Ike, Revisited

What would Eisenhower do?

This commentary, from last week’s Boston Globe, correctly compares and illustrates the differences in viewpoints of the outgoing president (and former WWII general) and incoming president (and ex Navy hero) John F. Kennedy when it came to the nation’s military.

Dwight  Eisenhower famously warned America to “guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex.” His concern: those in position to inflate the need for military buildup inevitably would do so.

Kennedy, informed by the ongoing Cold War and the need to look strong in the face of a belligerent Kremlin, took an opposite approach, asserting the US would commit anything and everything to “assure the survival and the success of liberty.”

This debate is particularly relevant today because the staggering debt the US has incurred, much of it in the past decade, has renewed calls for budget cuts. And defense is an obvious target: military spending made up 24%, or $895 billion, of this year’s $3.7 trillion budget, and is forecast to rise 3.7% in fiscal 2011.

So even if the percentage of the defense spend over time has been fairly consistent with overall discretionary expenditures and, measured against the GDP (roughly 4%), consistent with its average of the past 20 years (not to mention 100 basis points lower  than the average over the past 40), it’s such a big number — almost matching the rest of the world’s defense spending combined and more than nine times larger than the military budget of China — it was inevitable someone would eventually take it on.

So we now stand with Defense Secretary Gates Robert Gates looking for cuts even among the most sacred of sacred cows, the military brass. That by itself isn’t troubling.

More worrisome would be cuts to blue sky research. And while I’ve opined my belief that the Obama Administration is cognizant of the need for military spending not just for the obvious reasons of defense but also the less-obvious need to compel next-generation research, the current reading of the tea leaves suggests some possibly big cuts are coming.

The truth is, much of the US PCB industry relies heavily on  hearty annual defense budget. One could argue, with the preponderance of evidence in support, that sans the US military, the domestic bare board industry would effectively cease to exist. Do we start weaning our spending on weapons even if it means putting people out of work?

This has strong echoes of 1961. As the Globe writes,  “Most distressing to [Eisenhower] was that Kennedy had gone into factory towns and proclaimed that Eisenhower’s stinginess on defense had cost American jobs.”

President Obama is lucky in the sense that Gates is not job climbing. His next job will be babysitting his grandkids — and that career will start in just a few months. He can, as journalists like to say, speak truth to power, without worrying about offending either his boss (Obama) or his subordinates (the entire US Armed Forces).

Secretary Gates sounds an awful lot like a modern day Eisenhower. Will his vision be realized? And will the potential cost be greater than the reward?

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About Mike

Mike Buetow is president of the Printed Circuit Engineering Association (pcea.net). He previously was editor-in-chief of Circuits Assembly magazine, the leading publication for electronics manufacturing, and PCD&F, the leading publication for printed circuit design and fabrication. He spent 21 years as vice president and editorial director of UP Media Group, for which he oversaw all editorial and production aspects. He has more than 30 years' experience in the electronics industry, including six years at IPC, an electronics trade association, at which he was a technical projects manager and communications director. He has also held editorial positions at SMT Magazine, community newspapers and in book publishing. He is a graduate of the University of Illinois. Follow Mike on Twitter: @mikebuetow

One thought on “Ike, Revisited

  1. Interesting… thanks for sharing.

    The effect of military (Eisenhower).. or space exploration (Kennedy) on job creation… often overlooked…

    Gates has been a “breath of fresh air” to the Military-industrial complex .. truly shaking things up… I would like to believe for the better.. ( time will tell).

    Would like to note:
    – 2010 vs 1962… baby boom effect on (health, pensions, welfare costs)..
    I often “flip” perspectives to gain additional perspectives
    In this case, military impact vs non-military impact on data
    In other words… how much less are we spending on military?.. or… how much MORE are we spending on baby boomers?
    Our average age in US has increased significantly during this same period.

    Would be interesting to overlay Trade deficit data over same time period.. and maybe the entire world’s economy and the world’s spending on military? (additional insights)

    As the world changes.. what will be the role of US in the world in the future?
    in the past we have been:
    – the police.
    – the economic engine.
    – social change leader (human rights, technology leader, entertainment, etc..) .. varying degrees of success.

    As the rest of the world catches up.. ( in some areas, surpasses US ?) .. how will this change the allocation our resources?

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