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Pentagon Profiteers Push Lobbying Assault to Grab More Taxpayer Dollars

Through the "Second to None" campaign, top Pentagon contractors are waging a sophisticated public relations war for the hearts and minds of Americans.
 
 
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Fearful of possible defense spending cuts after a decade of unrestrained Pentagon budgets, an association representing the world’s largest defense contractors recently launched a public relations campaign to combat “forces in Congress and the [Obama] administration" that may curb purchases of weapons systems and other high-priced military gear. Dubbed “Second to None,” the industry effort whitewashes history in an attempt to deceive the public into taking action against a deficit-fighting decrease in military spending.

“Some extreme voices are calling for massive cuts to our national security and aerospace spending that would devastate our military, weaken our economy, and force us to cede global leadership in a time of increasing threats,” reads a breathless explanation on the group’s website. “Even as we balance budgets, the United States must do what it takes to remain Second to None.” 

In a recent article on Second to None for the Huffington Post, however, Dan Froomkin explains that “the U.S. spends more on defense than the next 17 top-spending countries combined, according to figures compiled by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.” He goes on to quote long-time Pentagon watcher Winslow Wheeler who told him, “The rhetoric and hysteria about these levels [of budget cuts], compared to what they are, is really quite stunning."

A product of the Aerospace Industries Association (AIA) – a coalition of more than 300 defense and aerospace firms -- Second to None predicts dire consequences for “our troops, our technological future and our economic stability,” if the Pentagon’s budget is substantively decreased and calls on the public to take action by sending letters to President Obama and members of Congress in protest. Engineered to appeal to the broadest base possible, the form letter offered by Second to None warns that cuts to Department of Defense funding will endanger troops in the field and also leave the United States with only two options when faced with “growing threats” – ignore them or send in ground troops. “Predator drones, cruise missiles, air superior aircraft and spy satellites are all the technologies that allow us to deal with modern threats without committing ourselves to another Iraq that nobody wants and America cannot afford,” reads Second to None’s template.

AIA hasn’t, however, always been as sour about the war in Iraq or its price tag. “The industry is doing terrific,'' John Douglass, then the president and chief executive officer of AIA gushed to a group of reporters and analysts in 2007. “[T]here's a lot of work related to the war in Iraq and Afghanistan…since they're wearing everything out over there.'' That statement sounded almost as tone-deaf as that of Marion Blakey, Douglass’s successor and AIA's current president and CEO who, in 2008, touted “years of U.S. battlefield successes in Afghanistan and Iraq.”

Whatever tactical successes have been achieved by the U.S. military in Iraq and Afghanistan have paled in comparison to strategic failures that have resulted in wheel-spinning occupations that continue to this day. This is not to say the wars haven’t seen their fair share of success stories. In fact, it’s been companies behind the Aerospace Industries Association and its corporate chiefs who have seen the most success over the last 10 years of foreign conflict. 

AIA's Executive Committee boasts not only Robert Stevens, the chairman and chief executive officer of the largest U.S. defense contractor, Lockheed Martin, but also top corporate executives from other Pentagon power-players who have profited handsomely as a result of the Iraq war, the war in Afghanistan and 10 years of unfettered Pentagon budgets. These firms include Boeing, Northrop Grumman, Textron, United Technologies, BAE Systems, General Dynamics, General Electric, ITT, L-3 Communications and Raytheon, none of whose executives publicly spoke out against the Iraq war or cast it as an unwanted and unaffordable conflict. Instead, these companies and their CEOs cashed in on America’s wars.

In 2001, according to data compiled by the analytics firm Capital IQ and reported by the Associated Press, revenues for U.S.-based defense contractors totaled $217 billion. By 2010, the figure stood at $386 billion. Over the same period, annual defense industry profits almost quadrupled. This exceptional growth has been mirrored in executive pay at these firms.

According to a 2005 report by the Institute for Policy Studies and United for a Fair Economy, chiefs of Pentagon suppliers profited handsomely as a result of wars. Their analysis found that defense contractor “CEOs received raises on average of 200 percent between 2001 and 2004, compared to only 7 percent for average large company CEOs.” 

When Ronald Sugar took over as CEO of defense giant Northrop Grumman in 2003, the year the Iraq war began, his pay was about $5.3 million per year. By 2009, his final year as CEO of the defense giant, his compensation had jumped about 240 percent to almost $18 million. (His successor, Wesley Bush, took home almost $23 million in salary, stock and other compensation from Northrop Grumman last year.) Lockheed’s Robert Stevens has done even better than average, according to data provided by Forbes. Since he took the helm at the company in 2005, his total compensation has increased 320 percent, to $21 million per year.    

Using scare tactics, Second to None portrays defense cuts as dire and dangerous. Yet, these "cuts" may ultimately amount to nothing more than smaller increases in future spending than were once projected or, if “doomsday” measures are enacted to curb the federal deficit, a return to 2007 spending levels which were at the time, Wheeler told Froomkin, at a 16-year high. The industry effort suggests to Americans that even a measured decrease of the Pentagon budget might impact U.S. “air superiority,” making ground troops susceptible to “enemy air action” (no such American troops have been killed in an air attack since the Korean War) and impacting America’s “ability to defend the homeland.”

In 2001, however, the largest air force in the world wasn’t able to protect the United States from a terrorist air attack. The military also played no part in foiling later efforts of would-be airborne terrorists Richard Reid (“the shoe bomber”) or Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab (“the underwear bomber”), nor is conventional “air superiority” likely to play a role in thwarting future al Qaeda air attacks. And when it comes to rival states, even the next biggest military spender on the block, China – whose defense budget is, at most, one-sixteenth that of the United States' – doesn’t have anything approaching comparable technology, nor are such weapons systems even on the horizon.

The Second to None website, of course, mentions nothing of the financial gains of the companies behind the effort nor their CEOs' personal windfalls since 2001.  Instead, dubious scare tactics and a disingenuous nod to the failure of the Iraq war are employed to mislead Americans into acting in the interests of the bosses of big defense firms. All of it leaves one to wonder if the men and women behind the Second to None campaign really believe their own public relations campaign or are truly more concerned that the title of a recent article from the Associated Press, “A Golden Decade for Defense Companies is Ending,” could really be true.

Nick Turse is the associate editor of TomDispatch.com and a senior editor at AlterNet. His latest book is The Case for Withdrawal from Afghanistan (Verso).

 You can follow him on Twitter @NickTurse, on Tumblr, and on Facebook