By Andrew Thornebrooke
Concerns over incentivizing global conflicts are rising as the Biden administration requests more than $105 billion in supplemental security spending.
The administration says the money, primarily for Israel and Ukraine, will be good for the economy.
President Joe Biden has described the mammoth spending package as “a smart investment” that will “pay dividends” to U.S. security interests.
Likewise, Assistant Secretary of State James O’Brien described the supplemental as “a very good bargain.”
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said the money will “flow through our defense industrial base, creating American jobs in more than 30 states.”
However, many are skeptical of the administration’s claims and believe that the massive investment in the defense industry will squander the nation’s ability to adequately address social and infrastructure needs.
Presidential hopeful Robert Kennedy Jr. is among them.
“Creating jobs is a poor excuse for a foreign policy that wreaks mayhem around the world,” Mr. Kennedy told The Epoch Times in an email.
“If we want to increase employment in good manufacturing and construction jobs, instead of making weapons we should repair our infrastructure and manufacture products that actually serve human well-being.”
Defense Contractor Windfall
Numerous analysts believe that the administration’s supplemental spending request, in addition to its record-breaking defense funding, would effectively serve as a massive transfer of wealth to the defense sector from U.S. taxpayers.
Stephen Semler, co-founder of the Security Policy Reform Institute think tank, said defense contractors stand to reap billions from the administration’s requested supplemental spending request, which would go “mostly to just a few companies.”
“Based on my estimate, the proposal would produce $60 billion in revenue for private-sector military contractors,” Mr. Semler said in an email.
Whether those billions of dollars will adequately serve the national interest is an open question. To that end, he said the Biden administration is now “selling” the spending package as an economic boon because most people won’t believe it would improve national security interests abroad.
“If people don’t buy the foreign policy argument for spending $106 billion, the thinking goes, maybe they’ll support it if it’s framed as domestic policy,” Mr. Semler said.
Citing research from the Costs of War project at Brown University, his research suggests that shifting $100 billion to the energy or infrastructure sectors from the defense budget could create 290,000 jobs.
As such, the supplemental spending request may actively erode the United States’ ability to create more jobs that would have a positive effect on American prosperity and well-being.
The larger issue is the record-breaking defense spending undertaken by the administration and Congress, culminating with last year’s record-largest defense budget, according to Mr. Semler.
President Biden’s domestic spending efforts, notably the 2021 Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, pale in comparison to the sums now being fed to the national defense apparatus.
“Between Biden’s foreign aid plan and the fiscal year 2024 Pentagon budget, I think military contractors can expect $559 billion,” Mr. Semler said.
“By comparison, Biden’s flagship infrastructure bill spends $548 billion over five years.”
Defense Lobby Incentivizing Conflict
A key concern of Mr. Semler and others is the continued incentivization of conflict, in which the defense industrial base may directly or indirectly work to prolong conflicts in an effort to maximize its economic gains.
He pointed to the defense base’s “army of lobbyists,” which pressures the U.S. government to adopt hawkish policies and spending habits in the interest of their for-profit companies.
“When the U.S. buys weapons, it’s empowering a particular set of businesses whose bottom lines depend on the U.S. either making war or preparing for it,” Mr. Semler said. “These firms then redirect a share of their profits back into the political system in an attempt to steer national policy toward more war.
“The only surefire winners are military contractors, so we know what they’ll be pushing for.”
Last year, U.S. defense companies spent more than $128 million on lobbying efforts.
The effort included the employment of more than 845 lobbyists, some 72 percent of whom previously worked in government, mostly in the Pentagon or for the House and Senate Armed Services Committees.
Those lobbyists don’t just grease the palms of politicians; they influence the formulation of policy itself through massive cash injections to defense-focused think tanks.
A report published by the Center for International Policy think tank found that government and defense contractors spent more than $1 billion on think tanks from 2014 to 2019.
The top recipients of this funding were the RAND Corporation, the Center for a New American Security, and the New America Foundation, which together brought in more than 600 different donations from U.S. government or defense contractors.
“The top funders from the U.S. government were the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the Air Force, the Army, the Department of Homeland Security, and the State Department,” the report reads.
“The defense contractors contributing the most to these think tanks were Northrop Grumman, Raytheon, Boeing, Lockheed Martin, and Airbus.”
Relatedly, Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Raytheon, and Northrop Grumman were the fourth, fifth, sixth, and seventh largest corporate lobbyists in 2020.
In 2022, the four companies hired a combined 259 former government employees who now work as lobbyists, executives, directors, board members, and trustees.
