Student Op-Eds

Eisenhower’s Burden

Vishal Bajpai ’16  Inside Politics

Does anyone remember what President Eisenhower had to say about military spending? No, not the military-industrial complex bit. The other bit, the bit most people never talk about. He said, “Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, signifies, in the final sense a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and not clothed.” He calls it a theft. War, however, is not like shop lifting or even robbing a bank. War requires many hundreds of millions of dollars and thousands of lives. So this begs the question: who are the thieves and who are their victims?

Our government holds an interesting position in all of this. It is the only body that can legally declare war in our name and it is the only body that can manage large scale aid programs on a federal level. It is all too obvious that the government has been choosing war over aid.

In May 2005 British journalist, Michael Smith, published the “Downing Street memo” in The Sunday Times. The memo recounts secret meetings between British government senior officials before the Iraq War. Those to whom the memo was sent included British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, Attorney-General Lord Goldsmith, and the head of the Secret Intelligence Service Sir Richard Dearlove. Smith won a British Press Award in 2006 for his work on the memo.

The most telling parts of the memo were a report of Sir Dearlove’s recent visit to the Bush Whitehouse. Sir Dearlove referred to in the memo as “C” (Emphasis added):

“C reported on his recent talks in Washington. There was a perceptible shift in attitude. Military action was now seen as inevitable. Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD. But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy. The NSC had no patience with the UN route, and no enthusiasm for publishing material on the Iraqi regime’s record. There was little discussion in Washington of the aftermath after military action.”

And the British analysis of U.S. intentions (Emphasis added):

“The Foreign Secretary said he would discuss this with Colin Powell this week. It seemed clear that Bush had made up his mind to take military action, even if the timing was not yet decided. But the case was thin. Saddam was not threatening his neighbors, and his WMD capability was less than that of Libya, North Korea or Iran. We should work up a plan for an ultimatum to Saddam to allow back in the UN weapons inspectors. This would also help with the legal justification for the use of force.”

The memo clearly outlines that in 2002 the Bush Whitehouse had already decided that war was “inevitable” and that “the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy”. The memo itself has been tacitly confirmed by Prime Minister Tony Blair who claimed that nothing in the document demonstrated misconduct on his or the Labor government’s part.

The Republicans are not, however, the only group in Washington. It is important to remember that the last two Secretaries of State under President Obama, Hillary Clinton and John Kerry, voted for the Iraq war. Clinton is a favorite for the Democratic nomination in 2016 and Secretary of State Kerry was President Bush’s opponent in 2004. It is clearly not a party issue.

The victims from Eisenhower’s quote are obvious as well. President Eisenhower himself identifies them as, “[T]hose who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and not clothed.” While that seems like a nebulous group of people we can narrow it down to statistics that the government actually keeps.

According to the Census Bureau in September 2013, after accounting for government programs and assistance, differences in price levels due to geographic area, and size of family, the U.S. poverty rate is 16.1%. The World Bank estimates that there are 313.9 million people living in the United States of America. Simple arithmetic puts the figure at 50.5379 million Americans who are being robbed.

So when legislators argue that we need to cut the budgets and reign in spending on “superfluous” programs like food stamps, unemployment benefits, Medicaid, Medicare, social security, or subsidized housing I wonder where they found the 3 trillion dollars for a war whose case was at best “thin”. And yes, 3 trillion is the low-ball number calculated by Joseph Stiglitz, a former chief economist for the World Bank and Nobel Prize winner in Economics. High-ball estimates run all the way up to 6 trillion dollars.

According to President Eisenhower, 3 trillion dollars have been plundered; plundered from some 50 million impoverished Americans and 32,239 injured soldiers. That is $59,358.76 dollars for each of them; keep in mind that the average annual wage in the U.S. is $55,000. 3 trillion dollars have been withheld from 50,540,139 impoverished people. The victims in this situation are clear.