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Return of the 'military-industrial complex'?

Pentagon officials come to Congress to make case for big rise in defense spending.

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In his vow to fight terrorism - to "win the first war of the 21st century" - President Bush has pledged "whatever it takes, whatever it costs...." If the administration's projections are correct, in just a few years that cost will near a half-trillion dollars a year.

On Capitol Hill this week, service secretaries and other top Pentagon officials are explaining to Congress how those sums will be spent. At a time of anticipated budget deficits, lawmakers are likely to temper their support for national security with the need to appear frugal.

Yet, depending on where they're from, they also can be expected to assert that the military bases and defense plants in their districts are among the most vital assets to protect the homeland.

In a military budget that is as big as the 15 next biggest countries combined, what's the potential for waste, inefficiency, and good old-fashioned pork? When it comes to military spending, the tradition of the "iron triangle" - Congress, the Pentagon, and defense industries - joining to push costly weaponry is nothing new.

"We must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex," five-star Army General Dwight Eisenhower said in his last speech as president in 1961. "The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist."

With the nation under recent attack, US forces fighting overseas, and patriotism-fueled Pentagon budgets rising faster than usual, that potential increases.

Writing in the Washington Post, White House budget director Mitch Daniels warns that special interests are likely to jump on the national security and homeland defense bandwagon to promote their products.


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