The economics of war profiteering
by Prof. Ismael Hossein-zadeh
How recent U.S. wars of choice, driven
largely by war profiteering, are plundering not only defenseless
peoples and their resources abroad, but also the overwhelming
majority of U.S. citizens and their resources at home.
Although immoral, external military operations
of past empires often proved profitable, and therefore justifiable
on economic grounds. Military actions abroad usually brought economic
benefits not only to the imperial ruling classes, but also (through
"trickle-down" effects) to their citizens. Thus, for
example, imperialism paid significant dividends to Britain, France,
the Dutch, and other European powers of the seventeenth, eighteenth,
nineteenth, and early twentieth centuries. As the imperial economic
gains helped develop their economies, they also helped improve
the living conditions of their working people and elevate the
standards of living of their citizens.
This pattern of economic gains flowing
from imperial military operations, however, seems to have somewhat
changed in the context of the recent U.S. imperial wars of choice,
especially in the post-Cold War period. Moralities aside, U.S.
military expeditions and operations of late are not justifiable
even on economic grounds. Indeed, escalating U.S. military expansions
and aggressions have become ever more wasteful, cost-inefficient,
and burdensome to the overwhelming majority of its citizens.
Therefore, recent imperial policies of
the United States can be called parasitic imperialism because
such policies of aggression are often prompted not so much by
a desire to expand the empire's wealth beyond the existing levels,
as did the imperial powers of the past, but by a desire to appropriate
the lion's share of the existing wealth and treasure for the military
establishment, especially for the war-profiteering Pentagon contractors.
It can also be called dual imperialism because not only does it
exploit the conquered and the occupied abroad but also the overwhelming
majority of U.S. citizens and their resources at home.
Since imperial policies abroad are widely
discussed by others, I will focus here on parasitic military imperialism
at home, that is, on what might be called domestic or internal
imperialism. Specifically, I will argue that parasitic imperialism
(1) redistributes national income or resources in favor of the
wealthy; (2) undermines the formation of public capital (both
physical and human); (3) weakens national defenses against natural
disasters; (4) accumulates national debt and threatens economic/financial
stability; (5) spoils external or foreign markets for non-military
U.S. transnational capital; (6) undermines civil liberties and
democratic values; and (7) fosters a dependence on or addiction
to military spending and, therefore, leads to an spiraling vicious
circle of war and militarism. (The terms domestic imperialism,
internal imperialism, parasitic imperialism, and military imperialism
are used synonymously or interchangeably in this article.)
1. Parasitic Imperialism Redistributes
National Income from the Bottom to the Top
Even without the costs of the wars in
Iraq and Afghanistan, which are fast surpassing half a trillion
dollars, U.S. military spending is now the largest item in the
Federal budget. President Bush's proposed increase of 10% for
next year will raise the Pentagon budget to over half a trillion
dollars for fiscal year 2008. A proposed supplemental appropriation
to pay for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq "brings proposed
military spending for FY 2008 to $647.2 billion, the highest level
of military spending since the end of World War II-higher than
Vietnam, higher than Korea, higher than the peak of the Reagan
The skyrocketing Pentagon budget has been
a boon for its contractors. This is clearly reflected in the continuing
rise of the value of the contractors' shares in the stock market:
"Shares of U.S. defense companies, which have nearly trebled
since the beginning of the occupation of Iraq, show no signs of
slowing down. . . . The feeling that makers of ships, planes and
weapons are just getting into their stride has driven shares of
leading Pentagon contractors Lockheed Martin Corp., Northrop Grumman
Corp., and General Dynamics Corp. to all-time highs."
But while the Pentagon contractors and
other beneficiaries of war dividends are showered with public
money, low- and middle-income Americans are squeezed out of economic
or subsistence resources in order to make up for the resulting
budgetary shortfalls. For example, as the official Pentagon budget
for 2008 fiscal year is projected to rise by more than 10 percent,
or nearly $50 billion, "a total of 141 government programs
will be eliminated or sharply reduced" to pay for the increase.
