Category Archives: Merchants of Death

Sale of U.S. Arms Fuels the Wars of Arab States

Mark Mazzetti and Helene Cooper report for The New York Times:

As the Middle East descends into proxy wars, sectarian conflicts and battles against terrorist networks, countries in the region that have stockpiled American military hardware are now actually using it and wanting more. The result is a boom for American defense contractors looking for foreign business in an era of shrinking Pentagon budgets — but also the prospect of a dangerous new arms race in a region where the map of alliances has been sharply redrawn.

[…] The United States has long put restrictions on the types of weapons that American defense firms can sell to Arab nations, meant to ensure that Israel keeps a military advantage against its traditional adversaries in the region. But because Israel and the Arab states are now in a de facto alliance against Iran, the Obama administration has been far more willing to allow the sale of advanced weapons in the Persian Gulf, with few public objections from Israel.

[…] Industry analysts and Middle East experts say that the region’s turmoil, and the determination of the wealthy Sunni nations to battle Shiite Iran for regional supremacy, will lead to a surge in new orders for the defense industry’s latest, most high-tech hardware.’

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Bahrain: Democracy Behind Bars

The Kagans: A Family Business of Perpetual War

Robert Parry writes for Consortium News:

Neoconservative pundit Robert Kagan and his wife, Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland, run a remarkable family business: she has sparked a hot war in Ukraine and helped launch Cold War II with Russia – and he steps in to demand that Congress jack up military spending so America can meet these new security threats.

This extraordinary husband-and-wife duo makes quite a one-two punch for the Military-Industrial Complex, an inside-outside team that creates the need for more military spending, applies political pressure to ensure higher appropriations, and watches as thankful weapons manufacturers lavish grants on like-minded hawkish Washington think tanks.

Not only does the broader community of neoconservatives stand to benefit but so do other members of the Kagan clan, including Robert’s brother Frederick at the American Enterprise Institute and his wife Kimberly, who runs her own shop called the Institute for the Study of War.’

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Ex-Blackwater guards handed lengthy prison sentences for 2007 Baghdad massacre

God No, the U.S. Air Force Doesn’t Need Another Curtis LeMay

Matthew Gault writes for Medium:

On March 27, the U.S. senate confirmed Air Force general Robin Rand as the next leader of Global Strike Command. He’s the first four-star general in GSC history to take on the role — and that’s just what the flying branch wants.

Air Force chief of staff Gen. Mark Welsh said he appointed Rand because he hopes that a four star general in charge of America’s nuclear command will give the flyers greater influence over the country’s nuclear policy.

“We lead and execute two-thirds of the nuclear triad, for Christ’s sake,” he told a crowd on April 2. “We should be in the middle of the policy debates on this issue.”

Which is true. America’s nuclear triad consists of its intercontinental ballistic missiles, submarine-launched ballistic missiles and nuclear-armed bombers. GSC operates the ICBMs and the bombers. It makes sense that the Air Force would want more say over how to use those weapons.

But what Welsh said next is troubling — and serves as a reminder why the Air Force doesn’t have a greater say in the nuclear debate.

“I told Robin Rand … go become the next Curtis LeMay,” Welsh said. “Bring this nuclear mission … back to the front edge of Air Force attention every single day.”’

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Republicans: The Cocaine Monkeys of Defense Spending

Veronique de Rugy writes for The Daily Beast:

Republicans claim that they, unlike Democrats, are the fiscally responsible party and often preach about the dangers of the growing national debt and the need to reduce the size of government. The reality is quite different, however. Apart from wanting to trim food stamps, foreign aid, and Medicaid, Republicans simply aren’t willing to specify the programs they are truly willing to ax—especially the Republicans now out on the campaign trail.

Exhibit A is defense spending. Republicans love it. In fact, they love it so much that they can’t get enough of it. Ever. For all their complaints about government inefficiency, many of them seem to think that it doesn’t apply to the Department of Defense, and that every additional dollar spent on projects like the F35—a supposedly nuclear-capable fighter jet that defense contractor Lockheed Martin has been working on since 2001 and is long overdue and over budget and still not fully operational—or the super-expensive and unnecessary Abrams Tank translates into increased national security.’

