Cashing In on Terror

Not to stoke any of the inane conspiracy theories running wild on the Internet, but if Osama bin Laden wasn't on the payroll of Lockheed Martin or some other large defense contractor, he deserves to have been. What a boondoggle 9/11 has been for the merchants of war, who this week announced yet another quarter of whopping profits made possible by George Bush's pretending to fight terrorism by throwing money at outdated Cold War-style weapons systems.

Lockheed Martin, the nation's top weapons manufacturer, reaped a 22 percent increase in profits, while rivals for the defense buck, Northrop Grumman and General Dynamics, increased profits by 62 percent and 22 percent, respectively. Boeing's profits jumped 61 percent, spiked this quarter by its commercial division, but Boeing's military division, like the others, has been doing very well indeed since the terrorist attacks.

As Newsweek International put in August: "Since 9/11 and the U.S.-led wars that followed, shares in American defense companies have outperformed both the Nasdaq and Standard & Poor's stock indices by some 40 percent. Prior to the recent cascade of stock prices worldwide, Boeing's share prices had tripled over the past five years while Raytheon's had doubled."

Not bad for an industry in serious difficulty with the sudden collapse of the Cold War at the beginning of the 1990s, when the first President Bush and his defense secretary, Dick Cheney, were severely cutting the military budget for high-ticket planes and ships designed to fight the no-longer-existent Soviet military. Sure, they had Iraq to kick around, but the elder Bush never thought to turn the then very real aggression of Saddam Hussein into an enormously expensive quagmire. He both defeated Hussein and cut the military budget.

Not so Bush the younger, who exploited the trauma of 9/11 as an occasion to depose the defanged dictator of Iraq and thus provide a "shock and awe" showcase for the arms industry, which continues to benefit obscenely from the failed occupation. The second Iraq war, irrationally conflated with the 9/11 attack that had nothing to do with Hussein, provided the perfect threat package to justify the most outrageous military boondoggle in the nation's history.

The bin Laden boys only had an arsenal of $3 knives, but Bush claimed Hussein had WMD. Sadly for the military-industrial complex, Hussein's army collapsed all too suddenly. But the insurgency, much of it fueled by the Shiites, who were ostensibly on our side, provided the occasion for pretending that we are in a war against a conventionally armed and imposing military enemy.

Of course, we are in nothing of the sort with this so-called war on terror, a propaganda farce that draws resources away from serious efforts to counter terrorism to reward the corporations that profit from high-tech weaponry that has little if anything to do with the problem at hand.

As Columbia professor Richard K. Betts points out in Foreign Affairs magazine: "With rare exceptions, the war against terrorists cannot be fought with army tank battalions, air force wings, or naval fleets--the large conventional forces that drive the defense budget. The main challenge is not killing the terrorists but finding them, and the capabilities most applicable to this task are intelligence and special operations forces. ... It does not require half a trillion dollars worth of conventional and nuclear forces."

That half a trillion only covers the Pentagon budget for expenses beyond the cost of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars or the Department of Homeland Security. Those last three items total more than $240 billion in Bush's 2008 budget requests. Add to that the $50 billion spent on intelligence agencies and an equal amount of State Department-directed efforts and you can understand how we manage to spend more fighting a gang of mujahedeen terrorists, once our "freedom fighters" in that earlier Afghan war against the Soviets, than we did at the height of the Cold War.

"The Pentagon currently absorbs more than half of the federal government's discretionary budget," writes Lawrence J. Korb, "surpassing the heights reached when I was President Reagan's assistant secretary of defense. ... And, much like the 1980s, we are spending billions of dollars on weapons systems designed to fight the Soviet superpower."

Thanks to bin Laden and Bush's exploitation of "war on terror" hysteria, the taxpayers have been hoodwinked into paying for a sophisticated military arsenal to fight a Soviet enemy that no longer exists. The Institute for Policy Studies calculated last year that the top 34 CEOs of the defense industry have earned a combined billion dollars since 9/11; they should give bin Laden his cut.

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