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If you read a major newspaper on a regular basis you will no doubt have seen the full page ads placed by defense contractors. The ads generally are anodyne, featuring ubiquitous flags and eagles while praising America’s soldiers and war fighting capabilities, sometimes to include a description of a new weapon or weapons system. That a company whose very existence depends on government contracts would feel sufficiently emboldened to turn around and spend substantial sums that themselves derive from the American taxpayer to promote its wares in an attempt to obtain still more of a hopefully increasing defense pie smacks of insensitivity to say the least. I for one find the ads highly offensive, an insult to the taxpayer.
Some might argue that that is how capitalism works and there is no better system to replace it but such an assertion ignores the fact that competition among defense contractors, though fierce at times, is largely a fiction as all the major companies are on the receiving end of huge multi-year government contracts with built in cost overruns and guaranteed production lines. They also operate a revolving door whereby former senior officers and Pentagon officials like Rumsfeld and Cheney move out to the private sector, get rich, and then return to government in policy making positions. It is more like the worst form of crony capitalism than Adam Smith. Most large companies have decentralized their production facilities so that they have a workforce presence in as many states and congressional districts as possible, making it unlikely that they will ever be lacking contracts.
President and former General Dwight D. Eisenhower called it all a military-industrial complex and warned that “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.”He reportedly wanted to call it a military-industrial-congressional complex but demurred on including the nation’s legislature as he wanted it to get on board in bucking the trend towards creating a permanent warfare state. In that he was unsuccessful.
Today Eisenhower might well want to add “think tank” to his description of the problem. Insidious, and largely hidden from public sight, is the funding of institutes and foundations that promote a pro-war agenda which benefits both the organizations in question and the contractors who seek to promote what is euphemistically referred to as a pro-defense agenda. As Lockheed cannot directly call for more war without raising obvious concerns it instead uses its allies in various foundations and institutes to contrive the intellectual justifications that lead to the same conclusion. These self-described experts are in turn picked up by the media and their messages are fed to a larger audience, creating unassailable groupthink on national security policy.
This de facto industrial, foundational and media alliance explains the persistence of a neocon foreign policy in Washington in spite of the numerous failures on the ground since 9/11. Defense contractors Northrop Grumman and Lockheed have long been the principal source of funding for groups like the American Enterprise Institute (AEI). AEI has somewhat faded from public view since the heady days when Dick Cheney and others from the Bush White House would appear to make major pronouncements on foreign policy and national security but it is still a major player among Washington think tanks. It is neocon controlled in its foreign and defense policy under the leadership of Australia born Daniele Pletka, whose most recent work is “The CIA Report is too tainted to matter.” The current offerings on the AEI website include a conversation with Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland and an article explaining “Waterboarding’s role in identifying a terrorist”.
There are a number of other foundations that benefit from inside the beltway contractor largesse. The Kagans’ Institute for the Study of War, the Hudson Institute, the Heritage Foundation and the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies all have large budgets, large staffs, and all embrace a generally neoconnish foreign policy, which means acceptance of a form of interventionist globalism by the United States as the so-called “leader of the free world” and international policeman.
A recent gathering in Washington illustrates precisely how the system works, with one hand washing the other. On December 3rd the Foreign Policy Initiative hosted a day long forum on “A World in Crisis: the Need for American Leadership.” Lest there be any confusion about the conclusions that might be reached in such a gathering the title tells the casual observer everything needed to understand what one might expect. Pasty faced peace creeps would not be welcome.
FPI is a non-partisan tax exempt “educational” foundation that benefits from significant support from defense contractors. It is a cookie cutter operation reminiscent of so many others inside the beltway, reliably pro-Israel and pro-intervention. It’s mission statement includes: “Continued U.S. engagement–diplomatic, economic, and military—in the world and rejection of policies that would lead us down the path to isolationism; robust support for America’s democratic allies and opposition to rogue regimes that threaten American interests; a strong military with the defense budget needed to ensure that America is ready to confront the threats of the 21st century.”
