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Tomgram: William Astore, War! What Is It Good For? Profit and Power

6:28 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.

It’s no news (and in fact rarely makes it off the inside pages of our newspapers) that the U.S. dominates — one might almost say monopolizes — the global arms market.  In 2011, the last year for which figures are available, U.S. weapons makers tripled their sales to $66.3 billion and were expected to remain in that range for 2012 as well.  In other words, they took 78% of the market that year, with Russia coming in a vanishingly distant second at $4.8 billion in sales.
PROFIT is our MOTIVE
This country has long had a special propensity for exporting things that go boom in the night: the products of both the military-industrial complex and Hollywood, each a near-monopoly in its particular market.  As it happened, on the very eve of a government shutdown, the Pentagon caught the spirit of the times by dumping $5 billion into the coffers of defense contractors for future weaponry and equipment of all sorts.  As TomDispatch regular Bill Astore writes today, the business of America has increasingly become war, so no one should be surprised that, even with the government officially shut down, the Obama administration didn’t turn off the lights in the offices where arms deals are a major focus of attention.  As Cora Currier of ProPublica recently reported, in those shutdown weeks, the administration, in fact, lent an especially helping hand to American arms dealers.  It loosened controls over military exports by moving the licensing process for foreign sales on “whole categories” of military equipment from the State Department (which, at least theoretically, has to consider the human rights records of countries slated to receive arms packages) to the Commerce Department, where, it seems, just about anything goes.  The big weapons firms have been lobbying for this for quite a while.

As Currier writes, “The switch from State to Commerce represents a big win for defense manufacturers, who have long lobbied in favor of relaxing U.S. export rules, which they say put a damper on international trade. Among the companies that recently lobbied on the issue: Lockheed, which manufactures C-130 transport planes, Textron, which makes Kiowa Warrior helicopters, and Honeywell, which outfits military choppers.”

So while the government may have been closed for you, if you were a child in need of government-funded meals or an abused woman in need of a shelter or a rancher whose cattle just died in a massive snowstorm, the government remained open and hard at work for the major weapons companies.  Oh, and if you were a reporter wanting to know more about the recent arms sales decision, then the shutdown got in your way, too.  As Currier adds, “An interview with Commerce Department officials was canceled due to the government shutdown, and the State Department did not respond to questions.” Let William Astore take it from there. Tom

The Business of America Is War
Disaster Capitalism on the Battlefield and in the Boardroom
By William J. Astore

There is a new normal in America: our government may shut down, but our wars continue.  Congress may not be able to pass a budget, but the U.S. military can still launch commando raids in Libya and Somalia, the Afghan War can still be prosecuted, Italy can be garrisoned by American troops (putting the “empire” back in Rome), Africa can be used as an imperial playground (as in the late nineteenth century “scramble for Africa,” but with the U.S. and China doing the scrambling this time around), and the military-industrial complex can still dominate the world’s arms trade. Read the rest of this entry →

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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David Vine: The True Costs of Empire

8:58 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.

Soldiers & helicopters in the field.

What is the true cost of American empire building?

Mars? Venus? Earth-like bodies elsewhere in the galaxy? Who knows? But here, at least, no great power, no superpower, no hyperpower, not the Romans, nor imperial China, nor the British, nor the Soviet Union has ever garrisoned the globe quite the way we have: Asia to Latin America, Europe to the Greater Middle East, and increasingly Africa as well.

Build we must.  If someday Washington took to the couch for therapy, the shrink would undoubtedly categorize what we’ve done as a compulsion, the base-building equivalent of a hoarding disorder.

And you know what else is unprecedented? Hundreds of thousands of Americans cycle annually through our various global garrisons, ranging from small American towns with all the attendant amenities, including fast-food joints, PXes, and Internet cafes to the most spartan of forward outposts, and yet our “Baseworld,” as the late Chalmers Johnson used to call it, is hardly noticed in this country and seldom considered worthy of attention.

