William Hartung

The U.S. is in the business of selling death — will Biden finally rein it in?

When it comes to trade in the tools of death and destruction, no one tops the United States of America.

In April of this year, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) published its annual analysis of trends in global arms sales and the winner — as always — was the U.S. of A. Between 2016 and 2020, this country accounted for 37% of total international weapons deliveries, nearly twice the level of its closest rival, Russia, and more than six times that of Washington's threat du jour, China.

Sadly, this was no surprise to arms-trade analysts. The U.S. has held that top spot for 28 of the past 30 years, posting massive sales numbers regardless of which party held power in the White House or Congress. This is, of course, the definition of good news for weapons contractors like Boeing, Raytheon, and Lockheed Martin, even if it's bad news for so many of the rest of us, especially those who suffer from the use of those arms by militaries in places like Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Israel, the Philippines, and the United Arab Emirates. The recent bombing and leveling of Gaza by the U.S.-financed and supplied Israeli military is just the latest example of the devastating toll exacted by American weapons transfers in these years.

While it is well known that the United States provides substantial aid to Israel, the degree to which the Israeli military relies on U.S. planes, bombs, and missiles is not fully appreciated. According to statistics compiled by the Center for International Policy's Security Assistance Monitor, the United States has provided Israel with $63 billion in security assistance over the past two decades, more than 90% of it through the State Department's Foreign Military Financing, which provides funds to buy U.S. weaponry. But Washington's support for the Israeli state goes back much further. Total U.S. military and economic aid to Israel exceeds $236 billion (in inflation-adjusted 2018 dollars) since its founding — nearly a quarter of a trillion dollars.

King of the Arms Dealers

Donald Trump, sometimes referred to by President Joe Biden as "the other guy," warmly embraced the role of arms-dealer-in-chief and not just by sustaining massive U.S. arms aid for Israel, but throughout the Middle East and beyond. In a May 2017 visit to Saudi Arabia — his first foreign trip — Trump would tout a mammoth (if, as it turned out, highly exaggerated) $110-billion arms deal with that kingdom.

On one level, the Saudi deal was a publicity stunt meant to show that President Trump could, in his own words, negotiate agreements that would benefit the U.S. economy. His son-in-law, Jared Kushner, a pal of Prince Mohammed Bin Salman (MBS), the architect of Saudi Arabia's devastating intervention in Yemen, even put in a call to then-Lockheed Martin CEO Marillyn Hewson. His desire: to get a better deal for the Saudi regime on a multibillion-dollar missile defense system that Lockheed was planning to sell it. The point of the call was to put together the biggest arms package imaginable in advance of his father-in-law's trip to Riyadh.

When Trump arrived in Saudi Arabia to immense local fanfare, he milked the deal for all it was worth. Calling the future Saudi sales "tremendous," he assured the world that they would create "jobs, jobs, jobs" in the United States.

That arms package, however, did far more than burnish Trump's reputation as a deal maker and jobs creator. It represented an endorsement of the Saudi-led coalition's brutal war in Yemen, which has now resulted in the deaths of nearly a quarter of a million people and put millions of others on the brink of famine.

And don't for a second think that Trump was alone in enabling that intervention. The kingdom had received a record $115 billion in arms offers — notifications to Congress that don't always result in final sales — over the eight years of the Obama administration, including for combat aircraft, bombs, missiles, tanks, and attack helicopters, many of which have since been used in Yemen. After repeated Saudi air strikes on civilian targets, the Obama foreign-policy team finally decided to slow Washington's support for that war effort, moving in December 2016 to stop a multibillion-dollar bomb sale. Upon taking office, however, Trump reversed course and pushed that deal forward, despite Saudi actions that Congressman Ted Lieu (D-CA) said "look like war crimes to me."

