Wednesday, February 22, 2006

[Foreign Policy, Military]

What your Fitty Buys.

For every buck you send to Uncle Sam, fifty cents goes to the Pentagon. This buys, we are told, the best military machine in the world, a sprawling behemoth with enough firepower to protect us from the baddies. Enormous effort is expended to sell this idea. But actually, our foreign policy is built on the needs of a Pentagon designed to defend us from threats that don't actually exist. They spend billions every year on the most sophisticated weaponry designed to defeat giant armies, which even the Pentagon's own analysts say aren't what really threatens us. So why do we buy useless weapons? Because that's what Lockheed Martin sells.

I had planned to talk about Ike's old military-industrial cartel complex today, anyway, but the business with the ports* makes it all that much more pointed. Bush finds himself in a dogfight over a political no-brainer, an issue so obvious even Hillary Clinton and Bill Frist agree. So why would Bush support such a thing? For the same reason we build billion-dollar jets that will kill no terrorists: there's money in them thar ports. Turns out the UAE company seeking to buy the ports has a number of connections to powerbrokers in the Bush administration.

If you scratch very hard at any deals related to national security or the military, you will find very soon that a major contractor or a multinational with deep connections to the Republican leadership is set to benefit. It's business as usual, but previously, it had a less positive name: profiteering. There's quite a lot of information about how the modern GOP has rigged the system to send money flowing back to corporate sponsors, but here's one quote from a piece 60 Minutes did a couple years ago:
Lewis says the trend towards privatizing the military began during the first Bush administration when Dick Cheney was secretary of defense. In 1992, the Pentagon, under Cheney, commissioned the Halliburton subsidiary Brown & Root to do a classified study on whether it was a good idea to have private contractors do more of the military's work.

“Of course, they said it's a terrific idea, and over the next eight years, Kellogg, Brown & Root and another company got 2,700 contracts worth billions of dollars,” says Lewis.

“So they helped to design the architecture for privatizing a lot of what happens today in the Pentagon when we have military engagements. And two years later, when he leaves the department of defense, Cheney is CEO of Halliburton. Thank you very much. It's a nice arrangement for all concerned....”

Lewis says the best example of these cozy relationships is the defense policy board, a group of high-powered civilians who advise the secretary of defense on major policy issues - like whether or not to invade Iraq. Its 30 members are a Who's Who of former senior government and military officials.

There’s nothing wrong with that, but as the Center For Public Integrity recently discovered, nine of them have ties to corporations and private companies that have won more than $76 billion in defense contracts. And that's just in the last two years.

“This is not about the revolving door, people going in and out,” says Lewis. “There is no door. There's no wall. I can't tell where one stops and the other starts. I'm dead serious.”
We may have a decent military, but not great, as Iraq has shown. But we certainly have the most expensive military--with expenditures equal to what the rest of the globe spends on their militaries. Like so much else, we're paying to support massive multinationals, and indirectly, the GOP political machine.

But from a foreign policy perspective, what we've done is farm out policy decision to men who are more concerned with profiting personally than addressing actual threats. We spend so much, we'll probably have our bases covered, right? What's a little profit-taking among (old, white, well-connected Republican) friends?

That's where our fitty cents goes.

*Background: the United Arab Emirates may take over six US ports, a deal that has caused widespread, bipartisan panic. Arabs should not control US ports, say they. Bush has defended the deal and vowed to veto any legislation preventing the deal, though it was reported today that he was unaware of his own administration's approval until after the deal was made.

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