These would include cuts in housing assistance for low-income
seniors by 25 percent, home heating/energy assistance to low-income
people by 18 percent, funding for community development grants
by 12.7 percent, and grants for education and employment training
by 8 percent.
Combined with redistributive militarism
and generous tax cuts for the wealthy, these cuts have further
exacerbated the ominously growing income inequality that started
under President Reagan. Ever since Reagan arrived in the White
House in 1980, opponents of non-military public spending have
been using an insidious strategy to cut social spending, to reverse
the New Deal and other social safety net programs, and to redistribute
national/public resources in favor of the wealthy. That cynical
strategy consists of a combination of drastic increases in military
spending coupled with equally drastic tax cuts for the wealthy.
As this combination creates large budget deficits, it then forces
cuts in non-military public spending (along with borrowing) to
fill the gaps thus created.
For example, at the same time that President
Bush is planning to raise military spending by $50 billion for
the next fiscal year, he is also proposing to make his affluent-targeted
tax cuts permanent at a cost of $1.6 trillion over 10 years, or
an average yearly cut of $160 billion. Simultaneously, "funding
for domestic discretionary programs would be cut a total of $114
billion" in order to pay for these handouts to the rich.
The projected cuts include over 140 programs that provide support
for the basic needs of low- and middle-income families such as
elementary and secondary education, job training, environmental
protection, veterans' health care, medical research, Meals on
Wheels, child care and HeadStart, low-income home energy assistance,
and many more.
According to the Urban Institute-Brookings
Institution Tax Policy Center, "if the President's tax cuts
are made permanent, households in the top 1 percent of the population
(currently those with incomes over $400,000) will receive tax
cuts averaging $67,000 a year by 2012. . . . The tax cuts for
those with incomes of over $1 million a year would average $162,000
a year by 2012."
Official macroeconomic figures show that,
over the past five decades or so, government spending (at the
federal, state and local levels) as a percentage of gross national
product (GNP) has remained fairly steady-at about 20 percent.
Given this nearly constant share of the public sector of national
output/income, it is not surprising that increases in military
spending have almost always been accompanied or followed by compensating
decreases in non-military public spending, and vice versa.
For example, when by virtue of FDR's New
Deal reforms and LBJ's metaphorical War on Poverty, the share
of non-military government spending rose significantly the share
of military spending declined accordingly. From the mid 1950s
to the mid 1970s, the share of non-military government spending
of GNP rose from 9.2 to 14.3 percent, an increase of 5.1 percent.
During that time period, the share of military spending of GNP
declined from 10.1 to 5.8 percent, a decline of 4.3 percent.
That trend was reversed when President
Reagan took office in 1980. In the early 1980s, as President Reagan
drastically increased military spending, he also just as drastically
lowered tax rates on higher incomes. The resulting large budget
deficits were then paid for by more than a decade of steady cuts
on non-military spending.
Likewise, the administration of President
George W. Bush has been pursuing a similarly sinister fiscal policy
of cutting non-military public spending in order to pay for the
skyrocketing military spending and the generous tax cuts for the
Interestingly (though not surprisingly),
changes in income inequality have mirrored changes in government
spending priorities, as reflected in the fiscal policies of different
administrations. Thus, for example, when from the mid 1950 to
the mid 1970s the share of non-military public spending rose relative
to that of military spending, income inequality declined accordingly.
But as President Reagan reversed that
fiscal policy by raising the share of military spending relative
to non-military public spending and cutting taxes for the wealthy,
income inequality also rose considerably. As Reagan's twin policies
of drastic increases in military spending and equally sweeping
tax cuts for the rich were somewhat tempered in the 1990s, growth
in income inequality slowed down accordingly. In the 2000s, however,
the ominous trends that were left off by President Reagan have
been picked up by President George W. Bush: increasing military
spending, decreasing taxes for the rich, and (thereby) exacerbating
The following are some specific statistics
of how redistributive militarism and supply-side fiscal policies
have exacerbated income inequality since the late 1970s and early
1980s-making after-tax income gaps wider than pre-tax ones. According
to recently released data by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO),
since 1979 income gains among high-income households have dwarfed
those of middle- and low-income households. Specifically:
0. The average after-tax income of the
top one percent of the population nearly tripled, rising from
$314,000 to nearly $868,000-for a total increase of $554,000,
or 176 percent. (Figures are adjusted by CBO for inflation.)
