Saturday, September 23, 2006

Why We Fight in Iraq

The conversation on the last post has been terrific. I want to keep it going.

So, here's some more to chew on:
Last night, Jon and I watched the documentary Why We Fight by Eugene Jarecki. The film has a website (of course),, which I recommend.

The film and the website start with a video clip from President Dwight Eisenhower's last speech in office. This is the speech in which he coins the phrase "militaryindustrial complex." [Read the
full text of the speech.]

In the speech he argues that only in the 20th century has there been a military industry. This industry benefits from war, and if not kept in check, could influence every aspect of social and political life.

The film's narrative arc is to prove that Eisenhower's caution went unheeded - that we now have a government that is beholden to the industries that support and benefit from war.

As just one case in point, take the new B-2 Bomber. The B2 was originally designed as a Cold War terror device. The message to the Soviets was, if you screw with us, we'll fly one of our planes from our country to yours within hours, a plane that can't be detected by your radars, and with its massive nuclear payload drop tons of radioactive love on a target, and leave you glowing [Read a good history of the B2].

The cost of the B-2 was a major issue in its development.
The Air Force originally estimated the new planes to cost $45 million each, according to the GAO in 1995. The Air Force then revised the estimate, stating that it would cost more like $89 million in 1997. A fact sheet from the Air Force from this year estimates the cost of building future B2s at $1.2 billion dollars PER PLANE.

One might wonder why, today, we would need such a plane. The B-52 also is a large payload bomb dropper (love my technical military parlance?) originally designed to drop nuclear bombs on the Soviets. It has been used successfully in every war. The unit cost: $53.4 million. You could build 25 B-52s for the cost of 1 B2 Bomber. The government currently owns 21 B2s, according to Boeing, one of the companies that make the bomber (other companies included, Northrop Grumman, Hughes, Generl Electric, and Vought). Each of these first edition B2s cost tax payers $2.2 billion each.

The only military advantage of the B2 was that it was designed to circumvent enemy radar, particularly large conventional forces radar (i.e. standing armies of nation-states fighting each other). We don't dare land one in Turkey or any base outside of the United States, because they are too valuable. They have no armor, unlike the B52. Their only defense is their anti-radar detection capabilities. The B2 is usually not deployed until all ground based radar is destroyed. So, basically the planes are so expensive, we only use them when there's no risk that they'll be destroyed.

So, again, why are we building this plane? The answer is simple: because a piece of the bomber is being built in all 50 states.

Did you catch that?

So, if the B2 program were scrapped, Senators and Representatives would feel pressure from constituents who lose their jobs if the factory in their town closes. Since each state benefits from having the B2 in the form of jobs, then what's the harm in spending billions of dollars on a few planes?

The point here is this: the reason we are at war is because major corporations benefit from war, and these corporations are incredibly successful at pressuring government agencies and politicians to help them increase their profits. According to the film, the militaryindustrial complex is today a $740 billion dollar a year industry. That is a 25% profit. When most companies see 5-7% profitability, this is a staggering windfall. The new CEO of Boeing, James McNerney, receives $1.75 million in salary, and a bonus of as much as $4 million a year. The CEO of the bulletproof-vest maker DHB Industries made $70 million in 2004 compared with his 2001 salary of $525,000, according to CNN, because Congress approved major purchases in body armor. The profit from war is substantial.

Another point of the film is the relationship between politicans and the militaryindustrial complex. The film highlights Vice President Cheney's position in Haliburton after serving as Secretary of Defense under George H.W. Bush. Cheney who had strong government ties was a valuable asset to Haliburton. As Vice President he continues to be helpful to Haliburton. The film highlights that Haliburton received several no-bid contracts to support the war in Iraq. Although there is absolutely no smoking gun that Cheney helped Haliburton acquire those contracts directly, the loose association of friends and acquaintances that exist between the two (government and military corporation) are so intertwined that the influence is now in the very fabric of the relationships between the two.

The film also highlights that on 9/12/2001 President Bush discussed with his Cabinet the possibility of a pre-emptive attack on Iraq - even though Iraq had NOTHING to do with the attacks the day before.

So, there it is. It's not oil, it's not democracy or freedom (two of the most empty God terms bandied about these days), it's profit for militaryindustrial corporations. That's why we fight.

What do you think?


Anonymous said...

I'm sorry but I don't agree. If this is the case, then why don't we invade Iran today?

Jenny S-G said...

Don't apologize. Disagreement is good stuff.

The line of thinking here with regard to the militaryindustrial complex is that if it is left unchecked, we will invade Iran.

There has been talk in the past year of an invasion. It hasn't happened yet, obviously, and the administration is walking the diplomatic channels. But, they did that with Iraq, and eventually bypassed those channels for direct war. So, it's conceivable the administration will do that with Iran.

Unless this administration is changed, or there is a shift in the composition of our Congress, it's not out of the question that we'll eventually attack Iran.

Anonymous said...

