not when adjusted for qualifications, like most countries.

    And of course you want more fire-at-will employment, gotta make sure that productivity is depressed. There’s plenty of evidence of that, and basically none of the “gains” you claim.

  5. #5 |  Mike T | 

    And of course you want more fire-at-will employment, gotta make sure that productivity is depressed.

    It would not be possible to depress the productivity of large segments of the federal government more than they already are under this employment regime short of tying them to their chairs and making them watch sitcoms all day.

  6. #6 |  Marty | 

    this looks good- I’ll dig in when I get home.

  7. #7 |  Weird Willy | 

    “This is not a story, yet, of sinister conspirators.”

    I immediately began to discount Olsen’s analytical ability upon reading this.

  8. #8 |  Leon Wolfeson | 

    @5 – Ah yes, anyone who’s in public service is by definition EVIL in your view. Typical stereotyping of people doing their jobs, then you wonder when you’re hostile to them why they don’t bend over backwards for you.

    It’s basically a conspiracy theory you’re pushing.

  9. #9 |  Doc Merlin | 

    I’m not sure why you use the word “militarization” this isn’t new, and cops have always been a sort of standing army.

  10. #10 |  history buff | 

    Let’s be realistic. Politicians have lied to the public to hype every war-mongering fraud for the past 130 years. Pearl was a set-up. D.C. had broken the Japanese Purple code 17 months prior to the attack. The U.S. has had a standing army in time of undeclared war only since 1945 and the result has been constant war. Read JFK, AND THE UNTHINKABLE by James Douglas and find the pressure used by the military for war, or review what the CIA has done to overthrow non-compliant nations for the past 60 years with military hardware. The military is now being utilized to support local police to enforce United Nations mandates (New World Order) and neither of the political parties object.

  11. #11 |  JamesAt17 | 

    What was Eisenhower really thinking when he said these things? Was he trying to make amends for the mass murder he caused after the end of WW 2? The blood of up to 10 million or more was on his hands and his orders were to let it happen. Look it up. You will find a lot of info on what I am talking about.