Trump made it abundantly clear, in fact, that his reasons for arming Saudi Arabia were anything but strategic. In an infamous March 2018 White House meeting with Mohammed bin Salman, he even brandished a map of the United States to show which places were likely to benefit most from those Saudi arms deals, including election swing states Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin. He doubled down on that economic argument after the October 2018 murder and dismemberment of Saudi journalist and Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi at that country's consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, even as calls to cut off sales to the regime mounted in Congress. The president made it clear then that jobs and profits, not human rights, were paramount to him, stating:

"$110 billion will be spent on the purchase of military equipment from Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, and many other great U.S. defense contractors. If we foolishly cancel these contracts, Russia and China would be the enormous beneficiaries — and very happy to acquire all of this newfound business. It would be a wonderful gift to them directly from the United States!"

And so it went. In the summer of 2019 Trump vetoed an effort by Congress to block an $8.1-billion arms package that included bombs and support for the Royal Saudi Air Force and he continued to back the kingdom even in his final weeks in office. In December 2020, he offered more than $500 million worth of bombs to that regime on the heels of a $23-billion package to the United Arab Emirates (UAE), its partner-in-crime in the Yemen war.

Saudi Arabia and the UAE weren't the only beneficiaries of Trump's penchant for selling weapons. According to a report by the Security Assistance Monitor at the Center for International Policy, his administration made arms sales offers of more than $110 billion to customers all over the world in 2020, a 75% increase over the yearly averages reached during the Obama administration, as well as in the first three years of his tenure.

Will Biden Be Different?

Advocates of reining in U.S. weapons trafficking took note of Joe Biden's campaign-trail pledge that, if elected, he would not "check our values at the door" in deciding whether to continue arming the Saudi regime. Hopes were further raised when, in his first foreign policy speech as president, he announced that his administration would end "support for offensive operations in Yemen" along with "relevant arms sales."

That statement, of course, left a potentially giant loophole on the question of which weapons would be considered in support of "offensive operations," but it did at least appear to mark a sharp departure from the Trump era. In the wake of Biden's statement, arms sales to Saudi Arabia and the UAE were indeed put on hold, pending a review of their potential consequences.

Three months into Biden's term, however, the president's early pledge to rein in damaging arms deals are already eroding. The first blow was the news that the administration would indeed move forward with a $23-billion arms package to the UAE, including F-35 combat aircraft, armed drones, and a staggering $10 billion worth of bombs and missiles. The decision was ill-advised on several fronts, most notably because of that country's role in Yemen's brutal civil war. There, despite scaling back its troops on the ground, it continues to arm, train, and finance 90,000 militia members, including extremist groups with links to the Yemen-based Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. The UAE has also backed armed opposition forces in Libya in violation of a United Nations embargo, launched drone strikes there that killed scores of civilians, and cracked down on dissidents at home and abroad. It regularly makes arbitrary arrests and uses torture. If arming the UAE isn't a case of "checking our values at the door," it's not clear what is.

To its credit, the Biden administration committed to suspending two Trump bomb deals with Saudi Arabia. Otherwise, it's not clear what (if any) other pending Saudi sales will be deemed "offensive" and blocked. Certainly, the new administration has allowed U.S. government personnel and contractors to help maintain the effectiveness of the Saudi Air Force and so has continued to enable ongoing air strikes in Yemen that are notorious for killing civilians. The Biden team has also failed to forcefully pressure the Saudis to end their blockade of that country, which United Nations agencies have determined could put 400,000 Yemeni children at risk of death by starvation in the next year.

In addition, the Biden administration has cleared a sale of anti-ship missiles to the Egyptian regime of Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, the most repressive government in that nation's history, helmed by the man Donald Trump referred to as "my favorite dictator." The missiles themselves are in no way useful for either internal repression or that country's scorched-earth anti-terror campaign against rebels in its part of the Sinai peninsula — where civilians have been tortured and killed, and tens of thousands displaced from their homes — but the sale does represent a tacit endorsement of the regime's repressive activities.

Guns, Anyone?