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“The Boneyard” Contains the World’s Second-Largest Air Force

VICE reports with photographs by Roc Morin:

The United States currently boasts 5,448 active aircraft, giving it the world’s largest air force by far. Russia comes in second with what is generally estimated to be a bit less than half that number, but that’s still fewer planes than America has stashed in its maintenance and regeneration facility. I visited what is affectionately known as “the Boneyard” at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson, Arizona, to see what amounts to the world’s second-largest air force.

“We have around 4,000 aircraft here,” Public Affairs Officer Teresa Pittman told me, “though that number changes every day.”

The Boneyard emerged after World War II as the stash spot for a massive surplus of planes. Some of them have been baking in the Arizona desert for over half a century. The perfect climate, as well as the dedicated work of the 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group, keeps most of them in—or somewhere close to—flying condition. Now, in the wake of military withdrawals from Iraq and Afghanistan, the Boneyard is again crowded with aircraft waiting to be scrapped, mothballed, used for parts, turned into museum pieces, or sold to foreign allies.’

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The US isn’t winding down its wars – it’s just running them at arm’s length

Seamus Milne writes for The Guardian:

Joe Magee Illustration on Saudi-led action in Yemen[…] Since the disasters of Iraq and Afghanistan, the US and its allies are reluctant to risk boots on the ground. But their military interventions are multiplying. Barack Obama has bombed seven mainly Muslim countries since he became US president. There are now four full-scale wars raging in the Arab world (Iraq, Syria, Libya and Yemen), and every one of them has involved US and wider western military intervention. Saudi Arabia is by far the largest British arms market; US weapons sales to the Gulf have exceeded those racked up by George Bush, and last week Obama resumed US military aid to Egypt.

What has changed is that, in true imperial fashion, the west’s alliances have become more contradictory, playing off one side against the other. In Yemen, it is supporting the Sunni powers against Iran’s Shia allies. In Iraq, it is the opposite: the US and its friends are giving air support to Iranian-backed Shia militias fighting the Sunni takfiri group Isis. In Syria, they are bombing one part of the armed opposition while arming and training another.

The nuclear deal with Iran – which the Obama administration pushed through in the teeth of opposition from Israel and the Gulf states – needs to be seen in that context. The US isn’t leaving the Middle East, as some imagine, but looking for a more effective way of controlling it at arm’s length: by rebalancing the region’s powers, as the former MI6 officer Alastair Crooke puts it, in an “equilibrium of antagonisms”.’

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The Obama Arms Bazaar: Record Sales, Troubling Results

William D. Hartung, author of Prophets of War, writes for LobeLog:

With the end of the Obama presidency just around the corner, discussions of his administration’s foreign policy legacy are already well under way. But one central element of that policy has received little attention: the Obama administration’s dramatic acceleration of U.S. weapons exports.

The numbers are astonishing. In President Obama’s first five years in office, new agreements under the Pentagon’s Foreign Military Sales (FMS) program—the largest channel for U.S. arms exports—totaled over $169 billion. After adjusting for inflation, the volume of major deals concluded by the Obama administration in its first five years exceeds the amount approved by the Bush administration in its full eight years in office by nearly $30 billion. That also means that the Obama administration has approved more arms sales than any U.S. administration since World War II.

The majority of the Obama administration’s arms sales—over 60 percent–have gone to the Middle East and Persian Gulf, with Saudi Arabia topping the list at $46 billion in new agreements. This is particularly troubling given the complex array of conflicts raging throughout the region.’

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Interview with William Hartung, the director of the Arms and Security Project at the Center for International Policy, and author of “Prophets of War: Lockheed Martin and the Making of the Military-Industrial Complex.” (Democracy Now!)

10 Truly Absurd Features of Contemporary Foreign Affairs

Stephen M. Walt writes for Foreign Policy:

Those of us who work on foreign policy like to think of ourselves as hard-headed, rational people who don’t easily succumb to myths, fables, or delusions. If only that were true! In fact, foreign-policy mavens as just as vulnerable to blindered thinking as any other human beings, and our community has its own set of odd beliefs and practices that are rarely questioned or criticized.

