In his 1961 farewell address, Dwight Eisenhower famously warned against the rise of the “military-industrial complex,” where the national security state and the for-profit arms industry overlap.

We ignored his warning. Sixty years on, we’re still ignoring it — and living with the consequences.

The Trump years saw massive increases in military spending, culminating in a record $738 billion in 2020, including $1 billion through the CARES Act. President Biden campaigned on reducing Trump’s bloated budgets, but he now says he’ll preserve them. His administration will unveil its first annual Pentagon budget, expected to reach over $696 billion, in May.

With that much money at stake, it’s little wonder that recent presidential efforts to end wars, or even scale them back, have been so vigorously opposed. The Trump administration’s 2020 peace deal with the Taliban was instantly met with incredible resistance from the military, and President Biden appears to be folding in the face of that same resistance — not to mention continued pressure to not reenter Obama’s historic Iran deal, which Trump trashed in 2018.

When you’re holding a hammer, everything looks like a nail, and the U.S. military-industrial complex is holding the most powerful (and lucrative) war hammer in the history of human civilization. Whether it’s Afghanistan or Iran, Russia or China, there will always be another so-called “national security threat” meriting a costly militarized response. But expensive as those responses are, the human cost of endless war is even greater — and ultimately makes us less safe.

Benjamin Smith,


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