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Tomgram: William Hartung, How Corporations Won the War on Terror

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Was the Afghan War a disaster?

Well, don't ask Afghans, including the seven children who died in the final U.S. drone strike of that war, how they're doing, or those about to go hungry as that land suffers a devastating drought while food prices soar, or the possible one million of them who might even starve to death before 2021 ends amid the chaos of the Taliban takeover, poverty, and joblessness. And don't ask the many American veterans of that war, who returned home with "moral injuries" or far worse, how they're doing either. You know the answer to that one, too.

But the generals who oversaw America's disastrous 20 years of war there (and regularly lied about how it was going)? Well, that's another story. As Isaac Stanley-Becker of the Washington Post reported recently, "The eight generals who commanded American forces in Afghanistan between 2008 and 2018 have gone on to serve on more than 20 corporate boards."

Hey, since retiring, General Stanley McChrystal, who oversaw the Obama-era troop surge there, has served as a board member or adviser for at least 10 companies, making millions of dollars off them. Last year, typically enough, General Joseph F. Dunford, Jr., the Afghan commander in 2013 and 2014, joined the board of Lockheed Martin, the biggest Pentagon contractor. Oh, and let's not forget Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin who, at one point in his military career, was the head of U.S. Central Command, which oversaw both the Afghan and Iraq wars. He later joined the board of weapons giant, Raytheon, making up to $1.7 million in the process.

And yet, as Pentagon specialist and TomDispatch regular William Hartung notes today, none of that adds up to a hill of beans compared to how the industrial part of the military-congressional-industrial complex profited off this country's disastrous forever wars. Today, based on a report he did on the subject for the Center for International Policy and Brown University's Costs of War Project, he offers a vision of wartime "success" that may be unparalleled amid the catastrophe of this country's endlessly losing wars. Who woulda thunk it? Tom

The Profits of War
How Corporate America Cashed in on the Post-9/11 Pentagon Spending Surge


The costs and consequences of America's twenty-first-century wars have by now been well-documented a staggering $8 trillion in expenditures and more than 380,000 civilian deaths, as calculated by Brown University's Costs of War project. The question of who has benefited most from such an orgy of military spending has, unfortunately, received far less attention.

Corporations large and small have left the financial feast of that post-9/11 surge in military spending with genuinely staggering sums in hand. After all, Pentagon spending has totaled an almost unimaginable $14 trillion-plus since the start of the Afghan War in 2001, up to one-half of which (catch a breath here) went directly to defense contractors.

"The Purse is Now Open": The Post-9/11 Flood of Military Contracts

The political climate created by the Global War on Terror, or GWOT, as Bush administration officials quickly dubbed it, set the stage for humongous increases in the Pentagon budget. In the first year after the 9/11 attacks and the invasion of Afghanistan, defense spending rose by more than 10% and that was just the beginning. It would, in fact, increase annually for the next decade, which was unprecedented in American history. The Pentagon budget peaked in 2010 at the highest level since World War II over $800 billion, substantially more than the country spent on its forces at the height of the Korean or Vietnam Wars or during President Ronald Reagan's vaunted military buildup of the 1980s.

And in the new political climate sparked by the reaction to the 9/11 attacks, those increases reached well beyond expenditures specifically tied to fighting the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. As Harry Stonecipher, then vice president of Boeing, told the Wall Street Journal in an October 2001 interview, "The purse is now open" [A]ny member of Congress who doesn't vote for the funds we need to defend this country will be looking for a new job after next November."

Stonecipher's prophesy of rapidly rising Pentagon budgets proved correct. And it's never ended. The Biden administration is anything but an exception. Its latest proposal for spending on the Pentagon and related defense work like nuclear warhead development at the Department of Energy topped $753 billion for FY2022. And not to be outdone, the House and Senate Armed Services Committees have already voted to add roughly $24 billion to that staggering sum.

Who Benefitted?

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Tom Engelhardt, who runs the Nation Institute's ("a regular antidote to the mainstream media"), is the co-founder of the American Empire Project and, most recently, the author of Mission Unaccomplished: Tomdispatch (more...)

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