Wars R Us: A Review of Christian Sorensen’s New Book “Understanding the War Industry”
By Jeremy Kuzmarov, Covert Action Magazine
Pay no attention to all those nasty left-wing allegations about how military contractors collude and conspire with the Pentagon to warp our economy, impoverish our citizens, pervert our national goals, and foment needless bloody wars that slaughter millions in order to fatten corporate profits. The truth is actually much worse than you could ever imagine—as this chilling new book by Christian Sorensen makes startlingly clear.
Rather than simply having what President Dwight Eisenhower called the military-industrial complex, we actually have a military-industrial-congressional complex, with a media and academic adjunct.
Since the creation of AFRICOM in 2007, for example, the U.S. military has obtained an outpost in Mali, drone bases in Niger, Djibouti, the Seychelles and Kenya, National Security Agency (NSA) facilities in Ethiopia, and flies drones over war-ravaged Libya and Somalia.
The U.S. military is today one of the world’s largest emitters of greenhouse gases that cause climate change, having been exempted from the 1998 Kyoto protocol and Paris climate change agreement (when the U.S. was abiding by it). There are also now at least 39,000 contaminated military sites across the U.S. and growing numbers of species threatened with extinction and people sickened by the toxic residues of American weapons systems.
In 2018, the top-five war corporations made more than $16 billion at a time when 500,000 Americans were homeless on an average every day. To sustain their obscene profits, they spend millions lobbying Capitol Hill and divvy out millions in campaign contributions to Congress. In 2012 alone, war corporations gave around $30 million and $25.5 million in 2014. Much of this money has gone to appropriation and armed services committees, which rubber stamp gargantuan military budgets that amount to more than the total of the next ten countries combined.
The ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Rhode Island’s Jack Reed (D), characteristically took money from General Dynamics, Raytheon, Textron, Apollo Global Management (a private equity firm heavy into war industry) and large investment banks like Merrill Lynch and Citigroup, and used his position to help Textron win a U.S. contract valued at $641 million to build 1,300 cluster bombs for Saudi Arabia.
James Inhofe, Oklahoma’s Republican climate-change denying Senator who has headed the committee under Donald Trump, has taken donations from Boeing, General Dynamics, Honeywell, Huntington-Ingalls, and Orbital TK, along with over $338,000 in the last five years from the oil and gas industry, which profits significantly from overseas military intervention and huge military budgets that Inhofe has always championed.
Besides a corrupted Congress, the military-industrial complex is sustained by the revolving door of Generals who transition from high-ranking military posts to the executive boards of defense contractors where they lobby for ever higher military budgets. James Mattis characteristically went from Commander of the U.S. Central Command to a member of the board of General Dynamics, where he swore before Congress that reduced military spending was a threat to U.S. national security, to appointment in January 2017 as Secretary of Defense, where he oversaw increases in weapons sales and the U.S. war budget. Other high-ranking officials, like former CIA Director John Brennan, have found lucrative jobs peddling new wars on television or in think tanks financed by military corporations.
Sorensen writes that, after pumping the War on Terror for trillions in military spending, the war industry is now “returning to targeting Russia and China through ‘Great Power competition.’” This has “given the Pentagon an excuse to deploy more corporatized troops, mercenaries and goods and services right up to Russia’s borders, while Pentagon leadership has stylized such a permanent war footing as conducive to peace.”
The U.S. Executive Branch has meanwhile come to take on the function of an international arms peddler.
On any given day, the Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) manages 14,000 open foreign military sales cases with 185 countries. The latter include some of the most oppressive on the planet like Israel, which systematically oppresses the Palestinians, using weapons manufactured by Boeing, Caterpillar, General Electric, Lockheed Martin, Motorola and Northrop Grumman, and Saudi Arabia, which has used hardware from General Dynamics and Lockheed Martin to pulverize Yemen.
