Christmas Comes Early for War Profiteers

It’s a wonderful time in history to be an arms dealer.

Leonard C. Goodman

The Kurdish peshmerga are among the many Middle Eastern beneficiaries of U.S. arms. (Ali Al-Saadi / AFP / Getty)

Today, while the radical warrior cult that now calls itself Islamic State (also known as ISIS) is taking over large swaths of Iraq and Syria, our tax dollars are simultaneously supporting ISIS militants in Syria (who have been siphoning off aid intended for more moderate rebels), bombing ISIS militants in Syria and Iraq, and arming Syrian rebels and the Kurdish peshmerga to fight ISIS. It’s all a win-win for the war industry and a lose-lose for the American taxpayer.

It’s all good news for the war contractors, whose profits skyrocketed after 9/11 but dipped when the Iraq War ended, and whose surrogates are all over the corporate media urging us to send more weapons to the Middle East.

Corporations are amoral by design. While many good and decent people sit on corporate boards, their fiduciary responsibility is to maximize returns for shareholders, not to do right by the American people. This is why alliances between corporations and the state are historically so dangerous. Yet we have allowed corporate interests to capture both major political parties and to drive public policy, with disastrous results, including perpetual war.

Americans have spent trillions of dollars and seen thousands of our young people killed or maimed since 9/11, only to see the terror threat spread like a cancer.

All of this is very bad news for the American people, who will suffer the blowback from the new generation of kids in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and Iraq who will grow up hating the United States and its missiles and drones. But it’s all good news for the war contractors, whose profits skyrocketed after 9/11 but dipped when the Iraq War ended, and whose surrogates are all over the corporate media urging us to send more weapons to the Middle East.

Real diplomacy was once embraced by the press. Recall the famous handshakes between Nixon and Communist Chairman Mao Zedong, or Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev. Today, ideas with any potential to resolve conflict (and threaten profits) are sabotaged, shouted down or shut out of the debate. Just look at the relentless efforts to derail the treaty under negotiation with Iran to end its nuclear weapons program. A belligerent Iran in pursuit of nuclear weapons may be dangerous, but it’s also good for the war business.

While efforts to remove corporate influence from public policy through campaign finance reform are failing, there is another way. We can demand an end to war profiteering. Filling government contracts should be a form of public service, like serving in the military. Contractors, like soldiers, should be paid a fair wage but should not expect to get rich on the backs of the U.S. taxpayer. Today, residents of the D.C. Area enjoy the highest median household income of any metro area in the country, thanks in large part to the river of taxpayer cash flowing to federal contractors.

Here’s one alternative model: The federal government contracts private lawyers to represent indigent criminal defendants. These lawyers are paid a fee that covers all basic overhead. Any significant additional expenses, such as private investigators or experts, must be pre-approved. Most of these contract lawyers provide high levels of service, despite knowing that these cases make them rich.

Of course, the war industry would aggressively fight any curbs on profiteering. It will send out the retired generals who sit on the corporate boards to explain why the industry’s ability to gouge taxpayers is necessary to incentivize innovation and to keep the United States ahead of its competitors.

There’s a simple response this: Any new technology that can earn a profit only on the backs of U.S. taxpayers is probably not worth developing — or, if it is, the development should be done in-house by scientists earning government salaries.

The government/​corporate alliance we have now is producing more innovations in graft than in technology. Just look at the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter designed by Lockheed Martin. It is the most expensive weapon ever built, predicted to cost taxpayers more than a trillion dollars — enough to buy a mansion for every homeless American, as Hayes Brown of ThinkProgress has calculated. Yet the F-35 can’t even fly without catching fire and spewing toxic fumes, and its costly stealth technology is easily defeated by radar systems that have been widely available since 1940. Today, the most expensive weapon ever built mostly just sits in its hangar.

If we can take the profit out of war, we will protect the wallets of U.S. taxpayers, free up resources for projects that actually benefit us, and interrupt the cycle of perpetual war

Leonard Goodman is a Chicago criminal defense lawyer and Adjunct Professor of Law at DePaul University.
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