0. By contrast, the average after-tax income of the middle fifth
of the population rose a relatively modest 21 percent, or $8,500,
reaching $48,400 in 2004.
0. The average after-tax income of the poorest fifth of the population
rose just 6 percent, or $800, during this period, reaching $14,700
Legislation enacted since 2001 has provided taxpayers with about
$1 trillion in tax cuts over the past six years. These large tax
reductions have made the distribution of after-tax income more
unequal by further concentrating income at the top of the income
range. According to the Urban Institute-Brookings Institution
Tax Policy Center, as a result of the tax cuts enacted since 2001,
in 2006 households in the bottom fifth of the income spectrum
received tax cuts averaging only $20; households in the middle
fifth of the income range received tax cuts averaging $740; households
in the top one percent received tax cuts averaging $44,200; and
households with incomes exceeding $1 million received an average
tax cut of $118,000.
2. Parasitic Imperialism Undermines Public
Capital-both Physical and Human
Beyond the issue of class and inequality,
allocation of a disproportionately large share of public resources
to the beneficiaries of war and militarism is also steadily undermining
the critical national objective of building and/or maintaining
public capital. This includes both physical capital or infrastructure
(such as roads, bridges, mass transit, dams, levees, and the like)
and human capital such as health, education, nutrition, and so
on. If not reversed or rectified, this ominous trend is bound
to stint long term productivity growth and socio-economic development.
A top heavy military establishment will be unviable in the long
run as it tends to undermine the economic base it is supposed
In March 2001, the American Society of
Civil Engineers (ASCE) issued a "Report Card for America's
Infrastructure," grading 12 infrastructure categories at
a disappointing D+ overall, and estimating the need for a $1.3
trillion investment to bring conditions to acceptable levels.
In September 2003, ASCE released a Progress Report that examined
trends and assessed the progress and decline of the nation's infrastructure.
The Progress Report, prepared by a panel of 20 eminent civil engineers
with expertise in a range of practice specialties, examined 12
major categories of infrastructure. The report concluded: "The
condition of our nation's roads, bridges, drinking water systems
and other public works have shown little improvement since they
were graded an overall D+ in 2001, with some areas sliding toward
Neoliberal proponents of laissez faire
economics tend to view government spending on public capital as
a burden on the economy. Instead of viewing public-sector spending
on infrastructure as a long-term investment that will help sustain
and promote economic vitality, they view it as an overhead. By
focusing on the short-term balance sheets, they seem to lose sight
of the indirect, long-term returns to the tax dollars invested
in the public capital stock. Yet, evidence shows that neglect
of public capital formation can undermine long-term health of
an economy in terms of productivity enhancement and sustained
Continued increase in military spending
at the expense of non-military public spending has undermined
more than physical infrastructure. Perhaps more importantly, it
has also undercut public investment in human capital or social
infrastructure such as health care, education, nutrition, housing,
and the like-investment that would help improve quality of life,
human creativity and labor productivity, thereby also helping
to bring about long-term socioeconomic vitality. Investment in
human capital-anything that improves human capacity and/or labor
productivity-is a major source of social health and economic vitality
Sadly, however, public investment in such
vitally important areas has been gradually curtailed ever since
the arrival of Ronald Reagan in the White House in 1980 in favor
of steadily rising military spending. Evidence of this regrettable
trend is overwhelming. To cite merely a few examples: "The
war priorities have depleted medical and education staffs. . .
. Shortages of housing have caused a swelling of the homeless
population in every major city. State and city governments across
the country have become trained to bend to the needs of the military-giving
automatic approvals to its spending without limit. The same officials
cannot find money for affordable housing."
