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Summary of The Quincy Institute video “Who’s Afraid of the Military Industrial Complex?”

The Quincy Institute video Who’s Afraid of the Military Industrial Complex? – YouTube  (embedded below) that Coleen shared has gotten 424 views and 37 likes.  A music video or a cat video often gets millions of views.  Apparently not many people are afraid of the MiC, maybe because they think the topic is BORING. Well, the video has been there for two days only.

In the video, William Hartung, senior research fellow at the Quincy Institute, mentions that the National Defense Industrial Association says that there were about 3 million direct jobs in the defense industry in the 1980s and it’s down to about 1 million now. So you’d hope the influence of the MiC should decrease.

The video discusses how the military contractors fund think tanks, which turn out research justifying their budgets.  It discusses the revolving doors between the Pentagon, Congressional offices, and military contractors.
There are pressure groups like the Committee to Expand NATO, the Committee to Liberate Iraq, etc. Hartung mentions that in Congress there’s an F-35 caucus, even though the F-35 is a deeply troubled aircraft that is overpriced, hard to maintain, and may never be ready for combat. There’s also an ICBM caucus of senators who have ICBM bases in their districts. The Pentagon can’t pass an audit. “The defense industry has tried to undermine the Independent Testing Office, one of the few places where we get the straight story of how these weapons perform and their cost.” The Pentagon budget emphasizes big budget items and under-funds maintenance.  Hartung said we shouldn’t give into the temptation to throw up our hands, give up, and crawl into a fetal position.
They also call it the “self-licking ice cream cone.”

The same necon hawks, such as Eliot Abrams, are recycled from one think tank and pressure group to another.

Universities are going after scarce military funding. The tentacles of the MICIMATT extend everywhere.

You sometimes hear that arms exports give the U.S. leverage over recipient countries’ policies.  But that’s not the case, according to  panelist Shana Marshall.  “Egypt, Israel, and Saudi Arabia have flagrantly violated the most basic desires of the U.S. foreign policy establishment over and over.”   The U.S. is not very democratic. The preferences of the public rarely get translated into policy.

Shana Marshall, associate director of the Institute for Middle East Studies at George Washington University, mentioned nationalizing the defense industries but chuckled and admitted it’s a “pie-in-the-sky” idea.  There is a huge constituency of professionals whose entire life is dependent on militarism, and she said the only way to start to fix it is to remove the profit motive.
Marshall mentioned that the military industry is global, extending especially to the Middle East and through NATO expansion.  These are transnational corporate actors for whom any expansion is good business.  The MiC was frenzied about the expansion of NATO to assure contracts. It happens in Africa too. So we rarely see a peace dividend. There’s not even real competition; there are joint venture contracts and outsourcing, and they get paid anyway.

The moderator says that most people would agree that “the system is absolutely broken. Not broken for the profit makers, but broken for American democracy.”

Michael Brenes, interim director of the Brady-Johnson Program in Grand Strategy and lecturer in history at Yale,  discussed defense conversion (converting military jobs to civilian/commercial jobs) There was some success at that in the 1990s.  He said it’s important to convert defense industries to good uses, with well-paid jobs and green industries. People in places like Alabama have complained about subsidized defense industries not producing many jobs and not making useful products.  John Kenneth Galbraith had an idea in the 1960s about nationalizing defense industries.  They gave the example that when the pandemic closed supply chains through Mexico, the U.S. couldn’t get parts that came from China, since the industry is international and outsourced: another reason the U.S. doesn’t see many jobs. Globalization of the military industrial supply chain is great.

There have been growing moves in Congress to lower the military budget.   A lot of former military personnel speak out against the MiC later in life, because they realize its faults.  Many soldiers had to self-finance to purchase their own body armor in Iraq.   It’s easier to hide price gouging in huge multi-billion dollar weapons systems than in contracts for body armor. The public has some awareness that military spending is wasteful, especially given the costs of the covid pandemic. [When my member of Congress pointed to the trillions of dollars Congress spent on pandemic relief to justify higher military spending, I responded: the fact that we had to spend that money is even more reason not to waste money on the unneeded and dangerous weapons.]

“Do you remember the fly-over for front line workers that the Pentagon did early in the pandemic?” Marshall asked.  She said that lots of people (front-line workers, nurses, and doctors) were angry at the cost of the fly-over when they lacked personal protection equipment, etc. So this got some coverage.
Both Brenes and the moderator joked about sometimes wanting to crawl up into a fetal position over the issues.
The last question was about media complicity.  Hartung said the biggest problem is the unconscious assumptions that control the conversations.  Editors think that contrary views aren’t socially viable. Lockheed Martin funded a report about industry consolidation: there are fewer firms. It wasn’t clear if that was due to mergers and acquisitions or to conversion to civilian industries. The Wall Street Journal twisted the findings to say that the U.S. defense industry is at risk and it needs more funding to build it back up.

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