While Biden's early actions have undermined promises to take a different approach to arms sales, the story isn't over. Key members of Congress are planning to closely monitor the UAE sale and perhaps intervene to prevent the delivery of the weapons. Questions have been raised about what arms should go to Saudi Arabia and reforms that would strengthen Congress's role in blocking objectionable arms transfers are being pressed by at least some members of the House and the Senate.

One area where President Biden could readily begin to fulfill his campaign pledge to reduce the harm to civilians from U.S. arms sales would be firearms exports. The Trump administration significantly loosened restrictions and regulations on the export of a wide range of guns, including semi-automatic firearms and sniper rifles. As a result, such exports surged in 2020, with record sales of more than 175,000 military rifles and shotguns.

In a distinctly deregulatory mood, Trump's team moved sales of deadly firearms from the jurisdiction of the State Department, which had a mandate to vet any such deals for possible human-rights abuses, to the Commerce Department, whose main mission was simply to promote the export of just about anything. Trump's "reforms" also eliminated the need to pre-notify Congress on any major firearms sales, making it far harder to stop deals with repressive regimes.

As he pledged to do during his presidential campaign, President Biden could reverse Trump's approach without even seeking Congressional approval. The time to do so is now, given the damage such gun exports cause in places like the Philippines and Mexico, where U.S.-supplied firearms have been used to kill thousands of civilians, while repressing democratic movements and human-rights defenders.

Who Benefits?

Beyond the slightest doubt, a major — or perhaps even the major — obstacle to reforming arms sales policies and practices is the weapons industry itself. That includes major contractors like Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Raytheon Technologies, and General Dynamics that produce fighter planes, bombs, armored vehicles, and other major weapons systems, as well as firearms makers like Sig Sauer.

Raytheon stands out in this crowd because of its determined efforts to push through bomb sales to Saudi Arabia and the deep involvement of its former (or future) employees with the U.S. government. A former Raytheon lobbyist, Charles Faulkner, worked in the Trump State Department's Office of Legal Counsel and was involved in deciding that Saudi Arabia was not — it was! — intentionally bombing civilians in Yemen. He then supported declaring a bogus "emergency" to ram through the sale of bombs and of aircraft support to Saudi Arabia.

Raytheon has indeed insinuated itself in the halls of government in a fashion that should be deeply troubling even by the minimalist standards of the twenty-first-century military-industrial complex. Former Trump defense secretary Mark Esper was Raytheon's chief in-house lobbyist before joining the administration, while current Biden defense secretary Lloyd Austin served on Raytheon's board of directors. While Austin has pledged to recuse himself from decisions involving the company, it's a pledge that will prove difficult to verify.

Arms sales are Big Business — the caps are a must! — for the top weapons makers. Lockheed Martin gets roughly one-quarter of its sales from foreign governments and Raytheon five percent of its revenue from Saudi sales. American jobs allegedly tied to weapons exports are always the selling point for such dealings, but in reality, they've been greatly exaggerated.

At most, arms sales account for just more than one-tenth of one percent of U.S. employment. Many such sales, in fact, involve outsourcing production, in whole or in part, to recipient nations, reducing the jobs impact here significantly. Though it's seldom noted, virtually any other form of spending creates more jobs than weapons production. In addition, exporting green-technology products would create far larger global markets for U.S. goods, should the government ever decide to support them in anything like the way it supports the arms industry.

Given what's at stake for them economically, Raytheon and its cohorts spend vast sums attempting to influence both parties in Congress and any administration. In the past two decades, defense companies, led by the major arms exporting firms, spent $285 million in campaign contributions alone and $2.5 billion on lobbying, according to statistics gathered by the Center for Responsive Politics. Any changes in arms export policy will mean forcefully taking on the arms lobby and generating enough citizen pressure to overcome its considerable influence in Washington.

