In what the White House called a “coincidence,” President Obama will be making Charlie Brown teacher noises about NSA “reforms,” except there won’t be any reforms to speak of, unless you call further crackdowns on leakers reforms, on the 54th anniversary of Eisenhower’s famous “Military Industrial Complex” speech. They should have waited a few days.
I was in college when I first watched the speech, and at the time it seemed almost hyperbolic; sure, militarism was costly and usually counterproductive, but did it really threaten liberty and democracy? This was the early 1980′s, after all, and the yet-unnamed “Vietnam Syndrome” was still in full effect, and Reagan’s militarism had just received a rousing thumbs up from the electorate. Soviet-style tyranny seemed pretty far off, and Reagan seemed to be guiding the Pentagon, rather than the other way around.
Even during the Bush years, the administration took pains to at least provide the trappings of Democratic acquiescence to its warmongering, albeit often in shabby and deceitful ways. As time wore on and the wars went south, both practically and in public opinion, Bush and his cronies increasingly let slip their contempt for the will of the people, they still could point to the fact that even after Abu Ghraib and whatnot, they had been reelected.
It wasn’t until Bush’s second term that I saw Ike’s speech with fresh eyes; one by one, liberty and democracy were, in fact, being tossed under the bus, and clearly at the hands of an MIC run amok. Suddenly we had something called “Joint Terrorism Task Forces” blurring the once bright line between local and federal law enforcement, warrentless search and seizure, and flagrant collusion between greedy corporations and overweening government. The war had come home in the worst possible way, just as Ike warned it would.
But by this time, Bush was as popular as crabs in a whorehouse, and whichever candidate was least like him would surely be the next President. Unfortunately, we all know how that turned out; Obama became a shill for the MIC the moment he clinched the nomination. The only candidate who opposed the Iraq war became entranced with having an idiotic, Bush-aping “surge” in Afghanistan. The guy who railed against warrantless wiretapping retroactively legalized it. Worse, once elected, broken promises continued to fall like rain.
The horrid gulag of Guantanamo remained open, persecution of leakers increased, government spying metastasized, and even the hated Iraq war only “ended” because our own puppet government there told us to take a hike. Thoroughly discredited military leaders like David Petraeus were not only kept on but promoted, the war on drugs escalated, and what few journalists questioned any of this found out in a hurry that their impertinence was not appreciated.
So it turns out Ike wasn’t blowing smoke on that January day in 1960; it just took a little longer than he thought. Militarism does, in fact, hate Democracy and freedom, as passionately as PETA hates furriers, and it’s done yoeman’s work getting rid of it. In tomorrow’s speech, Mr. Hope & Change will be treading carefully to avoid upsetting not the people he ostensibly serves, but the intelligence “community.” My guess is that Eisenhower’s ghost will not be amused.