The New York Times columnist Bob Herbert
recently reported that some 5.5 million young Americans, age 16
to 24, were undereducated, disconnected from society's mainstream,
jobless, restless, unhappy, frustrated, angry and sad. Commenting
on this report, Professor Seymour Melman of Columbia University
wrote: "This population, 5.5 million and growing, is the
product of America's national politics that has stripped away
as too costly the very things that might rescue this abandoned
generation and train it for productive work. But that sort of
thing is now treated as too costly. So this abandoned generation
is now left to perform as fodder for well-budgeted police SWAT
3. Parasitic Imperialism Undermines National
Defense Capabilities against Natural Disasters-the Case of Hurricane
Neglect of public physical capital, or
infrastructure, can prove very costly in terms of vulnerability
in the face of natural disasters. This was tragically demonstrated,
among many other instances, by the destruction wrought by Hurricane
Katrina. In light of the steady cuts in the infrastructural funding
for the city of New Orleans, catastrophic consequences of a hurricane
of the magnitude of Katrina were both predictable and, indeed,
Engineering and meteorological experts
had frequently warned of impending disasters such as Katrina.
Government policy makers in charge of maintaining public infrastructure,
however, remained indifferent to those warnings. They seem to
have had other priorities and responsibilities: cutting funds
from public works projects and social spending and giving them
away to the wealthy supporters who had paid for their elections.
It is not surprising, then, that many observers and experts have
argued that Katrina was as much a policy disaster as it was a
The New Orleans project manager for the
Army Corps of Engineers, Alfred Naomi, had warned for years of
the need to shore up the levees, but corporate representatives
in the White House and the Congress kept cutting back on the funding.
Naomi wasn't the only one who had warned of the impending disaster.
In 2001, the Federal Emergency Management
Agency (FEMA) "ranked the potential damage to New Orleans
as among the three likeliest, most catastrophic disasters facing
the country," wrote Eric Berger in a prescient article in
the Houston Chronicle of December 1, 2001. In that piece, Berger
warned: "The city's less-than-adequate evacuation routes
would strand 250,000 people or more, and probably kill one of
ten left behind as the city drowned under twenty feet of water.
Thousands of refugees could land in Houston."
In June 2003, Civil Engineering Magazine
ran a long story by Greg Brouwer entitled "The Creeping Storm."
It noted that the levees "were designed to withstand only
forces associated with a fast-moving" Category 3 hurricane.
"If a lingering Category 3 storm-or a stronger storm, say,
Category 4 or 5-were to hit the city, much of New Orleans could
find itself under more than twenty feet of water."
On October 11, 2004, The Philadelphia
Inquirer ran a story by Paul Nussbaum, entitled "Direct Hurricane
Hit Could Drown City of New Orleans, Experts Say." It warned
that "more than 25,000 people could die, emergency officials
predict. That would make it the deadliest disaster in U.S. history."
The story quoted Terry C. Tuller, city director of emergency preparedness:
"It's only a matter of time. The thing that keeps me awake
at night is the 100,000 people who couldn't leave."
But government representatives of big
business in the White House and the Congress were not moved by
these alarm bells; the warnings did not deter them from further
cutting non-military public spending in order to pay for the escalating
military spending and the generous tax cuts for the wealthy.
Some disasters cannot be prevented from
occurring. But, with proper defenses, they can be contained and
their disastrous consequences minimized. Katrina was not; it was
not "because of a laissez-faire government that failed to
bother to take warnings seriously," and because of a skewed
government fiscal policy "that is stingy when it comes to
spending on public goods but lavish on armaments and war."
4. Parasitic Militarism Costs External
Markets to Non-military Transnational Capital
U.S. military buildup and its unilateral
transgressions abroad have increasingly become economic burdens
not only because they devour a disproportionately large share
of national resources, but also because such adventurous operations
tend to create instability in international markets, subvert long-term
global investment, and increase energy or fuel costs. Furthermore,
the resentment and hostilities that unprovoked aggressions generate
in foreign lands are bound to create backlash at the consumer
For example, A Business Week report pointed
out in the immediate aftermath of the U.S. invasion of Iraq that
in the Muslim world, Europe, and elsewhere "there have been
calls for boycotts of American brands as well as demonstrations
at symbols of U.S. business, such as McDonald's corporation"
(Business Week, 14 April 2003, p. 32).