Given the political will to do so, there are many steps the Biden administration and Congress could take to rein in runaway arms exports, especially since such deals are uniquely unpopular with the public. A September 2019 poll by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, for example, found that 70% of Americans think arms sales make the country less safe.

The question is: Can such public sentiment be mobilized in favor of actions to stop at least the most egregious cases of U.S. weapons trafficking, even as the global arms trade rolls on? Selling death should be no joy for any country, so halting it is a goal well worth fighting for. Still, it remains to be seen whether the Biden administration will ever limit weapons sales or if it will simply continue to promote this country as the world's top arms exporter of all time.

Copyright 2021 William D. Hartung

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook. Check out the newest Dispatch Books, John Feffer's new dystopian novel Frostlands (the second in the Splinterlands series), Beverly Gologorsky's novel Every Body Has a Story, and Tom Engelhardt's A Nation Unmade by War, as well as Alfred McCoy's In the Shadows of the American Century: The Rise and Decline of U.S. Global Power and John Dower's The Violent American Century: War and Terror Since World War II.

William D. Hartung, a TomDispatch regular, is the director of the Arms and Security Program at the Center for International Policy and the author, with Elias Yousif, of "U.S. Arms Sales Trends 2020 and Beyond: From Trump to Biden."

It's time for Biden to take on the Pentagon bloat

Now that Joe Biden is slated to take office as the 46th president of the United States, advice on how he should address a wide range of daunting problems is flooding in. Nowhere is there more at stake than when it comes to how he handles this country's highly militarized foreign policy in general and Pentagon spending in particular.

Defense spending increased sharply in the Trump years and is now substantially higher than it was during the Korean or Vietnam War eras or during the massive military buildup President Ronald Reagan oversaw in the 1980s. Today, it consumes well over half of the nation's discretionary budget, which just happens to also pay for a wide array of urgently needed priorities ranging from housing, job training, and alternative energy programs to public health and infrastructure building. At a time when pandemics, high unemployment, racial inequality, and climate change pose the greatest threats to our safety and security, this allocation of resources should be considered unsustainable. Unfortunately, the Pentagon and the arms industry have yet to get that memo. Defense company executives recently assured a Washington Post reporter that they are "unconcerned" about or consider unlikely the possibility that a Biden administration would significantly reduce Pentagon spending.

It's easy enough to understand their confidence. Many of the officials rumored to soon be appointed to lead the Pentagon, including a number of former Obama administration figures, have spent the past few years working, either directly or indirectly, for defense contractors. Not surprisingly, then, their policy prescriptions emphasize some of the most expensive and risky military technologies imaginable like hypersonic weaponry. The expected next secretary of defense, Michèle Flournoy, has already insisted that Washington needs to make "big bets" on unmanned systems and artificial intelligence. Of course, she won't be the one who will pay the price if they fail -- or even if they succeed and take money that might have been used for crucial domestic purposes like health care in a pandemic moment.

Still, contrary to the wishes and hopes of the military-industrial complex and figures like Flournoy, there is a growing congressional interest in trying to bring runaway Pentagon spending under control. This July, for instance, Representative Mark Pocan (D-WI), Representative Barbara Lee (D-CA), and Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) pushed parallel measures in the House and Senate to cut Pentagon spending by 10%, a savings of more than $70 billion that could have been put to good use elsewhere, including aid to increasingly desperate low-income communities. Although their initiatives lost, the very fact that they were proposed may be a turning point in a Congress that, for years, has signed off on whatever the Pentagon asked for, without resistance of any sort.

Think of those votes on Pentagon budget reductions as just the beginning of a long-term effort to tame that out-of-control institution. Representatives Pocan and Lee, for instance, created a defense-savings caucus in the House focused on going after misguided Department of Defense spending. During campaign 2020, both Joe Biden and the Democratic platform emphasized that this country and the world can indeed be made safer while spending less on the Pentagon.

