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Jeremiah Goulka: C-130 Math and a Cargo of Pork

6:33 am in Uncategorized by Tom Engelhardt

This article originally appeared at TomDispatch.com. To receive TomDispatch in your inbox three times a week, click here.

C-130

The C-130 is an example of pork-barrel spending in the military-industrial complex.

Bipartisanship in Washington is a rare thing these days.  However, no beltway battle in recent memory has been quite as partisan as the one over sequestration and its $85 billion in across-the-board government spending cuts.  Yet, for all the rancor between Democrats and Republicans over that so-called meat ax or poison pill, there has been one point of unity, one response that everyone in Washington can seemingly get behind: hyperbole.

The Department of Defense has, of course, spent more than a decade fighting ruinous wars and hasn’t convincingly won a conflict over a significant foe (sorry, Grenada; sorry, Panama) since World War II.  Yet the mere possibility that it would have to put its civilian employees on 22 days of unpaid leave drove Pentagon chief Leon Panetta to hit the panic button, channel Chicken Little, and declare the sequestration future “the most significant military readiness crisis in more than a decade.”

Not to be outdone, Virginia Republican Congressman Rob Whittman insisted that the budget cuts would put “men and women’s lives… at stake.”  Representing a district heavy in defense contractors, he claimed, according to Business Insider, that, in addition to putting military personnel at risk, the sequester will “cost 200,000 jobs and create a wave of uncertainty for [his] state.” Meanwhile, two Air Force generals announced that the cuts would ripple through the entire defense establishment with dire results. “The impacts to the industrial base grow in magnitude as the reductions cascade down through the network of companies that support each program,” they told members of Congress.

About the only big-time military-industrial player who doesn’t seem worried is the one that seemingly has the most to lose: top defense contractor Lockheed Martin.  Even after sequestration took effect, Lockheed expressed confidence and touted its “broad portfolio of products and technologies, a robust and durable strategy and the industry’s best team.”  The defense giant further boasted that it would “continue to meet our customers’ evolving needs and generate value for our shareholders.”  In fact, just weeks before, Lockheed had all but ignored sequestration worries, offering a corporate forecast that didn’t even bother to take the coming cuts into account.  It projected that the company would meet analysts’ estimates for 2013 by raking in between $44.5 and $46 billion in net sales.  Hardly gloom and doom.

Is Lockheed Martin a military-industrial ostrich with its head in the sand?  Is it the Pollyanna of weapons makers? Or does it have an ace in the hole?  In his latest piece, TomDispatch regular Jeremiah Goulka suggests that Lockheed might not just be sequester-proof, but impervious to almost any effort to even modestly rein it in.  His investigation of one of the most resilient aircraft of modern times raises questions about whether Lockheed is truly interested in meeting its “customers’ evolving needs” or is simply interested in “generat[ing] value” at taxpayer expense. Nick Turse

Lockheed Martin’s Herculean Efforts to Profit From Defense Spending
The Epic Story of the C-130
By Jeremiah Goulka

When I was a kid obsessed with military aircraft, I loved Chicago’s O’Hare airport.  If I was lucky and scored a window seat, I might get to see a line of C-130 Hercules transport planes parked on the tarmac in front of the 928th Airlift Wing’s hangars.  For a precious moment on takeoff or landing, I would have a chance to stare at those giant gray beasts with their snub noses and huge propellers until they passed from sight.

What I didn’t know then was why the Air Force Reserve, as well as the Air National Guard, had squadrons of these big planes eternally parked at O’Hare and many other airports and air stations around the country.  It’s a tale made to order for this time of sequestration that makes a mockery of all the hyperbole about how any spending cuts will “hollow out” our forces and “devastate” our national security.

Consider this a parable to help us see past the alarmist talking points issued by defense contractor lobbyists, the public relations teams they hire, and the think tanks they fund.  It may help us see just how effective defense contractors are in growing their businesses, whatever the mood of the moment.

Meet the Herk

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Nick Turse: Chuck Hagel and Murder in Vietnam

7:20 am in Uncategorized by Tom Engelhardt

This article originally appeared at TomDispatch.com. To receive TomDispatch in your inbox three times a week, click here.

[Editor's Note: Read more about Nick Turse's Kill Anything That Moves in the FDL Book Salon discussion --MyFDL Editor]

Kill Anything That Moves cover

Nick Turse's Kill Anything That Moves documents the bloody reality of Vietnam.

