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General News    H3'ed 11/17/22

Tomgram: William Hartung, A Hall of Shame of U.S. Weapons Sales

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

As retired Air Force lieutenant colonel and historian William Astore wrote recently at his Bracing Views blog, while the Republicans didn't experience their expected "red tide" on November 8th, Donald Trump had a genuinely dismal night, and the Democrats lost (even if barely) control of the House of Representatives, there was still a clear election winner. It just wasn't any of the crew being covered in the media. It was the military-industrial complex. In fact, you can always count on one thing: whatever congressional Democrats and Republicans won't agree on in the next two years " and that, by definition, will be more or less everything else " they will agree on upping the Pentagon budget, which, even before this election, was projected to hit a trillion dollars by 2027 or so.

You can certainly ask what such sums " nearing $900 billion annually ($1.4 trillion, if you're talking about the full national security state budget) " buy us. The answer has been disastrous, unwinnable wars that, in this century, have left parts of the planet in ever greater chaos. And however under the radar such conflicts have gone in 2022, some of them are indeed still underway in Africa and parts of the Middle East, even if ever more by proxy.

In fact, as Pentagon expert and TomDispatch regular William Hartung makes clear today, one of the ways this country's military-industrial complex conducts its proxy conflicts, however indirectly, is by dominating the global arms trade. And there, too, so many of our congressional representatives on both sides of the aisle have put their stamp of approval not just on the arming of much of the planet, but the funding of major weapons-makers. It couldn't be stranger (to me, anyway) how little such an over-the-top phenomenon is ever explored, except by experts like Hartung at places like TomDispatch. Tom

Corporate Weapons Heaven Is a Hell on Earth
Joe Biden, the National Security State, and Arms Sales

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Here's a seldom commented-upon reality of this century and this moment: the United States remains the number-one arms-exporting nation on the planet. Between 2017 and 2021, it grabbed 39% of the total global weapons market and there's nothing new about that. It has, in fact, been the top arms dealer in every year but one for the past three decades. And it's a remarkably lucrative business, earning American weapons makers tens of billions of dollars annually.

It would be one thing if it were simply a matter of money raked in by the industrial half of the military-industrial complex. Unfortunately, in these years, U.S.-supplied weaponry has also fueled conflicts, enabled human-rights violations, helped destabilize not just individual countries but whole regions, and made it significantly easier for repressive regimes to commit war crimes.

At first glance, it appeared that Joe Biden, on entering the White House, might take a different approach to arms sales. On the campaign trail in 2020, he had, for instance, labeled Saudi Arabia a "pariah" state and implied that the unbridled flow of U.S. weaponry to that kingdom would be reduced, if not terminated. He also bluntly assured voters that this country wouldn't "check its values at the door to sell arms."

Initially, Biden paused arms deals to that country and even suspended one bomb sale. Unfortunately, within eight months of his taking office, sales to the Saudi regime had resumed. In addition, the Biden team has offered arms to a number of other repressive regimes from Egypt and Nigeria to the Philippines. Such sales contrast strikingly with the president's mantra of supporting "democracies over autocracies," as well as his reasonable impulse to supply weapons to Ukraine to defend itself against Russia's brutal invasion.

The last president who attempted to bring runaway U.S. weapons trafficking under some sort of control was Jimmy Carter. In 1976, he campaigned for the presidency on a platform based, in part, on promoting human rights globally and curbing the arms trade. And for a period as president, he did indeed suspend sales to repressive regimes, while, in that Cold War era, engaging in direct talks with the Soviet Union on reducing global arms sales. He also spoke out eloquently about the need to rein in the trade in death and destruction.

However, Zbigniew Brzezinski, his hardline national security advisor, waged a campaign inside his administration against the president's efforts, arguing that arms sales were too valuable as a tool of Cold War influence to be sacrificed at the altar of human rights. And once that longtime ally, the Shah of Iran, was overthrown in 1978 and the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in 1979, all talk of controlling the arms trade went out the window.

The Biden Record: Why Not Restraint?

What accounts for Joe Biden's transformation from a president intent on controlling arms sales to a business-as-usual promoter of such weaponry globally? The root cause can be found in his administration's adherence to a series of misguided notions about the value of arms sales. In a recent report I wrote for the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft on the U.S. approach to such exports, I lay out those notions fully, including lending a hand in stabilizing key regions, deterring Washington's adversaries from engaging in aggression, building meaningful military-to-military relationships with current or potential partner nations, increasing this country's political and diplomatic influence globally, and creating jobs here in the United States. In the Saudi case, Biden's shift was tied to the dangerous notion that we needed to bolster the Kingdom's supposedly crucial role in "containing Iran" " a policy that only increases the risk of war in the region " and the false promise that, in return, the Saudis would expand their oil output to help curb soaring gas prices here at home.

Such explanations are part of an all-encompassing belief in Washington that giving away or selling weaponry of every sort to foreign clients is a risk-free way of garnering yet more economic, political, and strategic influence globally. The positive spin advocates of the arms trade give to the government's role as the world's largest arms broker ignores the fact that, in too many cases, the risks " from fueling conflict and increasing domestic repression elsewhere to drawing the United States into unnecessary wars " far outweigh any possible benefits.

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Tom Engelhardt, who runs the Nation Institute's Tomdispatch.com ("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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