This article originally appeared at TomDispatch.com.
Congratulations to us! Talk about the art of the deal! Whether we know it or not, in the wake of those presidential Fourth of July festivities on the Washington Mall ("the biggest ever fireworks"), we're all Saudis now. And here's the good news: it only cost the Pentagon $1.2 million extra -- which, in the twenty-first century, is military chump change -- for those spectacular fly-overs, the uniformed personnel gathered in the rain, and the otherwise largely useless tanks hovering here and there in Washington. It did, of course, cost the National Park Service another nearly $2.5 million, but who cares? And then there was that $1.7 million the city of Washington had to spend to entertain the president in the style to which he's grown accustomed, drastically draining its Emergency Planning and Security Fund. But, hey, a small matter indeed under the circumstances. After all, what a spectacular celebration it proved to be, though less of U.S. military might than of Pentagon cost overruns.
I mean, overhead that day was the most expensive weapons system in history, the F-35, that reportedly may never really be ready for combat. Then there were those Blue Angel jets that, according to the Washington Post, cost $10,000 an hour to operate, and F-22 Raptors for which the American taxpayer forked over significantly more than $100 million apiece, and that's just to start down the list. No wonder that presidential spectacular on the Mall overran us all.
And hey, for his favs, the Saudis and their charming crown prince, President Trump only recently swept aside congressional objections, declared a "national emergency," and slammed through $8 billion in arms and military-equipment sales so that they'll never come up short in their brutal war in Yemen. And that was before, on the Fourth, he sold the rest of us on every wildly out-of-whack weapons procurement program we American taxpayers had ponied up for in these years (whether we knew it or not).
So, as honorary Saudis, we should now feel splendid indeed. And as TomDispatch regular and Pentagon expert William Hartung reports today, it's only going to get better in the Trump years when it comes to the merger of giant weapons makers, cost-overruns, and the military-industrial corruption of Congress. Just wait until July 4, 2020, in the midst of an election campaign season, when, as already promised, Donald J. Trump will return to the Washington Mall to give us a flyover so spectacular we really won't know what hit us. Tom
The Military-Industrial Complex on Steroids
By William D. Hartung
When, in his farewell address in 1961, President Dwight D. Eisenhower warned of the dangers of the "unwarranted influence" wielded by the "military-industrial complex," he could never have dreamed of an arms-making corporation of the size and political clout of Lockheed Martin. In a good year, it now receives up to $50 billion in government contracts, a sum larger than the operating budget of the State Department. And now it's about to have company.
Raytheon, already one of the top five U.S. defense contractors, is planning to merge with United Technologies. That company is a major contractor in its own right, producing, among other things, the engine for the F-35 combat aircraft, the most expensive Pentagon weapons program ever. The new firm will be second only to Lockheed Martin when it comes to consuming your tax dollars -- and it may end up even more powerful politically, thanks to President Trump's fondness for hiring arms industry executives to run the national security state.
Just as Boeing benefited from its former Senior Vice President Patrick Shanahan's stint as acting secretary of defense, so Raytheon is likely to cash in on the nomination of its former top lobbyist, Mike Esper, as his successor. Esper's elevation comes shortly after another former Raytheon lobbyist, Charles Faulkner, left the State Department amid charges that he had improperly influenced decisions to sell Raytheon-produced guided bombs to Saudi Arabia for its brutal air war in Yemen. John Rood, third-in-charge at the Pentagon, has worked for both Lockheed Martin and Raytheon, while Ryan McCarthy, Mike Esper's replacement as secretary of the Army, worked for Lockheed on the F-35, which the Project on Government Oversight (POGO) has determined may never be ready for combat.
And so it goes. There was a time when Donald Trump was enamored of "his" generals -- Secretary of Defense James Mattis (a former board member of the weapons-maker General Dynamics), National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster, and White House Chief of Staff John Kelly. Now, he seems to have a crush on personnel from the industrial side of the military-industrial complex.
As POGO's research has demonstrated, the infamous "revolving door" that deposits defense executives like Esper in top national security posts swings both ways. The group estimates that, in 2018 alone, 645 senior government officials -- mostly from the Pentagon, the uniformed military, and Capitol Hill -- went to work as executives, consultants, or board members of one of the top 20 defense contractors.
Fifty years ago, Wisconsin Senator William Proxmire identified the problem when he noted that:
"the movement of high ranking military officers into jobs with defense contractors and the reverse movement of top executives in major defense contractors into high Pentagon jobs is solid evidence of the military-industrial complex in operation. It is a real threat to the public interest because it increases the chances of abuse... How hard a bargain will officers involved in procurement planning or specifications drive when they are one or two years away from retirement and have the example to look at of over 2,000 fellow officers doing well on the outside after retirement?"
In other words, that revolving door and the problems that go with it are anything but new. Right now, however, it seems to be spinning faster than ever -- and mergers like the Raytheon-United Technologies one are only likely to feed the phenomenon.
The Last Supper
The merger of Raytheon and United Technologies should bring back memories of the merger boom of the 1990s, when Lockheed combined with Martin Marietta to form Lockheed Martin, Northrop and Grumman formed Northrop Grumman, and Boeing absorbed rival military aircraft manufacturer McDonnell Douglas. And it wasn't just a matter of big firms pairing up either. Lockheed Martin itself was the product of mergers and acquisitions involving nearly two dozen companies -- distinctly a tale of big fish chowing down on little fish. The consolidation of the arms industry in those years was strongly encouraged by Clinton administration Secretary of Defense William Perry, who held a dinner with defense executives that was later dubbed "the last supper." There, he reportedly told the assembled corporate officials that a third of them would be out of business in five years if they didn't merge with one of their cohorts.