Clearly, the fairy-tale explanation that more spending equals better security needs to be ditched. Will it happen soon? Who knows? At least it's time for the rest of us to begin thinking about how much less should be spent on the Department of Defense and how to ensure that taxpayer dollars are spent more wisely.

A Pentagon Spending Agenda for the Biden Administration

In reality, it's not that complicated. Pentagon spending could easily be reduced substantially even as the world was made a safer place. For that to happen, however, its budget would have to begin to deal with the actual challenges this country faces rather than letting billions of dollars more be squandered on outmoded military priorities and artificially inflated threats supposedly posed by our biggest adversaries.

One blueprint for doing just that has been put together by the Center for International Policy's Sustainable Defense Task Force, a group of former White House, Pentagon, and congressional budget officials, retired military officers, and think-tank experts from across the political spectrum. They have crafted a plan to save $1.25 trillion from proposed Pentagon spending over the next decade.

As that task force notes, for durable reductions in such spending to become feasible, this country's leadership would have to take a more realistic view of the military challenges posed by both China and Russia.

In recent years, the regime in Beijing has indeed been increasing its military spending, but when it comes to an armed presence in the Pacific region and the ability to make war there, the United States remains staggeringly stronger. As a start, it has an arsenal of nuclear weapons five to six times as large as China's (though, of course, using it would mean a planetary Armageddon). And while Beijing's influence is primarily focused on its own region, the U.S. military has a historically unprecedented global reach, deploying nearly 200,000 troops overseas garrisoned on at least 800 military bases scattered across continents, and maintaining 11 aircraft carrier task forces to patrol the global seas. In reality, the sort of "arms race" with China now being considered will be costly and unnecessary, while only increasing the risk of war between those two nuclear-armed powers, an outcome to be avoided at all costs.

China's real twenty-first-century challenge to this country isn't military at all, but political and economic in nature. Its leadership has focused on increasing that country's power and influence through investment programs like its ever more global Belt and Road infrastructure initiative. Despite many problems, such efforts are clearly giving Beijing the sort of growing global clout, especially in the America First era of Donald Trump, that a hopeless attempt to match U.S. military power never could. Add to this one other factor: if there's to be any hope of preventing future pandemics from ravaging the planet, curbing the growing impact of climate change, or reviving a global economy that's distinctly in the dumps, increased cooperation and transparency between the two greatest powers on the planet, not confrontation, will be a necessity.

As for Russia, a relatively shaky petro-state, its primary tools of influence in recent years have been propaganda, cyber-threats, and "hybrid warfare" on its peripheries (as in its use of local allies to destabilize Ukraine). Despite its still vast nuclear arsenal, Russia does not represent a traditional military challenge to the United States and so shouldn't be used to justify another pointless Pentagon spending boost. To the extent that there is a military challenge from Russia, it can be more than adequately addressed by various European nations with the United States in a limited, supporting role. After all, European members of NATO cumulatively spend more than three times what Russia does on their militaries and far outpace it economically. Keep in mind that this just isn't the Cold War era of the previous century. In reality, Russia's economy is now smaller than Italy's and Moscow is in no position to engage in an arms race even with the nations of Western Europe, no less Washington.

Despite its disastrous forever wars in distant lands, if the institution still often referred to as the "Department of Defense" were to refocus on actual national defense rather than global military domination, it could, as a start, instantly forgo a number of ill-conceived and staggeringly expensive new weapons systems. Those would range from plans to "modernize" the country's already vast nuclear arsenal by buying a new generation of nuclear-armed bombers, missiles, and submarines at a cost of up to $2 trillion to the fantasy of building up from current levels to a 500-ship Navy.