In fact, if one moves outside the bubble of mainstream discourse and takes a hard look at some familiar elements of contemporary world politics, they begin to look rather peculiar, even absurd. What do I mean by that? I mean an unusual, bizarre, risible, and hard-to-justify state of affairs whose dubious nature is no longer questioned, mostly because we’ve grown accustomed to it and no longer notice how weird it really is. These situations are like the discarded oddities of a bygone era — like phrenology, corsets, powdered wigs, binding feet, etc. — or like the bad habits that we sometimes acquire without noticing how strange or damaging they might be.

Some of these absurdities persist because they’ve been around a long time, or because powerful interests defend them vigorously, or because they align with broader social prejudices. Some of them may in fact be defensible, but we should still bring such oddities out into the open air on occasion and ask ourselves if they really make sense.’

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The Pentagon’s $10-billion bet gone bad

David Willman reports for the Los Angeles Times:

Leaders of the U.S. Missile Defense Agency were effusive about the new technology.

It was the most powerful radar of its kind in the world, they told Congress. So powerful it could detect a baseball over San Francisco from the other side of the country.

If North Korea launched a sneak attack, the Sea-Based X-Band Radar — SBX for short — would spot the incoming missiles, track them through space and guide U.S. rocket-interceptors to destroy them.

Crucially, the system would be able to distinguish between actual missiles and decoys.

SBX “represents a capability that is unmatched,” the director of the Missile Defense Agency told a Senate subcommittee in 2007.

In reality, the giant floating radar has been a $2.2-billion flop, a Los Angeles Times investigation found.’

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Iran Has Been Two Years Away From a Nuclear Bomb Since the 1980s

Micah Zenko writes for The Atlantic:

The April 24, 1984, edition of the British defense publication Jane’s Defence Weekly informed its readers: “Iran is engaged in the production of an atomic bomb, likely to be ready within two years, according to press reports in the Persian Gulf last week.” Subsequent warnings from U.S. and foreign sources about Iran’s imminent acquisition of a nuclear weapon have been offered over the past four decades. These false guesses are worth bearing in mind as news from the nuclear negotiations in Lausanne, Switzerland, emerges.

More technical “breakout” estimates—the time it would take Iran to compile enough highly-enriched uranium (HEU) to fuel one nuclear weapon—continue to be published, with slightly varying timelines. Setting aside logic, wisdom, and a huge range of assumptions, if you average these five estimates, Iran would require 89.8 days, or three months, if it made a hypothetical rush for one bombs-worth of HEU.’

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Afghanistan: How the Pentagon Lost Track of $45 Billion

Matthew Gault reports for Medium:

Since 2002, Congress has set aside $104 billion specifically to rebuild Afghanistan. Of that, $66 billion went to the Pentagon.

Recently, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction asked the military to account for all that spending. It couldn’t. According to a new report from SIGAR, the Pentagon only knows how it spent a third of its reconstruction budget.

That’s $45 billion dollars the military can’t track and the reason is … ridiculous. According to SIGAR, the Pentagon didn’t check a box on an electronic form when it filed the information in government databases.’

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Mercenary firm formerly known as Blackwater gets rich as Afghan drug production hits record high

Spencer Ackerman reports for The Guardian:

An Afghan farmer harvests in an opium poppy field in Jalalabad, Afghanistan on 27 March 2015. Afghanistan is listed as world’s largest opium producer.In a war full of failures, the US counternarcotics mission in Afghanistan stands out: opiate production has climbed steadily over recent years to reach record-high levels last year.

Yet there is a clear winner in the anti-drug effort – not the Afghan people, but the infamous mercenary company formerly known as Blackwater.

Statistics released on Tuesday reveal that the rebranded private security firm, known since 2011 as Academi, reaped over half a billion dollars from the futile Defense Department push to eradicate Afghan narcotics, some 32% of the $1.8bn in contracting money the Pentagon has devoted to the job since 2002.’

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Your Money at War Everywhere

William Hartung writes for TomDispatch:

President Obama and Senator John McCain, who have clashed on almost every conceivable issue, do agree on one thing: the Pentagon needs more money. Obama wants to raise the Pentagon’s budget for fiscal year 2016 by $35 billion more than the caps that exist under current law allow.  McCain wants to see Obama his $35 billion and raise him $17 billion more. Last week, the House and Senate Budget Committees attempted to meet Obama’s demands by pressing to pour tens of billions of additional dollars into the uncapped supplemental war budget.