“Of course, policymaking will always be influenced by ideologies,” Mr. Semler said. “We’ve all got one. But allowing the profit motivations of weapons companies to hold sway over decisions about war and peace is a different beast entirely.
“Some people don’t think this massive redistribution of wealth from taxpayers to private military contractors is a problem. I think it is.”
The issue of war profiteering isn’t limited to the executive branch.
Indeed, the revolving door between Congress and the defense lobby is wide, and the real-world policy implications of the administration’s proposed spending will ultimately be realized by the House and Senate.
However, big money has big consequences for members of Congress who rely on agreeable think tanks and also keeping defense sector jobs in their districts to stay in office.
As such, continued congressional support for the Israel–Hamas war, the Russia–Ukraine war, and elsewhere is unlikely to radically shift without a great deal of unrest among voters.
“U.S.-backed wars, from Iraq and Afghanistan to Ukraine and Gaza, have direct ramifications for the U.S. defense sector,” said Antony Loewenstein, an independent journalist and filmmaker who was based in East Jerusalem between 2016 and 2020.
“It’s partly why so few U.S. congressmen and women are willing to challenge the military-industrial complex, because it potentially brings jobs to their district.”
The Epoch Times requested comment on the issue from 31 members of Congress, including the chair and ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee. One responded.
A spokesperson for the office of Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) directed The Epoch Times to Mr. Paul’s heated exchange with Mr. O’Brien on the issue of supplemental security funding.
At that time, Mr. Paul said the administration was “fomenting a war” to increase profits for defense corporations.
“So really, it’s a justification of war,” Mr. Paul said.
“To me, that’s sort of reprehensible. The idea that … the armaments industry is going to get billions of dollars out of this.”
Biden Risks Base with Continued Wars
The Biden administration’s decision to obfuscate the types of weapons platforms it’s sending to Israel—it previously maintained some transparency in Ukraine—makes things worse, according to Mr. Loewenstein.
“It’s almost as if elements of the White House prefer secrecy to sunlight,” he said.
One reason for the opacity may be the decreasing popularity of the Biden administration and its continued funding of foreign wars.
President Biden has an approval rating of just 39 percent among Americans, according to Reuters polling.
That same polling found that the economy has been the most important issue to Americans for the past 113 consecutive weeks, perhaps hinting at the administration’s efforts to rebrand the supplemental security request as a domestic priority.
Continued Pentagon Audit Failures
To be sure, it can be difficult to tell where legitimate security concerns end and war profiteering begins. Further complicating that complexity is the Pentagon’s inability to account for its spending.
As of this month, the Pentagon has failed to get a passing grade on an auditing of its accounting for the sixth year in a row.
Only seven of the Pentagon’s 29 sub-agencies received a passing grade, presenting no improvement from the previous year. The systems that track $3.8 trillion in military assets fail to do what they are supposed to do, an independent audit shows.
That’s a real problem, given the fact that the supplemental request doesn’t aim to provide money to embattled nations or sell them arms but rather to directly transfer old arms and then hand the money to American defense corporations to replace them.
The lack of transparency by the administration, the Pentagon, and the associated defense companies could therefore encourage a more general lack of accountability by U.S. leadership for ongoing violence in the foreign wars it funds, according to William Astore, a retired U.S. Air Force lieutenant colonel.
Like Mr. Semler, Lt. Col. Astore suggested that the administration should invest in more and better jobs at home and pull back from knee-jerk defense spending.
It’s an issue that every American should care about, he said, because the nation will be stronger if that funding is directed somewhere else.
“Americans should care,” Lt. Col. Astore said, “because we as a country can create more jobs by investing in America rather than exporting deadly weaponry worldwide.”
The Eisenhower Moment
Lt. Col. Astore referred to former President and retired five-star General Dwight D. Eisenhower, who in a 1953 speech urged against reckless military spending following World War II and the Korean War, when such dollars could be spent on infrastructure that would improve the prosperity and well-being of Americans instead.
It was President Eisenhower again, in his 1961 farewell address, who coined the term “military-industrial complex.”
A massive and permanent military was “new in the American experience,” and quite ironically, could threaten the nation’s continued security and liberty if overinflated in the pursuit of security and liberty, according to President Eisenhower.
It’s just such an apparatus that concerns Mr. Kennedy, Mr. Semler, Mr. Loewenstein, and Lt. Col. Astore.
For President Eisenhower, there was one solution to a runaway military-industrial complex: The power of an informed electorate.
“We must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex,” he said. “The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.
“Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.”
Officials from the White House, State Department, and Pentagon didn’t respond by press time to requests by The Epoch Times for comment.