The Defense Industry

Pentagon as Casino: Versailles on the Potomac
By JEFFREY ST. CLAIR

War profiteer. It used to be one of the dirtiest slurs in American politics, potent enough to sully the reputations of the rich and powerful. Now it’s a calling card, something you might find highlighted in a defense contractor’s corporate prospectus as a lure to attract investors looking for bulging profits and escalating dividends.

In the summer of 2000, the defense industry was mired in a prolonged slump, as was the US economy, which under the unforgiving lash of its neo-liberal architects had become dependent on the financial engines of the munitions makers. Unhappily for the defense industry and its investor class, the Soviet Union had disintegrated before their very eyes and the People’s Republic of China, long considered the bogeyman state in waiting, had lustily embraced state capitalism instead of stepping up to the plate as a brawny military rival.

The big ticket items of the Cold War, from Stealth bombers to nuclear subs, from aircraft carriers to the Star Wars scheme, that had sustained the industry to the tune of tens of billions every year no longer had the slightest pretext for continued production, except as the most extravagant form of corporate welfare. Those weapons systems that weren’t obsolete, such as the B-2 bomber and F-22 fighter, simply didn’t work, such as Star Wars-lately remarketed as Ballistic Missile Defense.

To make matters more fraught for the weapons industry, the Pentagon was poised to put the finishing touches on its Quadrennial Defense Review, which sets procurement, budget and policy goals for the Defense Department. Of course, the Pentagon would never slash its own budget and, in fact, many anticipated that the QDR would call for increasing annual defense spending to something approaching 4 percent of the gross domestic product. However, it seemed likely that the generals would call for the termination of many of the multi-billion dollar relics of the Cold War in exchange for massive increases in spending on newer killing technologies geared for what has come to be known as “4th Generation Warfare.”

Then 9/11 happened and all the anxieties of the weapons lobby evaporated in the flames of one fateful morning. The QDR, once so threatening, was simply another fat white paper that came and went without leaving so much as a scratch on the old Imperial Guard.

As we revealed here in CounterPunch, the Taliban offered Osama Bin Laden, and his top associates, the Bush administration on several occasions after the attacks of 9/11. Bush refused. They wanted a prolonged and ever-escalating war, not a deftly executed police action and not justice for the families of those slain and maimed by Bin Laden’s kamikazes.

Instead, thousands of Cruise missiles were ordered up and, just like that, Boeing and Lockheed were back in business. For months, cruise missiles, J-DAM bombs and CB-87 cluster munitions shredded the hamlets and hovels of Afghanistan, killing more than 3,500 civilians in the early days of that one-sided war. But this was simply a bloody prelude to a more profound slaughter. For Afghanistan, in the immortal words of Donald Rumsfeld, wasn’t a “target rich” environment. But Iraq certainly was. And only hours after the 9/11 attacks, Rumsfeld and his neocon coterie of laptop bombardiers began plotting the war on Saddam and the domestic propaganda campaign for how to sell it to a psychologically shattered and anxiety-ridden American public. The civilian body count in Iraq would climb much higher, topping 650,000 by the winter of 2007, with more than 200 Iraqis dying every day.

The Bush wars on Afghanistan and Iraq were misguided, counter-productive and illegal ventures, although entirely predictable outbursts of imperial vengeance. What is truly perverse is the fact that while one wing of the Pentagon was planning wars against a “faceless enemy” and a “rogue state”, another wing was lobbying congress on behalf of the weapons companies to approve tens of billions in funding for all of the baroque artifacts of the Cold War, from Star Wars to Stealth fighters. Congress was only too happy to help. From the fall of 2001 through the end of 2002, not a single funding request for a big-ticket item went denied, from unneeded aircraft carriers to unwanted Boeing tankers.

But in order to fund these bailouts to the defense lobby for making weapons for a war that no longer existed, Congress had to rob other budgetary accounts. And here’s where it gets truly bizarre. Intent on satiating the cravings for pork from their political patrons, the leadership of the Defense Appropriations committees, chaired until 2007 by Senator Ted Stevens, the Alaska Republican, paid for these costly and useless projects by reprogramming billions from the so-called Operations and Maintenance accounts, which were being used to fund the logistics work for the on-the-ground wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Even the normally docile Office of Management and Budget raised a warning, writing in a letter to Stevens dated December 6, 2002: “These [Operations and Maintenance] reductions would undermine DoD’s ability to adequately fund training, operations, maintenance, supplies and other essentials. They would seriously damage the readiness of our armed forces and undermine their ability to execute current operations, including the war on terrorism.”

That warning letter (and thousands of documents like it), ignored by the war-hungry US press, is the congressional equivalent of the Pentagon Papers for the Afghanistan and Iraq wars. In order to shell out billions for Star Wars and the F-22 fighter, Congress took money from accounts that would have improved the terrible logistical planning in Iraq and bought essential items for the protection of US combat troops, such as body armor and armored Humvees. The blood of many a soldier maimed or killed in Iraq is indelibly stained on the hands of Stevens and his colleagues who choose to put the welfare of Boeing and Lockheed above the grunts in the field.

The Pentagon has become a kind of government operated casino, doling out billions in contracts to the big-time spenders in American politics: General Dynamics, Boeing, Raytheon, Bechtel, Lockheed and, of course, the bete noir of the Bush administration, Halliburton.

Read it here.

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