In a stunning and brave demonstration that he is just like everybody else in the establishment media, and a reliable company man in the nation’s foremost anti-Trump propaganda machine, CNN National Security Reporter Ryan Browne tweeted Monday: “In an unprecedented public attack by a sitting US president on the leadership of the US military, President Trump has accused US military leaders of seeking to start wars to boost the profits of defense contractors.”
Coming on the heels of the media outrage over the false claim that Trump termed American troops “losers,” this is just another manifestation of a quadrennial spectacle: Leftists who loathe the military claiming to love and respect it. But Browne’s central claim was wrong: Trump’s remarks were not unprecedented, and indeed were following one of the most enduringly important statements by a president in modern times.
Trump said at a press conference Monday: “I’m not saying the military’s in love with me, but the soldiers are. The top people in the Pentagon probably aren’t, because they want to do nothing but fight wars so that all of those wonderful companies that make the bombs and make the planes and make everything else stay happy. But we’re getting out of the endless wars, you know how we’re doing.”
In response to Ryan Browne’s tweet, many commenters pointed out that Trump’s words were hardly “unprecedented,” as he was merely echoing an important warning from one of his predecessors, a man who was a general before he was a president: Dwight D. Eisenhower. As Rating America’s Presidents: An America-First Look at Who Is Best, Who Is Overrated, and Who Was An Absolute Disaster discusses, in his farewell address on January 17, 1961, Eisenhower warned against the “military-industrial complex” – a warning that has too often been ignored.
Stung by this criticism, CNN’s Browne huffily responded: “Some folks really ought to read what President Eisenhower actually said in his farewell address. While they are both critical of the military industrial complex, nowhere does Eisenhower actually accuse military leaders of engaging in shooting wars to boost profits for firms.”
All right. Let’s read what President Eisenhower actually said. “We must guard,” he declared, “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.”
If Eisenhower didn’t mean that there was a danger that military leaders might engage in shooting wars that did nothing to foster national security but were pursued only for the benefit of industrial firms, what exactly did he mean? Take, for example, the American incursion into Somalia in the 1990s. On December 4, 1992, after he had already lost his bid for reelection, Bush announced that he was sending American troops to Somalia. The stated goal was to protect humanitarian missions in the East African nation, which was torn by civil war.
As Rating America’s Presidents details, there was no conceivable American interest in protecting the delivery of humanitarian aid to Somalia. Somalia had no oil or any other significant products for export. It did not remotely threaten the U.S. or even nearby countries militarily. While many Americans like to regard the United States as the “world’s policeman,” neither the U.S. nor any other nation has the resources to ensure that every other country has good government, and any country that tried to behave as if it did would soon come to ruin.
But the United States under George H. W. Bush had become the world’s strict but benevolent father, intervening wherever it deemed necessary for the good of its children. That these interventions could ultimately exhaust America’s resources while accomplishing no good purpose (nearly thirty years after Bush’s intervention, Somalia still has no stable central government that is recognized throughout that country) was not even considered. Might there have been some profit motive involved in that fruitless and pointless incursion (and there are many, many others like it in America’s recent history) that might explain why it was undertaken without any conceivable benefit to the nation? Is that question even improper to ask? Apparently it is, as far as CNN is concerned.
Contrary to CNN’s faux outrage, Trump actually said nothing more than Eisenhower said so many years ago. And in the ensuing decades, with so many undeclared, unfocused, unending wars, Eisenhower’s warning appears prophetic.
Balancing the genuine requirements of the national defense against the temptation to engage in military action for less than noble purposes, including the profit motive, was not done nearly as often as it should have been by Eisenhower’s successors. Trump is, in fact, the first president since Eisenhower to make any significant pushback against these endless wars. For that, he is to be commended by all rational and fair-minded people, which of course leaves out CNN.
Robert Spencer is the director of Jihad Watch and a Shillman Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center. He is author of 21 books, including the New York Times bestsellers The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades) and The Truth About Muhammad. His latest book is Rating America’s Presidents: An America-First Look at Who Is Best, Who Is Overrated, and Who Was An Absolute Disaster. Follow him on Twitter here. Like him on Facebook here.