We built, for example, 505 bases at the cost of billions of dollars in Iraq (without a single reporter uncovering anything close to that number until we abandoned all of them in 2011).  Over the years, millions of soldiers, private contractors, spies, civilian employees of the U.S. government, special ops types, and who knows who else spent time on them, as undoubtedly did hundreds of reporters, and yet news of those American ziggurats was rare to vanishing.  On the whole, reporters on bases so large that one had a 27-mile fortified perimeter, multiple bus lines, and its own electricity grid and water-bottling plant generally looked elsewhere for their “news.”

Our latest base-building mania: Washington’s expanding “empire of bases” for its secret CIA and Special Forces drone wars in the Greater Middle East goes almost unnoticed (except at sites like this).  We now, for instance, have a drone base in the Seychelles, an archipelago that evidently needs an infusion of money.  Unless you had the dough for a high-end wedding in the middle of the Indian Ocean or a vacation in “paradise,” you’ve probably never heard of the place.

No matter.  You’re still paying for the deployment of 82 people to those islands to fly and land crash-prone drones in our now endless “covert” robotic air wars in the Greater Middle East and Africa.  With the so-called fiscal cliff now eternally on the media horizon, there’s been reporting recently on how your tax dollars are being spent, but do you have the faintest idea what it actually costs you to garrison the globe? No? Then you’re in good company, and the Pentagon certainly isn’t interested in telling you either.

Fortunately, basing expert and TomDispatch regular David Vine decided to make sense of what garrisoning the planet means to our pocketbooks. Read this piece and you’ll know what it costs all of us to build and support that Baseworld and more generally the American global military presence. Think about it: at the cost of possibly $2 trillion since 9/11, it should be one of the stories of the century. If it were, maybe by now we would be starting to pull back from the “military cliff.” Tom

Picking Up a $170 Billion Tab
How U.S. Taxpayers Are Paying the Pentagon to Occupy the Planet
By David Vine

“Are you monitoring the construction?” asked the middle-aged man on a bike accompanied by his dog.

ldquo;Ah, sì,” I replied in my barely passable Italian.

Bene,” he answered. Good.

In front of us, a backhoe’s guttural engine whined into action and empty dump trucks rattled along a dirt track. The shouts of men vied for attention with the metallic whirring of drills and saws ringing in the distance. Nineteen immense cranes spread across the landscape, with the foothills of Italy’s Southern Alps in the background. More than 100 pieces of earthmoving equipment, 250 workers, and grids of scaffolding wrapped around what soon would be 34 new buildings.

We were standing in front of a massive 145-acre construction site for a “little America” rising in Vicenza, an architecturally renowned Italian city and UNESCO world heritage site near Venice. This was Dal Molin, the new military base the U.S. Army has been readying for the relocation of as many as 2,000 soldiers from Germany in 2013.

Since 1955, Vicenza has also been home to another major U.S. base, Camp Ederle. They’re among the more than 1,000 bases the United States uses to ring the globe (with about 4,000 more in the 50 states and Washington, D.C.). This complex of military installations, unprecedented in history, has been a major, if little noticed, aspect of U.S. power since World War II.

During the Cold War, such bases became the foundation for a “forward strategy” meant to surround the Soviet Union and push U.S. military power as close to its borders as possible. These days, despite the absence of a superpower rival, the Pentagon has been intent on dotting the globe with scores of relatively small “lily pad” bases, while continuing to build and maintain some large bases like Dal Molin.

Americans rarely think about these bases, let alone how much of their tax money — and debt — is going to build and maintain them. For Dal Molin and related construction nearby, including a brigade headquarters, two sets of barracks, a natural-gas-powered energy plant, a hospital, two schools, a fitness center, dining facilities, and a mini-mall, taxpayers are likely to shell out at least half a billion dollars. (All the while, a majority of locals passionately and vocally oppose the new base.)

How much does the United States spend each year occupying the planet with its bases and troops? How much does it spend on its global presence?  Forced by Congress to account for its spending overseas, the Pentagon has put that figure at $22.1 billion a year. It turns out that even a conservative estimate of the true costs of garrisoning the globe comes to an annual total of about $170 billion. In fact, it may be considerably higher. Since the onset of “the Global War on Terror” in 2001, the total cost for our garrisoning policies, for our presence abroad, has probably reached $1.8 trillion to $2.1 trillion.

How Much Do We Spend?

