One of the savviest presidents was Dwight Eisenhower. In late 1956, he confronted two simultaneous crises. The first was a disastrously misguided war launched by the United Kingdom, France, and Israel to overthrow the Egyptian government and retake control of the Suez Canal following its nationalization by Egypt. Eisenhower forced the allies to stop their brazen and illegal attack, including through a U.S.-sponsored United Nations General Assembly resolution. The second crisis was the Hungarian Uprising against Soviet domination of Hungary. While Eisenhower sympathized with the uprising, he wisely kept the U.S. out of Hungary and thereby avoided a dangerous military showdown with the Soviet Union.
Eisenhower’s historic farewell address to the American people in January 1961 alerted the public to the growing power of the MIC:
In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.
We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.
Biden’s 2024 military budget breaks all records, reaching at least $1.5 trillion in outlays for the Pentagon, CIA, homeland security, non-Pentagon nuclear arms programs, subsidized foreign weapons sales, other military-linked outlays, and interest payments on past war-related debts. On top of this mountain of military spending, Biden is seeking an additional $50 billion in “emergency supplemental funding” for America’s “defense industrial base” to keep shipping munitions to Ukraine and Israel.
Biden doesn’t have any realistic plans for Ukraine, and even rejected a peace agreement between Russia and Ukraine in March 2022 that would have ended the conflict based on Ukrainian neutrality by ending Ukraine’s futile bid to join NATO (futile because Russia will never accept it). Ukraine is big business for the MIC—tens and potentially hundreds of billions of dollars of arms contracts, manufacturing facilities across the U.S,, the opportunity to develop and test new weapons systems—so Biden keeps the war going despite the destruction of Ukraine on the battlefield, and the tragic and needless deaths of hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians. The MIC, and hence Biden, continue to shun negotiations, even though direct U.S.-Russia negotiations regarding NATO and other security issues (such as U.S. missile placements in Eastern Europe) could end the war.
In Israel, Biden’s failure is even more on display. Israel is led by an extremist government that reviles the two-state solution, according to which Israelis and Palestinians should live side by side in two sovereign peaceful and secure states, or indeed any solution that grants Palestinians their political rights. The two-state solution is deeply embedded in international law, including U.N. Security Council and General Assembly resolutions and supposedly in U.S. foreign policy. The Arab and Islamic leaders are committed to normalizing and securing safe relations with Israel in the context of the two-state solution.
Yet Israel is led by violent zealots who make the messianic claim that God has given Israel all the land of today’s Palestine, including the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem. These zealots therefore insist on political domination over the millions of Palestinians in their midst, or their annihilation or expulsion. Netanyahu and his colleagues don’t even hide their genocidal intentions, though most foreign observers don’t fully understand the biblical references that the Israeli leaders invoke to justify their ongoing mass slaughter of the Palestinian people.
Israel now faces highly credible charges of genocide in the International Court of Justice in a case brought by South Africa. The documentary record presented by South Africa and others is as clear as it is chilling. Israeli politics is not the politics of pragmatism and certainly not the politics of peace. It is the politics of biblical apocalypse.
Biden nonetheless provides Israel with the munitions to carry out its massive war crimes. Instead of acting like Eisenhower and pressing Israel to end its slaughter in contravention of international law including the Genocide Convention, Biden continues to ship munitions, even bypassing congressional review to the maximum extent he can. The result is U.S. diplomatic isolation from the rest of the world, and the growing involvement of the U.S. military in a war that is rapidly and all-too-predictably expanding across Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Iran, and Yemen. In the recent U.N. General Assembly vote backing political self-determination for the people of Palestine, the U.S. and Israel stood alone save two votes: Micronesia (bound by compact to vote with the U.S.) and Nauru (population 12,000).
America foreign policy is rudderless, with a president whose only foreign policy recipe is war. With the U.S. already up to its neck in the wars in Ukraine and the Middle East, Biden also intends to ship more arms to Taiwan despite China’s strident objections that the U.S. is thereby violating long-standing U.S. commitments to the One-China policy, including the commitment made 42 years ago in the U.S.-PRC Joint Communique that the U.S. government “does not seek to carry out a long-term policy of arms sales to Taiwan.” Eisenhower’s dire prophecy has been confirmed. The military-industrial complex threatens our liberty, our democracy, and our very survival.
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Jeffrey D. Sachs, University Professor at Columbia University, is Director of the Center for Sustainable Development at Columbia University and President of the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network. He has served as adviser to three UN Secretaries-General, and currently serves as an SDG Advocate under Secretary-General António Guterres.
Sachs has authored and edited numerous books, including three New York Times bestsellers: The End of Poverty (2005), Common Wealth: Economics for a Crowded Planet (2008), and The Price of Civilization (2011). Other books include To Move The World: JFK’s Quest for Peace (2013), The Age of Sustainable Development(2015), Building the New American Economy (2017), A New Foreign Policy: Beyond American Exceptionalism (2018), The Ages of Globalization (2020), and most recently, Ethics in Action for Sustainable Development (2022).