Frustrating the War Lobby

In Democracy, Environment, Human rights, Justice, Peace, War on September 19, 2016 at 2:30 am

By Stephen Kinzer Boston Globe, September 14, 2016

By trying to block a $1.15 billion arms sale to Saudi Arabia, a
bipartisan group of US senators is challenging one of the key forces
that shape American foreign policy: the arms industry. Their campaign
shines a light on the role that this industry plays in whipping up fears
of danger in the world. How do Americans know that Saudi Arabia is a
peace-loving country dedicated to fighting terrorism? The same way we
know that Russia is a snarling enemy on a rampage of conquest: The arms
industry tells us so.

“We must respond to the rise of ISIS terrorism, Russian aggression on
NATO’s doorstep, provocative moves by Iran and North Korea, and an
increasingly powerful China,” the Aerospace Industry Association
recently declared. Issuing warnings through its own mouthpieces, though,
is not enough to shape public opinion. The industry also sponsors “think
tanks” that obligingly issue alarming reports warning of increasing
peril everywhere. Many are run by former diplomats or military
commanders. Their scary warnings, which seem realistic given the
warners’ personal prestige and the innocent-sounding names of their
think tanks, are aimed at persuading Americans and foreign governments
to spend more billions of dollars on weaponry.

The ludicrously misnamed United States Institute for Peace, for example,
is run by Stephen Hadley, a former national security adviser who also
earns hundreds of thousands of dollars each year for his service on the
board of Raytheon, a leading arms maker. Another arms maker, Lockheed
Martin, which has just sold Poland an air-to-surface missile system and
wants to sell more, has given the institute $1 million. It’s been a good
investment. Hadley has urged that the United States “raise the cost for
what Russia is doing in Ukraine” because “even President [Vladimir]
Putin is sensitive to body bags.” The Institute of Peace wants European
countries to double their military spending and also favors sending more
weapons into the Ukraine powder keg.

The US Committee on NATO was founded by a former Lockheed executive and
pushed successfully to expand the NATO alliance onto Russia’s doorstep.
That sharply increased tension in Europe, which produces a handsome
profit for the arms industry. Another influential think tank, the
Atlantic Council, is funded by Raytheon and Lockheed. It faithfully
produces articles with headlines like “Why Peace is Impossible With
Putin,” and urges the United States and European countries to “commit to
greater defense spending” and confront “a revanchist Russia.”

Critics of wasteful military spending have bitterly denounced the
trillion-dollar project to produce a new fighter jet, the F-35, arguing
that it is already obsolete in the age of drone warfare. Nonsense,
replied the director of the Lexington Institute. In a recent article he
called the F-35 “a revolutionary platform” with “capabilities that far
exceed any current Western fighter.” Left unspoken was the fact that the
Lexington Institute is another front for the arms industry, supported by
contributions from Lockheed — the manufacturer of the F-35 — and from
Boeing, Northrop Grumman, and other “defense” contractors.

The kingmaker club

Washington think tanks are only part of the matrix that promotes the
American weapons industry. The roughly 50 companies that make up the
industry shower members of Congress with millions of dollars in campaign
contributions. They also parcel out contracts across the country, in
order to employ people in as many congressional districts as possible.
Components for the F-35, for example, are being made in 46 states. This
practice is fiendishly effective in assuring that members of Congress
continue to support new weapons projects, no matter how ill conceived.

The congressional rebellion against a new arms deal with Saudi Arabia is
extraordinary. Four senators — two from each party — have offered a
resolution that would force a Senate vote on the deal. Sixty-four
members of the House of Representatives have signed a letter warning
that the deal would have “a deeply troubling effect on civilians” in
Yemen, where Saudi Arabia is conducting a fierce military campaign. The
United Nations has estimated that the Saudi-led coalition bombing Yemen
is responsible for “twice as many civilian casualties as all other
forces put together.” Yet the Obama administration wants to sell the
Saudis 153 battle tanks made by General Dynamics, some of which are to
be used in Yemen, as well as machine guns, grenade launchers, and other

Since taking office in 2009, Obama has made 42 arms deals with Saudi
Arabia, worth a staggering $115 billion. For some members of Congress,
the latest deal is a breaking point. They are reluctant to send weapons
that will be used first in Yemen and then in other ways that support
Saudi interests — which are not necessarily those of the United States.
“There is an American imprint on every civilian life lost in Yemen,”
said Senator Chris Murphy, a Connecticut Democrat who is a cosponsor of
the resolution to block the deal. Another cosponsor, Republican Senator
Rand Paul of Kentucky, called the deal “a recipe for disaster and an
escalation of an ongoing arms race in the region.”

Not surprisingly, the arms industry has mobilized its considerable power
on Capitol Hill to block this Senate resolution. “We are fighting
General Dynamics,” one supporter of the resolution said last week. A
vote could come soon. Blocking this arms sale would be a rebellion
against one of Washington’s richest lobbies. That would send welcome
chills through the corridors of power in the Pentagon, the war industry,
and Saudi Arabia.

Stephen Kinzer is a senior fellow at the Watson Institute for
International and Public Affairs at Brown University. Follow him on
Twitter @stephenkinzer.


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