High on any list of programs to be instantly eliminated would be a proposed new Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM). As former Secretary of Defense William Perry has pointed out, ICBMs are among "the most dangerous weapons in the world" for a simple reason: a president would have only a matter of minutes to decide whether to launch such missiles upon being warned of another power using similar weaponry to attack the U.S. Since, in the past, such warnings have proven anything but accurate, new weaponry of this sort will only increase the chances of an accidental nuclear war being started. The Pentagon has, however, already given the giant arms maker Northrop Grumman a sole-source contract and $13.3 billion to develop just such a new weapon, a down payment on a program that could ultimately cost $264 billion to build and operate. Funds like those could go far to meet other genuinely pressing national needs.

As for the nuclear arsenal's upgrade as a whole, the organization Global Zero has outlined an alternative nuclear posture that would halt the Pentagon's costly nuclear "modernization" plan, eliminate ICBMs altogether, and reduce the numbers of nuclear-armed bombers and submarines. The idea would be to switch the U.S. to a "deterrence only" strategy and dump the elaborate and dangerous nuclear warfighting scenarios the Pentagon now swears by. The ultimate goal would, of course, be the global elimination of such weaponry, as called for in the U.N. Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, which is slated to enter into force early next year.

Then there's that dream (or nightmare) of a future Navy to deal with. Building up to a fleet of 500 ships is not just unaffordable, but a sign of the degree to which the Pentagon has an urge to run stark raving mad with taxpayer dollars. Even a previous plan to build 330 ships was so mismanaged that it left the Navy 50 ships short, $11 billion over budget, and years behind schedule. Rather than seeking to preserve the capability to have warships virtually everywhere on Earth all the time, the Navy set up to surge into areas of tension could be roughly half the size of the 500-ship one and still be powerful beyond words.

More savings could easily be found by ending the procurement of unworkable weapons systems like Lockheed Martin's disastrous F-35 jet fighter. Already the most expensive weapons program ever undertaken (at a cumulative cost of $1.7 trillion over its lifetime), the Project On Government Oversight has determined that the F-35 may never truly be ready for combat. Upgraded versions of current jet fighters integrated into a smaller Air Force would save tens of billions of dollars and be more effective.

President Trump's cherished Space Force is a bad idea that predated his presidency but received a major boost during his tenure. A new military bureaucracy geared up primarily to spend more money, it could cost tens of billions in the years to come while only increasing the risk of an arms race in space.

You could add to the above billions in savings from cutting waste and bureaucracy at the Department of Defense. To cite just two obvious examples, the Pentagon routinely overpays for spare parts and sustains a work force of more than 600,000 private contractors, many of whose jobs are either redundant or could be done more cheaply by government employees. Symbolic of the broken nature of the procurement process, the Air Force seriously contemplated paying $10,000 for a toilet seat cover and one contractor charged so much for a spare part that it stood to make a 4,451% profit on it. Fixing the Pentagon's procurement system and rolling back spending on private contractors could save hundreds of billions of dollars over the next decade.

And don't forget the savings that could be had from reforming how the Pentagon does business, including, for example, retaining intellectual property rights to weapon systems researched and developed with taxpayer dollars. As a Marine Corps captain wrote in the New York Times last year, the military too often lacks the "right to repair" its own equipment. Acquisition laws written in the interests of defense contractors need to be revised so that the Department of Defense can negotiate fair and reasonable prices and auditors need to be empowered to root out waste, fraud, and abuse.

And, of course, in an institution that has never even successfully audited itself, who knows what other savings might be conceivable were you to be able to get inside it and take a serious look at its finances -- and financial shenanigans?

Obstacles to Change

Even if the Biden administration could be persuaded to take a deeper look at the Pentagon's spending priorities, it would still face immediate and stiff political obstacles. The jobs generated by the Pentagon's $700 billion-plus budget (and the political funding of congressional representatives by defense companies) have created a broad constituency in Congress poised to block any effort to close unnecessary military bases or defund major weapons programs. To policymakers in Washington, it seems to matter not at all that virtually any other form of spending would create more jobs than throwing money at the Pentagon. New infrastructure spending or a green-new-deal-style emphasis on creating a renewable energy economy would be guaranteed to generate at least one-and-a-half times as many jobs per dollar spent, while new expenditures on education would create twice as many.