FPI’s board of directors reads like a neocon dream team: Bill Kristol, Eric Edelman, Dan Senor and Robert Kagan. Kristol is the son of neocon godfather Irving Kristol and is himself the Editor in Chief of The Weekly Standard while Edelman succeeded Doug Feith as head of the Pentagon’s office of Special Plans which did so much good work in Iraq, Senor was the Iraq Coalition Provisional Authority press spokesman and Robert Kagan is one of the infamous Kagan clan which is now leaning towards supporting a Hillary “the Hawk” Clinton run for president. He is also the husband of Victoria Nuland who has done yeoman’s work in attempt to start a war with Russia.
The “Crisis” forum was “presented by Raytheon,” which means it funded the effort. The gathering was held at the Newseum in Washington DC, a no expenses spared venue that incorporates sweeping views over the Mall and Capitol Building. Raytheon has an annual revenue of $25 billion, 90% of which comes from defense contracts. The speakers did not include anyone skeptical of US military engagement worldwide. In addition to Kristol, Edelman and Kagan they included Senator Bob Corker, Fred Hiatt of the Washington Post, Senator elect Tom Cotton, Senator John McCain, Kimberly Kagan of the Institute for the Study of War, David J. Kramer of the McCain Institute, FPI fellow James Kirchick and Senator Ted Cruz.
Cotton, who is remarkable for his hawkishness even among Republican hawks, wasted no time in making his position clear, that it is past time to “put an end” to the negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program. “I hope that Congress’ role will be to put an end to these negotiations. Iran is getting everything it wants in slow motion so why would they ever reach a final agreement? I think the adults in Congress need to step in early in the new year. The White House can’t conduct an end run around Congress.” Rep. Mike Pompeo, who also participated in the discussion with Cotton, recommended that the United States and its partners currently supporting Iraq should also think of striking Iran’s nuclear capabilities. “In an unclassified setting, it is under 2,000 sorties to destroy the Iranian nuclear capacity. This is not an insurmountable task for the coalition forces.”
The first panel discussion was on “Stopping Iran’s Nuclear Ambitions.” It was followed by “National Security Leadership in a New Congress,” “Providing for the Common Defense,” “Restoring American Leadership,” “The Middle East in Chaos,” “Putin’s Challenge to the West,” “America in a Changing World,” and “Rebuilding the American Defense Consensus.” Many of the presentations are available on the FPI website and some have also been reported elsewhere, including on ABC news.
The message that the forum delivered is that America is a nation that is under threat from all directions, which is, of course, utter nonsense. The United States might well be nearly universally hated, particularly after the recent release of the Senate report on CIA torture, but that hatred does not necessarily equate to any actionable threat. Iran, Russia and the “chaotic” Arabs are, of course, largely to blame but the underlying message is that the United States has to exercise leadership a.k.a. overseas interventions and focus on rebuilding its defenses, which means more military spending. Raytheon would directly benefit from all of the above. It is perhaps telling that Afghanistan was not part of the discussion and Iraq and Syria only surfaced in that they were described as failed policies because the United States had not intervened either long or hard enough. Russia and Putin are, of course, the flavor of the week for the interventionists and memories of Munich 1938 were evoked by several speakers who clearly want to have a second shot at Adolph Hitler.
I don’t have a solution for the defense contractor funding of neoconnish right wing groups that want more wars, but it is certainly an issue that informed Americans should be aware of. Many of the “threats” that are constantly being promoted by the Washington intelligentsia are little more than fictions concocted to keep the cash flowing, both to the selfsame experts and to those who build the guns, bullets and bombs. Whenever an op-ed appears in a newspaper advocating a tough line overseas check out the author and his or her affiliation. Odds are it will be someone from the American Enterprise Institute or from the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies who has real skin in the game as his or her livelihood depends on artfully packaging and selling a crummy product. Maybe someday when Americans come to their senses all these people will go away and will find real jobs in which they have to actually do something, but I wouldn’t want to be too optimistic about that prospect as they will likely slink back to their elite universities where they will be required to do absolutely nothing but bloviate.