Skip to content Skip to footer

Time to admit that the war machine drives US foreign policy

The tension in Taiwan, the disaster in Ukraine, and what has credibly been described as genocide in Gaza, can all be tracked back to the fact that the US president refuses to rein in the profiteering war machine, says Professor Jeffrey D. Sachs.


WHEN IT COMES to foreign policy, the president of the United States has two essential roles.

The first is to rein in the military-industrial complex, or MIC, which is always pushing for war.

The second is to rein in U.S. allies that expect the U.S. to go to war on their behalf.

A few savvy presidents succeed, but most fail. Joe Biden is certainly a failure.

IT CAN BE DONE

One of the savviest presidents was Dwight Eisenhower. In late 1956, he confronted two simultaneous crises.

Eisenhower voiced a clear warning about the situation we are in today.

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.”

Even Eisenhower did not fully rein in the military-industrial complex, especially the Central Intelligence Agency. No president has done so entirely.

CIA IS A COVERT ARMY

The CIA was created in 1947 with two distinct roles.

The first and valid one was as an intelligence agency.

The second and disastrous one was as a covert army for the president.

In the latter capacity, the CIA has led one calamitous failure after another from Eisenhower’s time till now, including coups, assassinations, and stage-managed “color revolutions,” all of which have produced endless havoc and destruction.

REMEMBER JFK

Following Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy brilliantly resolved the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, narrowly avoiding nuclear Armageddon by facing down his own war-mongering advisers to reach a peaceful solution with the Soviet Union.

JF Kennedy Jr, assassinated in his car, did not hide his anger with the CIA. Image: Wikimedia Commons

The following year he successfully negotiated the Partial Nuclear Test Ban Treaty with the Soviet Union, over Pentagon objections, and then won Senate ratification, thereby pulling the U.S. and Soviet Union back from the brink of war.

Many believe that Kennedy’s peace initiatives led to his assassination at the hands of rogue CIA officials. Biden has joined the long line of presidents that have kept classified or redacted thousands of documents that would shed more light on the assassination.

Six decades on, the facts about the killing of John F Kennedy remain inaccessible to the American people.

THE COMPLEX HAS AN IRON GRIP

Sixty years onward, the MIC has an iron grip on American foreign policy. As I’ve recently described, foreign policy has become an insider racket, with the MIC in control of the White House, Pentagon, State Department, the Armed Services Committees of the Congress, and of course the CIA, all in a tight embrace with the major arms contractors.

Mainstream media avoids the topic, but “citizen journalists” have tried to create diagrams such as this one.

Only an exceptional president could resist the endless war-profiteering of this mammoth war machine.

Alas, Biden doesn’t even try. Throughout his long political career, Biden has been supported by the MIC and has in turn enthusiastically supported wars of choice, massive arms sales, CIA-backed coups, and NATO enlargement.

MILITARY BUDGET BREAKS ALL RECORDS

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.

UKRAINE WAR GOOD FOR BUSINESS

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.

Cartoon by Liu Rui, Global Times

ISRAEL SHOWS BIDEN’S FAILURE

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 policyThe Arab and Islamic leaders are committed to normalizing and securing safe relations with Israel in the context of the two-state solution.

The scale of destruction in Gaza has been breathtaking. Image: Wikimedia Commons

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.

GENOCIDE CHARGES ARE CREDIBLE

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.

The US has shrugged off blame for tensions with Russia and China but Gaza is attracting world-wide sympathy.

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.

US ISOLATED FROM THE WORLD

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.

“America foreign policy is rudderless, with a president whose only foreign policy recipe is war.”

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.


Jeffrey D. Sachs is a University Professor and Director of the Center for Sustainable Development at Columbia University. He has become known for his international outlook.


Now watch Jeffrey Sachs’ talk at Leading in a Time of Transition, a forum organized by Friday Culture Ltd.

This essay is published under a Creative Commons licence (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0 and also appears on the Common Dreams website and in other places. Artwork at the top by Fridayeveryday.

Sign Up to Our Newsletter

Be the first to know the latest updates

Whoops, you're not connected to Mailchimp. You need to enter a valid Mailchimp API key.