Cashing In on Terror
by Robert Scheer
www.truthdig.org, October 30,
Not to stoke any of the inane conspiracy
theories running wild on the Internet, but if Osama bin Laden
wasn't on the payroll of Lockheed Martin or some other large defense
contractor, he deserves to have been. What a boondoggle 9/11 has
been for the merchants of war, who this week announced yet another
quarter of whopping profits made possible by George Bush's pretending
to fight terrorism by throwing money at outdated Cold War-style
Lockheed Martin, the nation's top weapons
manufacturer, reaped a 22 percent increase in profits, while rivals
for the defense buck, Northrop Grumman and General Dynamics, increased
profits by 62 percent and 22 percent, respectively. Boeing's
profits jumped 61 percent, spiked this quarter by its commercial
division, but Boeing's military division, like the others, has
been doing very well indeed since the terrorist attacks. As Newsweek
International put in August: "Since 9/11 and the U.S.-led
wars that followed, shares in American defense companies have
outperformed both the Nasdaq and Standard & Poor's stock indices
by some 40 percent. Prior to the recent cascade of stock prices
worldwide, Boeing's share prices had tripled over the past five
years while Raytheon's had doubled."
Not bad for an industry in serious difficulty
with the sudden collapse of the Cold War at the beginning of the
1990s, when the first President Bush and his defense secretary,
Dick Cheney, were severely cutting the military budget for high-ticket
planes and ships designed to fight the no-longer-existent Soviet
military. Sure, they had Iraq to kick around, but the elder Bush
never thought to turn the then very real aggression of Saddam
Hussein into an enormously expensive quagmire. He both defeated
Hussein and cut the military budget.
Not so Bush the younger, who exploited
the trauma of 9/11 as an occasion to depose the defanged dictator
of Iraq and thus provide a "shock and awe" showcase
for the arms industry, which continues to benefit obscenely from
the failed occupation. The second Iraq war, irrationally conflated
with the 9/11 attack that had nothing to do with Hussein, provided
the perfect threat package to justify the most outrageous military
boondoggle in the nation's history. The bin Laden boys only had
an arsenal of $3 knives, but Bush claimed Hussein had WMD. Sadly
for the military-industrial complex, Hussein's army collapsed
all too suddenly. But the insurgency, much of it fueled by the
Shiites, who were ostensibly on our side, provided the occasion
for pretending that we are in a war against a conventionally armed
and imposing military enemy.
Of course, we are in nothing of the sort
with this so-called war on terror, a propaganda farce that draws
resources away from serious efforts to counter terrorism to reward
the corporations that profit from high-tech weaponry that has
little if anything to do with the problem at hand. As Columbia
professor Richard K. Betts points out in Foreign Affairs magazine:
"With rare exceptions, the war against terrorists cannot
be fought with army tank battalions, air force wings, or naval
fleets-the large conventional forces that drive the defense budget.
The main challenge is not killing the terrorists but finding them,
and the capabilities most applicable to this task are intelligence
and special operations forces. ... It does not require half a
trillion dollars worth of conventional and nuclear forces."
That half a trillion only covers the Pentagon
budget for expenses beyond the cost of the Iraq and Afghanistan
wars or the Department of Homeland Security. Those last three
items total more than $240 billion in Bush's 2008 budget requests.
Add to that the $50 billion spent on intelligence agencies and
an equal amount of State Department-directed efforts and you can
understand how we manage to spend more fighting a gang of mujahedeen
terrorists, once our "freedom fighters" in that earlier
Afghan war against the Soviets, than we did at the height of the
"The Pentagon currently absorbs more
than half of the federal government's discretionary budget,"
writes Lawrence J. Korb, "surpassing the heights reached
when I was President Reagan's assistant secretary of defense.
... And, much like the 1980s, we are spending billions of dollars
on weapons systems designed to fight the Soviet superpower."
Thanks to bin Laden and Bush's exploitation
of "war on terror" hysteria, the taxpayers have been
hoodwinked into paying for a sophisticated military arsenal to
fight a Soviet enemy that no longer exists. The Institute for
Policy Studies calculated last year that the top 34 CEOs of the
defense industry have earned a combined billion dollars since
9/11; they should give bin Laden his cut.