A leading Middle East business journal,
AME Info, reported in its April 8, 2004 issue that "In 2002,
a cluster of Arab organizations asked Muslims to shun goods from
America, seen as an enemy of Islam and a supporter of Israel.
In Bahrain, the Al-Montazah supermarket chain, for example, boosted
sales by pulling about 1,000 US products off its shelves, and
other grocers followed suit." The report further pointed
out that "Coca-Cola and Pepsi, sometimes considered unflattering
shorthand for the United States, took the brunt of the blow. Coca-Cola
admitted that the boycott trimmed some $40 million off profits
in the [Persian] Gulf in 2002."
The report also indicated that in recent
years a number of "Muslim colas" have appeared in the
Middle Eastern/Muslim markets. "Don't Drink Stupid, Drink
Committed, read the labels of Mecca Cola, from France. . . . Iran's
Zam Zam Cola, originally concocted for Arab markets, has spread
to countries including France and the United States." In
addition, the report noted that "US exports to the Middle
East dropped $31 billion from 1998-2002. Branded, value-added
goods-all the stuff easily recognized as American-were hit the
hardest." Quoting Grant Smith, director of IRmep, a leading
Washington-based think tank on Middle Eastern affairs, the report
concluded: "Our piece of the pie is shrinking, and it's because
of our degraded image."
Evidence shows that foreign policy-induced
losses of the U.S. market share in global markets goes beyond
the Middle East and/or the Muslim world. According to a December
2004 survey of 8,000 international consumers carried out by Global
Market Insite (GMI) Inc., one-third of all consumers in Canada,
China, France, Germany, Japan, Russia, and the United Kingdom
"said that U.S. foreign policy, particularly the 'war on
terror' and the occupation of Iraq, constituted their strongest
impression of the United States. Brands closely identified with
the U.S., such as Marlboro cigarettes, America Online (AOL), McDonald's,
American Airlines, and Exxon-Mobil, are particularly at risk."
Twenty percent of respondents in Europe and Canada "said
they consciously avoided buying U.S. products as a protest against
those policies." Commenting on the results of the survey,
Dr. Mitchell Eggers, GMI's chief operating officer and chief pollster,
pointed out, "Unfortunately, current American foreign policy
is viewed by international consumers as a significant negative,
when it used to be a positive."
Kevin Roberts, chief executive of advertising
giant Saatchi & Saatchi, likewise expressed concern about
global consumer backlash against militaristic U.S. foreign policy
when he told the Financial Times that he believed consumers in
Europe and Asia are becoming increasingly resistant to having
"brand America rammed down their throats." Similarly,
Simon Anholt, author of Brand America, told the British trade
magazine Marketing Week that "four more years of Bush's foreign
policy could have grave consequences for U.S. companies' international
Writing in the October 27, 2003 issue
of the Star Tribune, Ron Bosrock of the Global Institute of St.
John's University likewise expressed anxiety over negative economic
consequences that might follow from the Bush administration's
policies of unilateral military operations and economic sanctions.
Concerns of this nature have prompted
a broad spectrum of non-military business interests to form coalitions
of trade associations that are designed to lobby foreign policy
makers against unilateral U.S. military aggressions abroad. One
such anti-militarist alliance of American businesses is USA*ENGAGE.
It is a coalition of nearly 700 small and large businesses, agriculture
groups and trade associations working to seek alternatives to
the proliferation of unilateral U.S. foreign policy actions and
to promote the benefits of U.S. engagement abroad. The coalition's
statement of principles points out, "American values are
best advanced by engagement of American business and agriculture
in the world, not by ceding markets to foreign competition"
through unilateral foreign policies and military aggressions (http://www.usaengage.org/about_us/index.html).