From May 2015 through March 2016, American war corporations sold over $30 billion worth of goods and services also to anti-democratic Gulf allies such as the United Arab Emirates, which waged the dirty war in Yemen by proxy and was known for the brutal suppression of dissenting groups. In the Southern Hemisphere, U.S. military and corporate action yielded devastating costs in countries like Honduras and Colombia, where aerial defoliation programs have poisoned the landscape and paramilitary death squads have terrorized trade union activists and supporters of the left-wing Fuerzas Armada Revolucionario de Colombia (FARC) whose principal platform is to redistribute land and wealth
By law, the U.S. is not allowed to sell weapons to regimes that come to power through coup d’états. However, the war industry successfully lobbied the government not to recognize blatant coups, like that in Egypt in 2013 and Ukraine in 2014. The war industry at the same time does everything in its power to sustain conflicts like in the Koreas, where it profits from an endless military standoff.
It is also in the process of provoking new ones through the Asia Pivot policy that has resulted in the military encirclement of China, promotion of NATO expansion towards Russia’s borders, and deployment of missile technology in Poland and Romania aimed directly at Russia. The inauguration of a $1.74 trillion nuclear modernization effort could ultimately lead humanity down the road to apocalypse.
One of Sorensen’s contributions is to show how the war industry sustains a progressive veneer by stressing its “green initiatives” and the diversity of its workforce.
John Brennan’s tenure as CIA Director from 2013 to 2017 was marked by his extending new opportunities for African Americans, and many CEOs are now women, like Marilyn Hewson of Lockheed Martin who was voted as “Forbes” most powerful woman in business for three years in a row. Hewson’s feminism, however, does not go very far if we consider her praise for the Saudi regime, which systematically persecutes women, or support for wars which kill women and children, and destroy families.
In 2018, the Pentagon—which Sorensen rightfully calls the “War Department”—failed an audit of more than 2.7 trillion dollars in assets. The accounting firms carrying out the audit concluded that the Pentagon’s financial records were “riddled with so many bookkeeping deficiencies, irregularities and errors that a reliable audit was simply impossible.”
Franklin “Chuck” Spinney, a former Pentagon employee, pointed out a pertinent accounting trick where the Pentagon routinely overestimates inflation rates for weapons systems and does not return the excess funds to the Treasury when actual inflation rates turn out to be lower. Tricks like this result in surplus slush funds which are used to fund shady covert military operations in places like sub-Saharan Africa, whose mineral wealth multi-national corporations covet.
The Puerto Rican nationalist leader Pedro Albizu Campos (1891-1965) once stated that “we live in an era of the scientific savage, where all the wisdom of science, mathematics and physics are used for the purpose of assassination.” These remarks were made before the popularization of the drone, one of the war industry’s favorite products, which has been used to kill at least 8,000 people.
What if all the geniuses who worked on these machines had applied their talents to something more useful—like new vaccines or curing cancer or carbon trapping technologies—then the world would be a far better place.
A good first step toward challenging the power of the war industry would be a program of peace education that would create a broader awareness of its harmful activities among the U.S. electorate. Unfortunately, the American educational system has been corrupted and conditions kids from a young age to go along with the status quo. During the height of the Vietnam War, student protests forced the removal of military-related research from major universities, but such research returned with a vengeance starting with the budgetary cutbacks of the 1980s and then as part of the War on Terror. Professors now compete with one another for grants that will help enhance the military’s efficiency, as genuine scientific innovation, good scholarship, and the pursuit of truth are stifled.
The subservience of the U.S academy to war profiteers was epitomized in 2011 by the naming of a leadership institute after Lockheed Martin at Miami University of Ohio. Admiral William McRaven, who oversaw the Joint Special Operation Command (JSOC), which specialized in terrorist manhunts and assassination, was also tellingly appointed as chancellor of the University of Texas system in 2015.
The War Industry makes for a depressing read because the information presented is factually grounded and based on deep research. The one thing the author might have better emphasized is the war industry’s being rooted in the nation’s founding as a settler colonial state. The book nevertheless follows in the noble tradition of muckrakers who have exposed the bloody business of war. Whereas in the 1930s, the profiteers were derisively called “merchants of death,” today they are honored for being civic-minded and sponsor endowed chairs and departments in major universities. The peace movement clearly has a lot of work to do.
Jeremy Kuzmarov is managing editor of CovertAction Magazine and author of four books on U.S. foreign policy including, most recently, Obama’s Unending Wars (Clarity Press, 2019).