What will this new avalanche of cash be used for? A major ground war in Iraq? Bombing the Assad regime in Syria? A permanent troop presence in Afghanistan?  More likely, the bulk of the funds will be wielded simply to take pressure off the Pentagon’s base budget so it can continue to pay for staggeringly expensive projects like the F-35 combat aircraft and a new generation of ballistic missile submarines.  Whether the enthusiastic budgeteers in the end succeed in this particular maneuver to create a massive Pentagon slush fund, the effort represents a troubling development for anyone who thinks that Pentagon spending is already out of hand.

Mind you, such funds would be added not just to a Pentagon budget already running at half-a-trillion dollars annually, but to the actual national security budget, which is undoubtedly close to twice that.  It includes items like work on nuclear weapons tucked away at the Department of Energy, that Pentagon supplementary war budget, the black budget of the Intelligence Community, and war-related expenditures in the budgets of the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Department of Homeland Security.’

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If this is what an anti-war presidency looks like to you, you’re detached from reality

Trevor Timm writes for The Guardian:

obama clenched jawNothing sums up the warped foreign policy fantasy world in which Republicans live more than when House Speaker John Boehner recentlycalled Obama an “anti-war president” under which America “is sitting on the sidelines” in the increasingly chaotic Middle East.

If Obama is an anti-war president, he’s the worst anti-war president in history. In the last six years, the Obama administration has bombed seven countries in the Middle East alone and armed countless more with tens of billions in dollars in weapons. But that’s apparently not enough for Republicans. As the Isis war continues to expand and Yemen descends into civil war, everyone is still demanding more: If only we bombed the region a little bit harder, then they’ll submit.

In between publishing a new rash of overt sociopathic “Bomb Iran” op-eds, Republicans and neocons are circulating a new talking point: Obama doesn’t have a “coherent” or “unifying” strategy in the Middle East. But you can’t have a one-size-fits-all strategy in an entire region that is almost incomprehensibly complex – which is why no one, including the Republicans criticizing Obama, actually has an answer for what that strategy should be. It’s clear that this new talking point is little more than thinly veiled code for we’re not killing enough Muslims or invading enough countries.’

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Saudi Ambassador To U.S. Won’t Rule Out Building Nukes

‘The Saudi Ambassador to the United States would not rule out the possibility of the Saudis creating their own nuclear bomb to counterbalance a nuclear-armed Iran in an interview with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer on Thursday. “This is not something we would discuss publicly,” Ambassador Adel Al-Jubeir said on “The Situation Room.” Later, when pressed, he said, “This is not something that I can comment on, nor would I comment on.” “But the kingdom of Saudi Arabia will take whatever measures are necessary in order to protect its security,” he added. “There are two things over which we do not negotiate: Our faith and our security.”‘ (CNN)

The Neoconservative Cursus Honorum

Former CIA officer Philip Giraldi writes for The American Conservative:

Having experienced several more weeks of mainstream media jingoism about the “Iranian threat,” culminating in the outrageous Joshua Muravchik op-ed advocating war with Iran as the “best option” for dealing with that country, one has to ask why it is that a gaggle of self-proclaimed “experts” has been able to capture the foreign-policy narrative so completely, in spite of the fact that they have been wrong about nearly everything?

Neoconservatives have two core beliefs. First is their insistence that the United States has the right or even the responsibility to use its military and economic power to reshape the world in terms of its own interests and values. Constant war thus becomes the new normal. As Professor Eliot Cohen, a former State Department adviser under George W. Bush, put it, “For the great mass of the American public … and for their leaders and elites who shape public opinion ‘war weariness’ is unearned cant, unworthy of a serious nation… .”’

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Pentagon Keeps Losing ‘Sensitive’ Explosives Gear, Then Finding It For Sale On Ebay

Tim Cushing reports for Techdirt:

‘The Pentagon may not know where some very sensitive equipment has disappeared to, but a variety of private resellers seem to have some idea where it might be found. A leaked US Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) document obtained by The Intercept details the agency’s inability to keep track of its explosives-detecting equipment, bequeathed to it by the Defense Department’s Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization (JIEDDO).

