Of Guns and Greed

Pablo Charriez, Columnist

On January 17th, 1961, President Dwight D. Eisenhower foretold the rise of the Military-Industrial Complex. This institution catalogs the close relationship between politicians and private defense contractors/organizations. Inherent to the idea is lobbying, the funding of a politician’s campaign, and a “revolving door” with Politicians moving to the Defense sector and vice versa.  Six decades after President Eisenhower’s speech, the United States is slated to spend $768.2 billion on National Defense Programs, roughly 15 times the $47 billion spent during Eisenhower’s Administration. Of the $14 trillion the US Department of Defense spent after 9/11, military contractors earned around half. In 2020 alone, US defense contractors raked in a new fiscal high of $682 billion USD. Boeing Co and Northrop Gunman Corp. are both on the top 10 US Lobbyists of all time (opensecrets.org), with a combined $650 million USD spent. Coincidentally, they’re both top 5 US military contractors.  But what does this all mean? US taxpayer money is going towards needless war, less for the promise of democracy and more for profit, particularly for mega defense corporations and Washington’s Elite. 

In 2003, a trigger happy George W. Bush declared “weapons of mass destruction” were in Iraq and invaded the country, starting the Second Gulf War. Eight years later, and the United States withdrew all troops under President Barack Obama, leaving a de-stabilized nation that precariously continues to this day. While there are larger forces at play than just the United States’s occupation and reconstruction, the Iraq reconstruction process was pock-marked by failure and baseless spending. Haliburton, a mega-corporation, through its subsidiary Kellog, Brown, and Root (KBR), was tasked with said reconstruction but consistently overcharged the Government on services like oil and food. The idea of a “revolving door” gets even clearer with another private contractor, the International Oil Trading Company (IOTC), whose $200 million USD profit margin was given to Harry Sargeant III, a finance chairman of the Florida Republican Party. These absurd profits came at the cost of an internal investigation, with the DOJ finding IOTC had inflated the cost of gas they were selling to the US military.  Pardon, another mega-corporation tasked with Iraq’s reconstruction testified to Congress on the shortcomings of a $72 billion USD “police college”,  whose “…plumbing work was so poor that the pipes burst, dumping urine and fecal matter throughout the college’s buildings”. 

Now there’s Afghanistan, a symbol for American foreign policy failure. While US intentions in Afghanistan are debatable, I think it’s a safe bet that Joe Biden didn’t want their infrastructure to immediately collapse following American withdrawal. An estimated 9 million people were on the brink of starvation back in January, and now there is an imminent threat of another migration crisis. While US politicians have served as a scapegoat, and rightfully so, it is worth mentioning the blatant cash grabs performed by American mega-corporations, resulting in Afghanistan’s humanitarian crisis. Millions of dollars of contract money went towards a defunct gas station, “lavish living quarters for US economic advisors”, and obsolete patrol boats. In a criminally blatant example of money misuse and greed, the United States was found to have paid regional war-lords protection money, so American trucks could safely travel through Highway 1. The contract money for said payments equaled $2.16 billion USD, some of that money going to the very insurgents those materials were being used to fight. 

Distinct similarities surround these two prime examples of US foreign policy, with privately-owned companies pocketing, illegally, government/taxpayer money. In the case of Iraq, deliberate cost-cutting led to the deaths of at least 18 US soldiers and a destabilized country. With Afghanistan, we are seeing much of the same. American corporate greed, mixed with lackluster Federal regulation and a volatile war-torn foreign economy, paved the way for quick profits at the cost of human rights. And that’s disregarding Private Security Contractors (PSC), whose actions consistently border on war crimes. Blackwater, a prominent PSC, was accused of a “massacre” after gunning down 17 civilians in Baghdad. Since those PSC soldiers didn’t “technically” belong to the US, they were only prosecuted after the international press picked up the case.

At the end of the day, without major political intervention, this vicious cycle is bound to continue. One could argue the vices which caused the US to invade these Middle-Eastern countries are the same ones coming to the aid of Ukraine. Profit follows war, and corporations know that. Raytheon and Lockheed Martin, two of the largest Military contractors, boasted of profit increase if there was to be a war in Ukraine. In the pursuit of a dollar, what’s the cost of American life?