Non-military business interests' anxiety
over the Bush administration's unilateral foreign policy measures
is, of course, rooted in their negatively-affected financial balance
sheets by those actions: "Hundreds of companies blame the
Iraq war for poor financial results in 2003, many warning that
continued U.S. military involvement there could harm this year's
performance," pointed out James Cox of USA Today.
In a relatively comprehensive survey of
the economic impact of the war, published in the July 14, 2004
issue of the paper, Cox further wrote: "In recent regulatory
filings at the Securities and Exchange Commission, airlines, home
builders, broadcasters, mortgage providers, mutual funds and others
say the war was directly to blame for lower revenue and profits
last year." Many businesses blamed the war and international
political turbulence as a 'risk factor' that threatened their
sales: "The war led to sharp decreases in business and leisure
travel, say air carriers, travel services, casino operators, restaurant
chains and hotel owners." The survey covered a number of
airlines including Delta Airlines, JetBlue, Northwest Airlines
and Alaska Airlines, all of which blamed the war for a drop in
air travel. Related industries such as travel agencies, hotels,
restaurants, and resort and casino operations all suffered losses
Even technology giants such as Cisco,
PeopleSoft and Hewlett-Packard that tend to benefit from military
spending expressed concerns that "hostilities in Iraq hurt
results or could harm performance." For example, managers
at Hewlett-Packard complained that "potential for future
attacks, the national and international responses to attacks or
perceived threats to national security, and other actual or potential
conflicts or wars, including the ongoing military operations in
Iraq, have created many economic and political uncertainties that
could adversely affect our business, results of operations and
stock price in ways that we cannot presently predict." Other
companies that were specifically mentioned in the survey as having
complained about the "whiplash from the Iraq conflict"
included home builders Hovnanian and Cavalier homes, casino company
Mandalay Resort Group, retailer Restoration Hardware, cosmetics
giant Estée Lauder, eyewear retailer Cole, Longs Drug Stores,
golf club maker Callaway, and H&Q Life Sciences Investors.
5. Parasitic Imperialism Accumulates National
Debt, Weakens National Currency, and Undermines Long-Term National
A major source of the financing of the
out-of-control military spending has been borrowing-the other
source has been cutting non-military public spending. This represents
a cynically clever strategy on the part of the powerful interests
that benefit from war and militarism: instead of financing their
wars of choice by paying taxes proportionate to their income,
they give themselves tax cuts, finance their wars through borrowing,
and then turn around and lend money (unpaid taxes) to the government
and earn interest.
Viewed in this light, the staggering national
debt of nearly $9 trillion, which is more than two thirds of gross
nation product (GNP), represents a subtle redistribution of national
resources from the bottom to the top: it represents unpaid taxes
by the wealthy, which has to be financed by cutting non-military
public spending-both now and in the future. This means that the
wealthy has successfully converted their tax obligations to credit
claims, that is, lending instead of paying taxes-which is in essence
a disguised form of theft or robbery.
This cynical policy of increasing military
spending, cutting taxes for the wealthy and, thereby, accumulating
national debt cannot continue for ever, as it might eventually
lead to national or Federal insolvency, collapse of the dollar,
and paralysis of financial markets-not only in the United States
but perhaps also in broader global markets.
Prospects of such developments has led
a number of observers to argue that the profit-driven military
expansion might prove to be the nemesis of U.S. imperialism: the
escalating and out-of-control militarization tends to gradually
drive the once-prosperous U.S. superpower in the direction of
a mismanaged and destructive military imperial force whose capricious
and often purely existential military adventures will eventually
become costly both politically and economically. While the top-heavy
imperial military colossus tends to undermine its economic base,
it is also bound to create many enemies abroad and a lot of discontentment
and hostility to the established order at home. Unchecked, a combination
of these adverse developments, especially a drained economy and
an empty or bankrupt treasury, might eventually lead to the demise
of the empire, just as happened to the post-Rubicon, Old Roman
6. Parasitic Imperialism Undermines Democratic
Control and Corrupts the System of Checks and Balances
As noted earlier, powerful beneficiaries
of war dividends (the military-industrial complex and affiliated
businesses of war) have successfully used war and military spending
as a roundabout way to reallocate national resources in their
own favor. Appropriation of public finance by these war profiteers
has reached a point where more than half of the discretionary
Federal budget, or more than one-third of the entire Federal budget,
is now earmarked for "national security."