Another impediment to change is the two-way revolving door between the Pentagon and the arms industry. Senior government officials go to work for weapons makers, using their contacts with former colleagues to curry favor for their corporate employers. Meanwhile, arms-industry executives head for the Pentagon and other military-related government posts where they make policies that favor their former (and possibly future) employers. Despite criticisms from both President Trump and his son, Donald, Jr. about the damaging influence of that very revolving door, expect former Trump administration officials to set up shop as lobbyists, join the boards of directors of major defense contractors, and otherwise ally themselves with arms makers like Raytheon Technologies, Lockheed Martin, Boeing, and General Dynamics.

No one should be surprised either by early indications that figures with defense-industry ties will fill key policy positions in the Biden administration. Robert Work, a former deputy secretary of defense and already an unofficial spokesman for the incoming administration, still sits on the board of Raytheon. Michèle Flournoy, the most likely candidate for secretary of defense, and Anthony Blinken, whom Biden will nominate to be secretary of state, both work for a private consulting firm with undisclosed defense-industry clients. While this practice may not be as prevalent as under Trump -- three of his secretaries of defense served as board members, executives, or lobbyists for General Dynamics, Boeing, and Raytheon, respectively -- the role of former industry advocates and employees in the Biden administration is nonetheless guaranteed to cause conflicts of interest.

"Independent" experts at influential inside-the-Beltway think tanks are already receiving millions of dollars from arms manufacturers and the Pentagon in an ongoing effort to shape any debates about future spending. Meanwhile, individuals with close ties to that industry populate government panels like the congressionally mandated National Defense Strategy Commission, which advocated in 2018 for a whopping 3%-5% annual increase in Pentagon spending. If their analyses of the supposedly abysmal state of national defense were true, a case would have been made for firing all the top civilian and military officials in the building, not for increased spending.

Possibilities for Change

The best hope for reducing Pentagon spending is the collision between that department's never-ending, ever-rising desires and the overriding economic and political realities of this difficult moment. It's simply not possible to fund pandemic prevention, as well as any kind of economic revival that would begin to address longstanding inequalities, no less a much-needed green revolution, while keeping the Pentagon budget at near-record levels. Something will have to give and it shouldn't be the civilian communities and businesses that have been most negatively impacted by the coronavirus.

As for politics, it's important to remember that this year's presidential election was decided primarily by voter concerns about Covid-19 and the economy, not by voters crying out for a continuation of America's endless wars or demanding yet more money for the Pentagon. The political clout of the military-industrial complex may diminish as Americans move forward, however chaotically, into a new era with radically different challenges to public health and safety.

The arms makers and their allies in Congress and the executive branch won't give up without a fight when it comes to the pandemic of Pentagon spending. You can count on that. A crucial question of this moment is: Will fear, exaggerated threats, and pork-barrel politics be enough to keep the Pentagon and its contractors fat and happy, even as the urgent priorities of so many of the rest of us are starved of much-needed funding?

William D. Hartung, a TomDispatch regular, is the director of the Arms and Security Project at the Center for International Policy and the author of Prophets of War: Lockheed Martin and the Making of the Military-Industrial Complex.

Mandy Smithberger, a TomDispatch regular, is the director of the Center for Defense Information at the Project On Government Oversight (POGO).

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook. Check out the newest Dispatch Books, John Feffer's new dystopian novel (the second in the Splinterlands series) Frostlands, Beverly Gologorsky's novel Every Body Has a Story, and Tom Engelhardt's A Nation Unmade by War, as well as Alfred McCoy's In the Shadows of the American Century: The Rise and Decline of U.S. Global Power and John Dower's The Violent American Century: War and Terror Since World War II.

Copyright 2020 William D. Hartung and Mandy Smithberger

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