US Military-Industrial Complex Celebrated the Outbreak of US-Russia Tensions

Correctly figured it meant happy days were back again

This is an excerpt from an article that originally appeared in Harper's Magazine

On February 28, 2014, Russian troops effortlessly seized control of Crimea.

Two days later, Congressman Mike Rogers, Republican of Michigan and chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, denounced the Obama Administration’s weak response to the crisis.

“Putin is playing chess and I think we are playing marbles, and I don’t think it’s even close,” Rogers said on Fox News Sunday. Not long afterward, as the crisis escalated, Rogers hosted a breakfast fund-raiser in downtown Washington.

As befitted an overseer of the nation’s almost $70 billion intelligence budget, Rogers attracted a healthy crowd, largely composed of lobbyists for defense contractors.

Curious as to how the military-industrial complex was reacting to events abroad, I asked a lobbyist friend who had attended (but was loath to reveal his identity and thus his communication with a liberal magazine) about the mood at the meeting. “I’d call it borderline euphoric,” he said.

Just a few months earlier, the outlook for the defense complex had looked dark indeed.

The war in Afghanistan was winding down. American voters were regularly informing pollsters that they wanted the United States to “mind its own business internationally.”

The dreaded “sequester” of 2013, which threatened to cut half a trillion dollars from the long-term defense budget, had been temporarily deflected by artful negotiation, but without further negotiations the defense cuts were likely to resume with savage force in fiscal 2016.

There was ugly talk of mothballing one of the Navy’s nuclear-powered carriers, slashing the Army to a mere 420,000 troops, retiring drone programs, cutting headquarters staffs, and more.


The ebullience expressed by defense lobbyists at Mike Rogers’s breakfast back in March has been amply justified. “Vladimir Putin has solved the sequestration problem for us because he has proven that ground forces are needed to deter Russian aggression,” declared Congressman Mike Turner, an Ohio Republican and chair of an important defense subcommittee, in October.

Meanwhile, the Bipartisan Policy Center, a Washington entity that numbers, inevitably, Norm Augustine among the panjandrums adorning its board of directors, sponsored a panel on “Ensuring a Strong U.S. Defense for the Future.”

Michèle Flournoy, defense undersecretary for policy during Obama’s first term, warned the panel, “You can’t expect to defend the nation under sequestration.”Fellow panelist and former Cheney adviser Eric Edelman, who preceded Flournoy in the Pentagon post, echoed her theme. Other speakers demanded that NATO members increase their defense budgets.

At the end of October 2014, as European economies quivered, thanks in part to the sanctions-driven slowdown in trade with Russia, the United States reported a gratifying 3.5 percent jump in gross domestic product for the quarter ending September 3.

This spurt was driven, so government economists reported, by a sharp uptick in military spending.

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