This perverse allocation of national resources
in the name of national security has meant that while the increasing
escalation of war and militarism have hollowed out national treasury
(and brought unnecessary death, destruction, and disaster to millions),
it has also brought tremendous riches and resources to war profiteers.
Concealment of this subtle robbery of national treasury from the
American people requires restriction of information, obstruction
of transparency, and obfuscation or misrepresentation of national
priorities-that is, curtailment of democracy.
Curtailment of democracy, however, is
best achieved under conditions of war, which in turn, requires
invention of enemies or manufacturing of threats to national security.
Therefore, it is not fortuitous that, in the post-Cold War world,
U.S. architects of wars of choice have become very resourceful
in invoking all kinds of bogeymen (rogue states, global terrorism,
axis of evil, radical Islam, and more) that are allegedly threatening
"our national interests" in order to justify their plans
of increased militarization of U.S. foreign policy. (Under the
bipolar world of the Cold War era, "threat of communism"
served the purpose of continued increases of the Pentagon budget.)
This means that U.S. wars of choice abroad
are prompted largely by metaphorical domestic wars over allocation
of public resources, or tax dollars. From the standpoint of war
profiteers, instigation or engineering of capricious wars for
profits help achieve two closely-linked purposes: on the one hand,
they will help justify escalation of military spending, which
means escalation of their share of U.S treasury, on the other,
they will help camouflage such a cynical robbery of public money
by restricting information under the cover of war-time circumstances.
For example, only under conditions of
war the Bush the administration could display an attitude of cavalier
contempt for lawful norms, undermine constitutional balances,
corrupt national institutions with nefarious special interests,
smear dissent as unpatriotic, suspend traditional legal rights
for certain citizens, obstruct the free flow of information, sanction
domestic spying without legal warrant, institute military tribunals,
and promote torture in defiance of American and international
Likewise, only under conditions of war
(and the self-fulfilling threats of imminent "terrorist attacks"
on the U.S.) could the administration establish and manage a prison
system outside the rule of law where torture can be used. With
this system of prison camps in Afghanistan, Iraq, Cuba (Guantánamo),
and a number of other undisclosed overseas places, where detainees
are abused and kept indefinitely without trial and without access
to the due process of the law, the United States now has its own
gulags. President Bush and his allies in Congress recently announced
they would issue no information about the secret CIA "black
site" prisons throughout the world, which are used to incarcerate
people who have often been seized off the street.
From the vantage point of war profiteering
militarists, such prison camps are an essential ingredient for
the justification of war: they are portrayed as evidence of the
existence of terrorists, of the "enemies of the people,"
or of "enemy combatant" without, at the same time, having
to show what the alleged evidence really is, or who the alleged
"enemy combatants" really are-as would be required in
an open court of law. Combined with warrantless wiretapping, electronic
surveillance, and various types of illegal searches, this prison
system serves yet another objective of the beneficiaries of war
dividends: inspiration of fear and cultivation of silence and
obedience among citizens, which means subversion of democracy
and promotion of authoritarianism.
James Madison warned against such an ominous
symbiosis of war and authoritarianism long time ago: "Of
all the enemies of public liberty, war is perhaps the most to
be dreaded, because it comprises and develops the germ of every
other." The Congress of the United States of America had
earlier (1784) issued a similar warning against authoritarian
consequences of maintaining a large military establishment during
times of peace: "standing armies in time of peace are inconsistent
with the principles of republican governments, dangerous to the
liberties of a free people, and generally converted into destructive
engines for establishing despotism."
