Saturday, April 05, 2008

Congress: Making a killing

It should go without saying that in times of war, those people who manufacture the tools of death and destruction stand to benefit the most. That basic point was perhaps most notably addressed by infamous Chomyskite America-hater, former U.S. president Dwight D. Eisenhower, when in his 1961 farewell address he warned Americans that "we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex."

As a new study from the Center for Responsive Politics finds, the huge profits one can make from foreign military interventions and the "homeland security" ruse hasn't been lost on Congress, the legislative body that chooses to fund wars and -- theoretically -- has the sole responsibility to declare them:
According to the most recent reports of their personal finances, 151 current members of Congress had between $78.7 million and $195.5 million invested in companies that received defense contracts of at least $5 million in 2006. In all, these companies received more than $275.6 billion from the government in 2006, or $755 million per day, according to, a website of the budget watchdog group OMB Watch.

The minimum value of Congress members' personal investments in these contractors increased 5 percent from 2004 to 2006, but because lawmakers are only required to report their assets in broad ranges, the value of these investments could have risen as much as 160 percent—or even dropped 51 percent. It is also unclear how many members still hold these investments, since reports for 2007 are not due until May 15, 2008. In 2004, the first full year after the Iraq war began, Republican and Democratic lawmakers—both hawks and doves—had between $74.9 million and $161.3 million invested in companies under contract with the Department of Defense.
This revelation should come as no surprise. War is a pretty sound investment in a country that has military bases in more than 130 nations, from South Korea to Germany, and that spends more on the military than does the entire rest of the world -- and more than the entire economies of 47 sub-Saharan African countries combined.

As Justin Raimondo points out in his April 4th column, the draft of Eisenhower's farewell address actually used the phrase "military-industrial-congressional complex", noting the crucial role that members of Congress play in self-servingly perpetuating an imperial foreign policy. Congressional proponents of interventionism prefer to speak in vague, euphemistic language about "America taking action" or some other such attempt to disguise the vicious nature of what war actually is -- killing lots and lots of people, from 2,000 feet above to 20 feet away, more often than not innocent civilians. In reality, the decision to go to war is never profound -- the people who decide when to bomb a country are not fundamentally different than you or me. Oh, they may be richer, but they certainly aren't smarter, and they definitely aren't braver, and as former congressman Mark Foley's (R-FL) cyber-sexing during a vote on funding the Iraq war illustrates, they don't gravely consider sending other people's children into war.

But what about all those anti-war Democrats?

While Democrats are more likely to advocate for ending the Iraq war sooner than Republicans, as a group they have more of their own money invested in America's military efforts. In 2006 Democrats had at least $3.7 million invested in the defense sector alone, compared to Republicans' $577,500. More Republicans, however, held stock in defense companies in 2006—28 of them, compared to 19 Democrats.

According to a spokesman for one of these investors, Rep. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), who held at least $15,000 in Lockheed Martin stock in 2006, it's "insulting" to make a connection between personal investments and a lawmaker's job. "Congressman Blunt does not consider his personal finances when voting for legislation, especially on issues as weighty as sending our troops into harm's way," Blunt spokesman Nick Simpson said.
How... completely unsurprising? To be fair, as Rep. Blunt's spokesman states (rather unconvincingly), personal investments aren't enough of a reason why a congressman would vote for war. After all, according to the study the majority of lawmakers are not heavily invested in the defense industry, yet they also continue to vote for militarism at every turn. So what gives?

I think the answer to that is fairly easy: just as oil was clearly a factor in why Iraq was even on the minds of U.S. policymakers (as opposed to, say, Rwanda in the mid '90s), money plays a part in why lawmakers vote for aggressive war -- but neither factors can fully explain the respective decisions. Though most congressional districts likely have some connection to the defense contracting industry (by no coincidence, either), it's too simple to say that that is the only reason why Congress votes the way it does.

Much I'm sure has to do with nothing more than basic nationalist, jingoistic ideology -- what is sometimes loftily referred to as "American exceptionalism", and can be boiled down to "we (the USA) can do what we want -- invade, torture and kill, kill, kill -- and you (the non-Western world) can't." Not to say that these lawmakers are conscious of this -- oh no. Most people think of themselves as good, and it's a safe bet that those same people leading the United States into one disastrous war after another believe that they are Fine American Patriots, just as those who killed "witches" in New England undoubtedly had a feeling of pure self-righteousness when they fastened the rope around a young woman's neck.

It is important to keep in mind that the perpetuation of the military-industrial complex is not (necessarily) a result of nefarious plotting in dark alleys and the ritualistic drinking of the blood of virgins. The reality of evil tends to be much more banal. Think more along the lines of a career bureaucrat in some anonymous office building in Anywhere, USA -- stamping form 1024a day in and day out becomes a mundane routine, just as stamping out obstacles to U.S. hegemony becomes so for a defense contractor (or Senator) who thinks of their job as nothing more than a paycheck and, if their lucky, maybe a little prestige.

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