I think that we don't invade Iran because the cost of doing so, both in lives and money, will be greater than the profit these industries will make,something that even the power/money driven politicians cannot risk. Plus, the people will react badly to this one. And don't forget, with elections coming up and with a couple of unpopular wars already going on, those up for reelection keep their friends in the industry in check for a little while, until they secure another term... politics make people cynical, but you gotta love it!

Uplift Monkey said...

Skirting the deeper issue of the the military industrial complex for now, let me try to defend the B2 for a moment. Because I can't quite bring myself to agree with it's use as an example of wasteful spending.

Is the B2 massively expensive? Yes. We are talking about what is arguably the most advanced flying machine ever created (that we know about). How advanced is it? According to the laws of aerodynamics, this plane shouldn’t be capable of stable flight – yet the engineers found a way! I don’t have a cost breakdown covering the entire history of the B2 project, so I don’t know all the details. I would imagine that the intricate construction methods, low production quantity, and years of R&D are mostly responsible for the high costs.

Is the B2 currently used for the purpose it was designed for? No. And thank goodness for that! However, there is no way to know when such a tool will be needed. Tomorrow it might be necessary to bomb a live nuclear missile site in North Korea – a mission that would require tremendous stealth to prevent that missile from being launched before our arrival. Will you start building a stealth bomber once the threat is real? Example: when you live in a crime infested neighborhood, do you curse the expensive handgun in your nightstand for just sitting there waiting for something to happen? Having such a tool at your disposal is not only reassuring, but it is the responsible thing to do – to take personal responsibility for your own safety. It might not be needed for years, but that does not lessen it’s value in any way. If you only need it once to save a life, it will have been worth all the years and expense of holding onto it.

Is the B2 a valid piece of the American arsenal? Certainly – see above. By way of comparison, the B52 is an elephant that (while relatively cheap and dramatically long-lived thanks to numerous upgrades) is utterly incapable of stealth operations. There is a reason that our strategic nuclear weapons were mostly removed from bombers in the 70’s and 80’s and transferred to submarines and ICBMs – the B52 no longer had a reasonable chance of penetrating USSR airspace.

While submarine launched missiles have a high degree of stealth, they are meant for short to medium range (300 miles?) – to hit coastal or near coastal targets, if the submarine happens to be nearby or has the days necessary to travel there. ICBMs have no stealth but increadibly long range – they’re really only good for starting or finishing World War 3. The B2 fills this gap – allowing precison weapons to be delivered around the world with little or no warning with only a couple hours notice.

Additionally, the research and development of this plane brought about numerous advances in avionics and composites that are applicable to many more fields than just weapons. Pushing the envelope is not always a clean or easy process – look at the B1 bomber mess! However, the technology and science continues to advance regardless of the tactical success or failure of the end product – as long as we are pushing that envelope. How much of what we take for granted everyday has it origins in expensive and occasionally ill-received military projects? (Someone do some research…)

Is the military industrial complex influencing our international relations? In a non-conspiracy sort of way… sure. But that’s corporations in general! Do you think the Intel Corporation (and Microsoft) has been sitting idly by while Hamas rockets rain down near their chip factories in Israel? Hell no – they’ve likely been “reinforcing” the resolve of key government officials to make sure the US continues to give Israel all the support it needs to disarm Hamas. It’s just good corporate policy.

Jenny S-G said...

I just want to pick up on the first comment again, regarding why we haven't gone to war in Iran.

Time magazine's cover story from last week was focused on the possibility of war in Iran. The cover story's first paragraph reports that Aegis class cruisers have been told to be ready October 1st to deploy possibly to blockade to Iranian ports.

I don't think it's out of the question that we will attack Iran.

Jenny S-G said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
BroStro said...

The militaryindustrialcomplex can win even without an attack on another country.

The post-communist world did not provide much of an enduring threat to American interests. Russia gets along with NATO (more or less). The Balkan wars were geographically contained. Central Asia has not really radicalized, with most Central Asian govts still enjoying Russian support.

Terror provides the same sort of enduring threat that Communism did. During the entire Cold War, the US made full military commitments only in Korea and Vietnam. Yet, given the anti-Communist rhetoric and the power of the militaryindustrialcomplex, Mexico, India, and France (think of socialist DeGaulle leaving NATO) were left to evolve in peace even though they were good targets for American military might.

The possibility (rather than the preemptive destruction of Iran) of Iran being an emerging power is better for the militaryindustrial complex. That way, the fed govt can keep justifying missile defense, new nuclear warheads, and other expensive technologies. Future presidents will have a viable external threat to use cowboy language against in an effort to shore up Patriotic voters. America can justify to the Middle East why Israel can continue to exist with American help because the Saudis, Iraqis, Afghanis, and Pakistanis will all fear a potential Iranian power. America will promise protection, for a price. That price will come in the form of the sale of F-16s, M-16s, security "consultants" (I mean CIA), and lucrative contracts for American oil companies to drill, explore, and refine petroleum.

In short, I believe your hypothesis is correct about what interests dominate US politics behind the scenes. However, I do not see the parade of terribles leading to an invasion of Iran.


Jenny S-G said...

I hope you're right BroStro - I'd rather we didn't go to war with Iran.