Think of it as the Great Obama Shuffle.  When U.N. ambassador Susan Rice went down in flames as the president’s nominee for secretary of state, he turned to ally, former presidential candidate, and chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee John Kerry (who had essentially been traveling the world as a second secretary of state during Obama’s first term). Next, he nominated his counterterrorism “tsar” and right-hand man in the White House-directed drone wars to be the next head of the CIA, which dominates those drone wars.  Then he picked White House chief of staff (and former Citigroup exec) Jack Lew to head the Treasury Department.  Meanwhile, he tapped his key foreign policy advisor and West Wing aide Denis McDonough to replace Lew as chief of staff.

He also renominated Richard Cordray, whose recess appointment as director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau was recently endangered by a federal appeals court, to the same position, and picked B. Todd Jones, the acting director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, as the man to reinvigorate that agency.  Otherwise, Tom Donilon will remain his national security advisor and James Clapper, his director of national intelligence.  And so it goes in Obama’s Washington where new faces and fresh air are evidently not an operative concept.

In such an atmosphere, the nomination of retired Republican Senator Chuck Hagel, the co-chairman of the president’s Intelligence Advisory Board, as secretary of defense was the equivalent of a thunderbolt from the blue.  Republicans, in particular, reacted as if the president had just picked Noam Chomsky to run the Pentagon, as if, that is, Hagel were the outsider’s outsider.  When it comes to military and foreign policy, the former Nebraska senator remains the sole breath of fresh air in today’s Washington.  That’s because he has expressed the most modest of doubts about the U.S.-Israeli relationship, as well as the efficacy of the U.S. sanctions program against Iran and a possible attack on that country’s nuclear facilities, and because he has spoken, again in mild terms, of “paring” a Pentagon budget that has experienced year after year of what he’s called “bloat.”

Of course, what little fresh space might exist between the Obama I and Obama II years (not to speak of the George W. Bush II years) has been rapidly closed.  Hagel was soon forced to mouth the pieties of present-day Washington, offering an ever friendlier take on Israel and an ever-tougher set of positions on Iran, while assuring everyone in sight that his previous positions had been sorely misunderstood.  This should be a healthy reminder that, at least when it comes to war and national security policy, debate in Washington can be fierce and bitter (as over the Benghazi affair), even as what Andrew Bacevich calls “the Washington Rules” ensure that not a genuine new thought, nor a genuinely different position, can be tolerated, no less seriously discussed in that town.

Barack Obama arrived in Washington in 2009 buoyed by the slogan “change we can believe in.”  The bitter Hagel hearings will be a fierce reminder that, when it comes to foreign policy, old is new, and the words “change” and “Washington” don’t belong in the same sentence.  It remains something of an irony that, whether it’s John Kerry or Chuck Hagel, what little breathing room exists in the corridors of power can be credited to a now-ancient war whose realities, as Nick Turse reminds us in his remarkable new book, Kill Anything that Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam, most Americans — Chuck Hagel evidently among them — could never truly face or take in. Tom

The Hagel Hearings
The Last Best Chance for the Truth About a Lost War and America’s War-Making Future
By Nick Turse

He’s been battered by big-money conservative groups looking to derail his bid for secretary of defense.  Critics say he wants to end America’s nuclear program.  They claim he’s anti-Israel and soft on Iran.  So you can expect intense questioning — if only for theatrical effect — about all of the above (and undoubtedly then some) as Chuck Hagel faces his Senate confirmation hearings today.

You can be sure of one other thing: Hagel’s military service in Vietnam will be mentioned — and praised. It’s likely, however, to be in a separate and distinct category, unrelated to the pointed questions about current issues like defense priorities, his beliefs on the use of force abroad, or the Defense Department’s role in counterterrorism operations.  You can also be sure of this: no senator will ask Chuck Hagel about his presence during the machine-gunning of an orphanage in Vietnam’s Mekong Delta or the lessons he might have drawn from that incident.

Nor is any senator apt to ask what Hagel might do if allegations about similar acts by American troops emerge in Afghanistan or elsewhere.  Nor will some senator question him on the possible parallels between the CIA-run Phoenix Program, a joint U.S.-Vietnamese venture focused on identifying and killing civilians associated with South Vietnam’s revolutionary shadow government, and the CIA’s current targeted-killing-by-drone campaign in Pakistan’s tribal borderlands.  Nor, for that matter, is he likely to be asked about the lessons he learned fighting a war in a foreign land among a civilian population where innocents and enemies were often hard to tell apart.  If, however, Hagel’s military experience is to be touted as a key qualification for his becoming secretary of defense, shouldn’t the American people have some idea of just what that experience was really like and how it shaped his thinking in regard to today’s wars?

Chuck Hagel on Murder in Vietnam

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