While it did manage to track down some of its missing equipment at various equipment resellers (the document lists a variety of URLs, including ebay.com and craigslist.org), it still has no idea how much of it is still in the military’s possession.’

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Big Bank’s Analyst Worries That Iran Deal Could Depress Weapons Sales

Lee Fang writes for The Intercept:

Featured photo - Big Bank’s Analyst Worries That Iran Deal Could Depress Weapons SalesCould a deal to normalize Western relations with Iran and set limits on Iran’s development of nuclear technology lead to a more peaceful and less-weaponized Middle East?

That’s what supporters of the Iran negotiations certainly hope to achieve. But the prospect of stability has at least one financial analyst concerned about its impact on one of the world’s biggest defense contractors.

The possibility of an Iran nuclear deal depressing weapons sales was raised by Myles Walton, an analyst from Germany’s Deutsche Bank, during a Lockheed earnings call this past January 27th. Walton asked Marillyn Hewson, the chief executive of Lockheed Martin, if an Iran agreement could “impede what you see as progress in foreign military sales.” Financial industry analysts such as Walton use earnings calls as an opportunity to ask publicly-traded corporations like Lockheed about issues that might harm profitability.’

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A Blackwater World Order

Kelley Vlahos writes for The American Conservative:

Chuck Holton / Flickr‘After more than a decade of war in Iraq and Afghanistan, America’s most profound legacy could be that it set the world order back to the Middle Ages.

While this is a slight exaggeration, a recent examination by Sean McFate, a former Army paratrooper who later served in Africa working for Dyncorp International and is now an associate professor at the National Defense University, suggests that the Pentagon’s dependence on contractors to help wage its wars has unleashed a new era of warfare in which a multitude of freshly founded private military companies are meeting the demand of an exploding global market for conflict.

“Now that the United States has opened the Pandora’s Box of mercenarianism,” McFate writes in The Modern Mercenary: Private Armies and What they Mean for World Order, “private warriors of all stripes are coming out of the shadows to engage in for-profit warfare.”’

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US Weapons Exporters Lead World in War Profiteering

Sarah Lazare reports for Common Dreams:

‘U.S. weapons exporters lead the world in profits from the booming military arms and equipment business, driven by rising tensions and conflict around the world, according to a new report from London-based analysts.

The annual study by IHS Inc.—which looks at military markets in 65 nations, excluding small arms, munitions, and surveillance programs—finds that the United States is behind one-third of all equipment and weapons exports world-wide.

This is no small amount: in 2014, global “defense” trade surpassed $64.4 billion, the report finds.’

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Saudi Arabia Has Become The World’s Biggest Arms Importer

Saudi Arabia Is The World's Biggest Arms Importer

Algerians suffering from French atomic legacy, 55 years after nuke tests

Johnny Magdaleno reports for Al Jazeera:

Algeria's agony lives on, decades after French nuclear tests‘[…] Southern Algerians were not properly warned of their danger after France’s misgoverned nuclear bomb-testing campaign of the early 1960s, which vitrified vast tracts of desert with heat and plutonium and left a legacy of uncontained radiation that is still crippling inhabitants. Estimates of the number of Algerians affected by testing range from 27,000 — cited by the French Ministry of Defense — to 60,000, the figure given by Abdul Kadhim al-Aboudi, an Algerian professor of nuclear physics.

Yet there has been little accountability for France’s disregard. A compensation scheme for victims of France’s nuclear tests exists, but it has made payouts to only 17 people. The majority of those were residents of French Polynesia, where France relocated its nuclear testing campaign after leaving Algeria and experimented with more than 190 nuclear bombs from 1966 to 1996.’

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The TV Movie About Nuclear War That Depressed Ronald Reagan

Matthew Gault writes for Medium:

‘[…] This is Kansas in the ’80s, and America is an irradiated, nuclear hellscape. Welcome to The Day After, a TV movie ABC aired during prime-time in 1983. The film was so effective that it depressed Pres. Ronald Reagan.