But perhaps the strongest and most well-known
warning against the baleful consequences of a large peace-time
military establishment came from President Dwight Eisenhower:
"The conjunction of an immense military establishment and
a huge arms industry is new in the American experience. The total
influence-economic, political, and even spiritual-is felt in every
city, every state house, and every office of the federal government.
. . . In the councils of government, we must guard against the
acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought,
by the military-industrial complex" (Farewell Address, January
Eisenhower's warning that "we must
guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence" of
the military-industrial complex is more relevant today than when
it was issued nearly half a century ago. The steadily rising-and
now perhaps monopolizing and overwhelming-power and influence
of the Complex over both domestic and foreign policies of the
United States is testament to the unfortunate realization of Eisenhower's
nightmare. As Howard Swint, Democratic candidate for Congress
in West Virginia, put it: "The seat of power for formulating
foreign policy and defense strategy is not in the White House
but rather in the Pentagon. While a civilian Commander-in-Chief
may tweak policy in four-year increments, it's obvious that military
careerists together with major defense contractors effectively
control the Congressional budget process and drive defense appropriations."
7. Parasitic Imperialism Leads to Dependence
on, or Addiction to, War and Militarism
The fact that the Pentagon appropriates
and controls more than one-third of the entire Federal budget
has allowed it to forge the largest constituency and/or dependents
nationwide. Tens of thousands of businesses, millions of jobs,
and thousands of cities and communities have become dependent
on military spending. While a handful of major contractors take
the lion's share of military spending, millions more have become
dependent on it as the source of their livelihood.
It is not surprising then that not many
people are willing to oppose the continuing rise in the Pentagon
budget-even if they might philosophically be opposed to militarism
and large military spending. Because of the widespread presence
of military installations and production sites nationwide, few
politicians can afford not to support a continued rise in military
spending lest that should hurt their communities or constituencies
This helps explain the vicious and spiraling
circle of war, international political convulsions, and military
spending: Major Pentagon contractors and other powerful beneficiaries
of war dividends are dependent on continued war and militarism
in order to maintain and expand hefty profits. This dependence
has, in turn, created a secondary (or derived) dependence; it
is the dependence of millions of Americans on military spending
as the source of their livelihood, which then plays into the hands
of war profiteers in their perennial quest for ever newer enemies,
newer wars, and bigger appropriations for the Pentagon-hence the
addiction to and the vicious circle of war profiteering, international
political tension, war, and military spending.
Concluding Remarks-Parasitic Imperialism:
A Most Dangerous Type of Imperialism
Dependence on, or addiction to, war and
militarism for profitability makes U.S military imperialism (that
is, imperialism driven by military capital, or arms conglomerates,
vis-à-vis non-military transnational capital) a most dangerous
kind of imperialism. Under the rule of the past imperial powers,
the conquered and subjugated peoples or nations could live in
peace-imposed peace, to be sure-if they respected the interests
and the needs of those imperial powers and simply resigned to
their political and economic ambitions.
Not so in the case of the U.S. military-industrial
empire: the interests of this empire are nurtured through "war
dividends." Peace, imposed or otherwise, is viewed by the
beneficiaries of war dividends inimical to their interests as
it would make justification of continued increases of their share
of national resources (in the form of Pentagon appropriations)
Of course, tendencies to build bureaucratic
empires have always existed in the ranks of military hierarchies.
By itself, this is not what makes the U.S. military-industrial
complex more dangerous than the military powers of the past. What
makes it more dangerous is the "industrial," or business,
part of the Complex. In contrast to the United States' military
or war industries, arms industries of past empires were not subject
to capitalist market imperatives. Furthermore, those industries
were often owned and operated by imperial governments, not by
market-driven giant corporations. Consequently, as a rule, arms
production was dictated by war requirements, not by market or
profit imperatives, which is the case with today's U.S. armaments
Ismael Hossein-zadeh is an economics professor
at Drake University, Des Moines, Iowa. This article draws upon
his recently published book, The Political Economy of U.S. Militarism
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Ismael Hossein-zadeh is a frequent contributor
to Global Research. Global Research Articles by Ismael Hossein-zadeh
Ethical Foreign Policy