In the political documentary Why We Fight, focusing on the relationship between defense contractors and the U.S. government, one of the most highly-profiled politicians with immense ties to military industries is Senator John McCain of Arizona.
Throughout his congressional career, Senator McCain has made his name defending nearly every military conflict, using his political and rhetorical prowess to justify each invasion as “necessary” to American freedom and democracy. In staunchly defending this brand of military adventurism at home, McCain is also often the first American of political notoriety to fly into theaters of war, demonstrating his support and reiterating the importance of the mission.
The most recent example is the toppling of Muammar Gaddafi in Libya, a civil war strongly supported by Senator McCain and other congressional leaders as a measure to “ouster” the long-time Libyan ruler. Once NATO bombing campaigns and Western-supported ground assaults by rebels were near conclusion, McCain traveled with a delegation to the rebel-controlled Tripoli, hoping to praise the newly-crowned Libyan Transitional Council.
While this particular visit is not significant in its own right, it does shed light upon the irrational aims of American foreign policy and how much it is influenced by domestic contractors of weapons and military gear, a common trope of the post-WWI era.
This is further demonstrated by a similar meeting in 2009, when Libya was not a sworn enemy of the world, but rather a willing customer of Western arms and bombs. McCain joined several other senators on a grand diplomatic trip to Libya to secure contracts with Colonel Gaddafi, revealed by both Wikileaks and Senator McCain’s own tweet to his followers.
Diplomatic trips to theaters of American intervention, in this context, are not new for McCain, and they reflect his strong hawkish stance of American foreign policy. Examples of his favored interventions include Iraq, Afghanistan, Kosovo, Libya, Iran, Somalia, North Korea, Pakistan, Russia, Yemen, Syria, Georgia, Cuba, Egypt, and much more.
It was to this author’s bafflement, therefore, when Senator McCain recently took to the Senate floor to heed President Eisenhower’s warnings of the “Military-Industrial Complex”, or as coined by McCain, the Military-Industrial Congressional Complex.
Bewildering indeed, McCain expounded for close to 40 minutes on the skewed incentives of congressmen in promoting bloated defense spending, the revolving door of the Pentagon and defense industry, and the vast waste perpetuated by uncountable contracts to build weapon systems. His most poignant remark referenced Eisenhower’s warning directly, conceding that it had, in fact, become all too real:
The fiftieth anniversary of President Eisenhower’s address presents us with a valuable opportunity today to carefully consider, have we heeded President Eisenhower’s admonition? Regrettably and categorically, the answer is, no. In fact, the military-industrial complex has become much worse than President Eisenhower originally envisioned: it’s evolved to capture Congress. So, the phenomenon should now rightly be called, the ‘military-industrial-congressional’ complex.
McCain cited various examples of programs and weapons which have enjoyed profligate support by a bipartisan effort, calling to question the immense size of the defense budget. He decried the “biases” of political and military actors who sign off on “failed” and “costly” projects, while welcoming the new “cultural change” forced by the new condition of fiscal austerity.
The comments (in writing and televised in parts one, two, and three) present the American people with a John McCain that has never before been seen. More explicitly, it is a John McCain seemingly antithetical to any public perception of the Senator in the last 30 years.
How does one who, just months ago, was warning that cuts to the defense budget were a “national security threat” so easily change face, lamenting the rise of the huge military defense machine that has engulfed over a fourth of the budget of the Federal government? What could have inspired such a stark paradigm shift in the man once considered the most hawkish politician in Washington, D.C.?
As perplexing as the speech may be, it is one that is welcomed to those who have denounced the unparalleled rise of the American Empire.
In fact, were John McCain to join the fight against military aggression and blind defense spending, he would most certainly become the most influential and powerful former hawk to take on the defense establishment, adding even more legitimacy to the growing opposition.
While John McCain’s change of heart will not directly end the myopic foreign policy of the American federal government, the tremendous credence enjoyed by the Senator will do its part to instill some skepticism in the minds of other American lawmakers, a welcomed move in the age of costly, expansionary, and deadly preemptive war.