He wrote about it in his diary, and some biographers speculated it had a direct effect on Reagan’s desire to end nuclear proliferation during the back half of his presidency.

The Day After is about a world in which the unthinkable happens—the U.S. and Russia finally launch all their nukes and ruin the world.

The film is set in and around Kansas City, and follows several families and individuals as they struggle to survive in America’s heartland.’

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IDEX 2015: Arms exporters eye deals at Middle East’s largest defense show

Stanley Carvalho reports for Reuters:

‘International firms will scramble for new orders at the Middle East’s largest arms show which opens in Abu Dhabi next week as oil-rich Gulf states load up on weapons in a region rocked by instability and violence.

The Middle East is the largest market driver in the industry with billions of dollars spent annually on buying military equipment, from drones and jet fighters to guided missiles.

Around 1,200 companies from 55 countries are showcasing their latest military wares and technologies at the biennial International Defense Exhibition (IDEX), starting Sunday in Abu Dhabi, capital of the United Arab Emirates.’

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War College Study: “US Army officers lie” routinely

Jeremy Diamond reports for CNN:

Lying to Ourselves: Dishonesty... Cover ImageU.S. Army officers often resort to “evasion and deception,” and everyone at the Pentagon knows it, according to a new study conducted by the U.S. Army War College.

“In other words, in the routine performance of their duties as leaders and commanders, U.S. Army officers lie,” reads the study, which was conducted by the War College’s Strategic Studies Institute.

The 33-page report, compiled following interviews with officers across the Army, concluded that the Army’s culture is rife with “dishonesty and deception” at all levels of the institution — from the most junior members to senior Army officials.’

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Watching the Same Movie About American War for 75 Years

Peter Van Buren writes for TomDispatch:

‘In the age of the all-volunteer military and an endless stream of war zone losses and ties, it can be hard to keep Homeland enthusiasm up for perpetual war. After all, you don’t get a 9/11 every year to refresh those images of the barbarians at the airport departure gates. In the meantime, Americans are clearly finding it difficult to remain emotionally roiled up about our confusing wars in Syria and Iraq, the sputtering one in Afghanistan, and various raids, drone attacks, and minor conflicts elsewhere.

Fortunately, we have just the ticket, one that has been punched again and again for close to a century: Hollywood war movies (to which the Pentagon is always eager to lend a helping hand). American Sniper, which started out with the celebratory tagline “the most lethal sniper in U.S. history” and now has the tagline “the most successful war movie of all time,” is just the latest in a long line of films that have kept Americans on their war game. Think of them as war porn, meant to leave us perpetually hyped up. Now, grab some popcorn and settle back to enjoy the show.’

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Global Challenges: 12 Risks That Threaten Human Civilisation

The Global Challenges Foundation just issued a report on ’12 risks that threaten human civilisation':

12riskThis report has, to the best of the authors’ knowledge, created the first list of global risks with impacts that for all practical purposes can be called infinite. It is also the first structured overview of key events related to such risks and has tried to provide initial rough quantifications for the probabilities of these impacts.

With such a focus it may surprise some readers to find that the report’s essential aim is to inspire action and dialogue as well as an increased use of the methodologies used for risk assessment.

The real focus is not on the almost unimaginable impacts of the risks the report outlines. Its fundamental purpose is to encourage global collaboration and to use this new category of risk as a driver for innovation.

The idea that we face a number of global risks threatening the very basis of our civilisation at the beginning of the 21st century is well accepted in the scientific community, and is studied at a number of leading universities. But there is still no coordinated approach to address this group of risks and turn them into opportunities.’

READ THE FULL REPORT…

DARPA Working on Computer Vision

Sputnik reports:

DARPA cortical modem augmented realityThe United States military’s research and development agency is designing a brain interface to inject images directly into the human visual cortex via a “cortical modem” chip implanted in the brain. Think: Terminator vision.

The US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency announced the project at the Biology Is Technology conference in Silicon Valley last week.

DARPA, which h+ Magazine described as a “friendly, but somewhat crazy, rich uncle,” wants to build a device that could display images over a user’s natural vision without the need for glasses or similar technology.’

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