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Nick Turse: The Secret Building Boom of the Obama Years

7:51 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.

A soldier looks through a binoculars

US Army Soldier in Qatar

Part of a slogan from my hometown past sticks in my mind.  “Build we must,” it went.  Such an American phrase, really.  Evidence of a can-do spirit from another country in another age.  Now, in can’t-do America with its disintegrating infrastructure, “build we mustn’t” seems more in the spirit of the times — with one obvious exception.  As TomDispatch’s Nick Turse, author of The Changing Face of Empire: Special Ops, Drones, Spies, Proxy Fighters, Secret Bases, and Cyberwarfare, points out today, the Pentagon remains a distinctly build-we-must outfit.

Admittedly, it’s experienced more than a decade of build-we-can’t failures in Iraq and Afghanistan, involving a crew of warrior corporations along for the ride on Washington’s dual occupations in the Greater Middle East.  These companies succeeded mainly in massively overcharging the American taxpayer for “reconstruction” projects in each of those countries, while establishing a remarkable record for underbuilding almost anything they took up, from a water purification facility to a power plant to a police academy.  It’s proven to be a tale of corruption, cronyism, and malfeasance, and was undoubtedly one factor in driving “nation-building” out of favor in Washington.

However, when it comes to the Pentagon, as Turse’s fine reporting reveals, military building isn’t at all out of favor.  In fact, if you happen to be a resident of the superstorm Sandy-shattered Jersey shore or parts of New York’s outer boroughs, it should boggle your mind to learn that the U.S. military is still building up a storm on shorelines and in deserts throughout that distant region.  The Afghan war may be a disaster, we may have the white elephant of all embassies in Baghdad to show for our efforts in Iraq, our Benghazi consulate may be in ruins, and American policy may be unraveling in the post-Arab-Spring Middle East, but the Pentagon remains in the grips of an imperial compulsion and so is as busy in the region as the proverbial beaver.  Perhaps what we need is a new slogan to cover the strange reality of Washington’s congressionally unquestioned stimulus package abroad.  (Where are the House Republicans when we really need them?) It would have to go something like: Build?  We just can’t help ourselves. Tom

America Begins Nation-Building at Home
(Provided Your Home is the Middle East)
By Nick Turse

A billion dollars from the federal government: that kind of money could go a long way toward revitalizing a country’s aging infrastructure.  It could provide housing or better water and sewer systems.  It could enhance a transportation network or develop an urban waterfront.  It could provide local jobs.  It could do any or all of these things.  And, in fact, it did.  It just happened to be in the Middle East, not the United States.

The Pentagon awarded $667.2 million in contracts in 2012, and more than $1 billion during Barack Obama’s first term in office for construction projects in largely autocratic Middle Eastern nations, according to figures provided to TomDispatch by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Middle East District (USACE-MED).  More than $178 million in similar funding is already anticipated for 2013.  These contracts represent a mix of projects, including expanding and upgrading military bases used by U.S. troops in the region, building facilities for indigenous security forces, and launching infrastructure projects meant to improve the lives of local populations.

The figures are telling, but far from complete.  They do not, for example, cover any of the billions spent on work at the more than 1,000 U.S. and coalition bases, outposts, and other facilities in Afghanistan or the thousands more manned by local forces.  They also leave out construction projects undertaken in the region by other military services like the U.S. Air Force, as well as money spent at an unspecified number of bases in the Middle East that the Corps of Engineers “has no involvement with,” according to Joan Kibler, chief of the Middle East District’s public affairs office.

How many of these projects are obscured by a thick veil of secrecy is unknown, with U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) refusing to name or even offer a full count of all U.S. bases in the region.  On the record, CENTCOM will acknowledge only 10 bases as in its area of operations outside of Afghanistan, even though there are more than two dozen, according to a CENTCOM official who spoke to TomDispatch on the condition of anonymity.  Exactly how many more and just where all U.S. construction work in the region is taking place continues to be kept under tight wraps.  Still, Army Corps of Engineers data, other official documents, and publicly available contract information offer a baseline indication of the way the Pentagon is garrisoning the Greater Middle East and which countries are becoming ever more integral allies.

Nation Building: Public Talk, Secret Action

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