The disastrous rise of misplaced power: The modern day military-industrial-complex

This is the second article in a five-part series about the military-industrial-media complex. The first article, “Why you should care about the Military-Industrial-Media Complex,” can be found here.

In order to grasp the complexity and impact of the military-industrial-media complex, one must first have a basic understanding of the military-industrial complex (MIC) itself. 

The modern day MIC has grown into a monster beyond what even Eisenhower (who originated the term; see the first article in this series for more information) would have envisioned. It is an extensive web of inter-tangled connections, a multi-layer tapestry of overlapping industries and a maze of powerful people and companies with invisible influence and iniquitous interests. The MIC today includes not only the military and the industry of arms manufacturers, but Congress (as Eisenhower recognized before scratching ‘congressional’ from his final speech), officials in various government posts and administrations, Big Oil, providers of services and equipment to oil companies and defense contractors, surveillance and technology companies, service sector companies that contract with the military, and think tanks—to name a few.

The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), founded in 1966, is an independent international institute dedicated to research about conflict, armaments, arms control and disarmament. SIPRI compiles annual lists of the top arms-producing and military services companies in the world. In 2019, the top United States arms companies were (numbers preceding names are international ranking): 1. Lockheed Martin Corp; 2. Boeing; 3. Northrop Grumman Corp; 4. Raytheon; 5. General Dynamics Corp; 10. L3Harris Technologies; 11. United Technologies Corp; 16. Huntington Ingalls Industries; 18. Honeywell International; 19. Leidos; 20. Booz Allen Hamilton; and 21. General Electric. 

According to SIPRI, the arms sales of the United States’ top 43 arms companies were worth a combined $246 billion in 2018. That number had increased 7.2 percent from 2017. In 2018, the USA’s share of total arms sales from the Top 100 arms companies in the world was 59 percent. 

The influence of these massive weapons contractors is exerted first and foremost on members of Congress. Congress controls the purse of the national government, and the massive budgets for defense spending need votes to pass. The arms companies thus embark on massive lobbying campaigns to push their programs.

Jobs are at the heart of every lobbying campaign regarding military spending. For a member of Congress, defense spending means jobs—and the weapons contractors milk that fact for all it’s worth. Northrop Grumman’s B-2 Spirit Stealth Bomber even has a piece of it manufactured in every one of the fifty states, to ensure that any attempt to end the Bomber’s program would meet extreme resistance from all members of Congress, left or right.

This means that massive defense spending is extremely bipartisan, and it is almost impossible to make cuts no matter which party controls Congress or the White House. Democratic Senator Daniel Inouye of Hawaii was legendary for “bringing home the bacon” from defense spending, and from 2007 to 2011 he received over $117,000 in campaign contributions from the companies that benefited from his earmarks—over half of which came from Lockheed Martin (William D. Hartung, “Prophets of War: Lockheed Martin and the Making of the Military-Industrial Complex,” 2011).

Congress is only one way the profiteers of the MIC exert their influence. The notorious revolving door creates an exchange of top officials back and forth between the government, the Pentagon and the companies that do business with each. Although ethics laws exist to try and deter this kind of conflict of interest, they are weak, unenforced and not specific enough to stop the flow through the revolving door. The Project On Government Oversight (POGO) documents instances of the revolving door and has created a database to track movement of former government officials who join the defense industry as executives, lobbyists or other positions. 

POGO’s 2018 report found that “there were 645 instances of the top 20 defense contractors in fiscal year 2016 hiring former senior government officials, military officers, Members of Congress, and senior legislative staff as lobbyists, board members, or senior executives in 2018.” However, even this number isn’t a comprehensive account of the phenomenon, because POGO’s report only documents one direction of movement; it does not address instances of the “reverse revolving door,” when officials from the defense industry join the government. Additionally, POGO relies on publicly available sources and self-reporting by companies and individuals—so the actual number of revolving door instances is most definitely higher than their findings.

This is the epitome of Eisenhower’s fear about the MIC: Government officials going on to lobby for or serve on the executive boards of giant defense contractors—the very companies they used to oversee and which hold contracts sometimes worth billions—produces an undeniable conflict of interest, as does officials from these companies going on to serve in the government. 

It would be a mistake to assume that the only instances of personnel exchange between the MIC and the government that result in a conflict of interest are with arms contractors. Today’s MIC is so expansive that there are countless industries and companies involved in “national defense” and war-waging, many of which, at first glance, may not appear to have direct ties to the military. Big Oil is unquestionably implicated in the MIC, as are companies such as Halliburton, an oil services and engineering company, and its subsidiary Kellogg Brown & Root, a contractor that does service work for the military. Dick Cheney was the chairman and CEO of Halliburton from 1995 to 2000 before being elected Vice President.

In 2000, Halliburton was only the 22nd-largest military contractor, but rose to 7th-largest by 2003. By September 2004, Cheney had received $1,997,525 from Halliburton since becoming vice president-elect. Halliburton won a $5 billion contract in 2001 to provide support for troops in the Middle East, and in 2003, Kellogg Brown & Root received a sole-source contract from the Pentagon—meaning it was awarded without bidding—to restore and operate Iraqi oil wells. The contract was classified but could have been worth as much as $7 billion.

Big Oil is also deeply intertwined with the MIC. Oil drives the war machine, fueling planes, ships, tanks, trucks, you name it. Not only that, but control of Iraqi oil revenues was a driving force behind the war in Iraq. President George W. Bush and Vice President Cheney had their eyes on Iraq from the moment they entered the White House; plans to seize Iraq’s oil were underway several months before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Additionally, there is evidence that a meeting took place between Cheney’s staff and executives from the oil industry, including representatives from ExxonMobil Corp, ChevronTexaco Corp, ConocoPhillips and Halliburton, although the parties involved denied this ever happened.

In addition to weapons manufacturers, Big Oil and service contractors like Kellogg Brown & Root, think tanks constitute another arm of the MIC. Contrary to popular belief, much of public policy isn’t actually written in Congress, but by outside groups eager to promote their agendas and who have close ties to those working in government. One such think tank was the Project for a New American Century (PNAC), a neoconservative think tank based in Washington, D.C. and founded in 1997. PNAC had been advocating for a regime change in Iraq as early as 1998, and PNAC initiated an open letter to President Bill Clinton on Jan. 26, 1998 calling for the removal of Saddam Hussein. PNAC’s membership included several people who would go on to fill high-level national security jobs in the Bush administration, including Paul Wolfowitz, Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney.

It is beyond the scope of this article to include every industry and company implicated in the MIC, but the current state of the MIC—including arms manufacturers, the military and the Pentagon, Congress and government administrations, Big Oil, service contractors like Kellogg Brown & Root and think tanks—led Joseph Cirincione to declare, “I would think Eisenhower must be rolling over in his grave.” The corporate dominance of Pentagon contractors and oil interests has corrupted the ability of the government to hold military power in check, which is exactly what Eisenhower was talking about when he warned against the “acquisition of unwarranted influence.”

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