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The liberal industrial complex

By Michael Leverone
web posted April 14, 2003

You should have just called in sick Bob.

In a recent column, published April 10 in the New York Times, Bob Herbert unleashes his latest string of weary finko-contrarian nonsense that has come to typify neo-liberalism. When you can't rationalize, stigmatize! Instead of, perhaps, admitting that the Iraq War is not unfolding tragically, and that official predictions of a fast and smooth war are coming true, Herbert has chosen duck and cover rather than shock and awe us with humility.

Herbert regurgitates the argument, begun with Eisenhower's infamous 'Military-Industrial Complex' farewell, that defense contractors are dictating policy. The argument usually starts by making casual connections between high level government officials and large contractors, who themselves are usually run by former governmental officials.

"Jack Sheehan, a retired Marine Corps general, is a senior vice president at Bechtel [a large defense contractor]. He's also a member of the Defense Policy Board, a government-appointed group that advises the Pentagon on major defense issues."

Forgive me, but trial lawyers and environmental lobbyists hardly qualify for advising the Pentagon on defense matters. If a retired Marine Corps general is a scandalous choice for military council then who isn't? Then the argument usually notes MASSIVE amounts of money, meant to give the reader the impression that a few people are making allot of money on their tax dollars.

"The Center for Public Integrity, a private watchdog group in Washington, recently disclosed that of the 30 members of the [Defense Policy Board], at least 9 are linked to companies that have won more than $76 billion in defense contracts in 2001 and 2002."

Shocking! To think the Pentagon would overlook Starbucks when awarding contracts that require unimaginable technical, intellectual, and capital resources. Fact is, when you deal with contracts that require immense resources the list of possible candidates narrows. And one more news flash: $76 billion in government contracts is not much, considering.

"Most Americans have never heard of the Defense Policy Group. Its meetings are classified. The members disclose their business interests to the Pentagon, but that information is not available to the public."

Correct! Because the public includes al-Qaida, France, China, Iran, and North Korea (along with Americans). Point is, no one on that list has any need for the information that goes to the Pentagon. Trust me, I've seen some of this stuff, it's not that interesting.

"This iron web of relationships among powerful individuals inside and outside the government operates with very little public scrutiny and is saturated with conflicts of interest."

Powerful individuals get that way by knowing what they are talking about and achieving results (it appears that writing for The Times doesn't). This 'iron web' is built on trust, people who know up from down in the business of war. Knowledgeable people form policy and construct apparatuses that protect freedom.

Sorry Herbert, but you've not been invited to these meetings because you've got nothing to contribute; it's not just because they don't like you.

As an employee of a large defense contractor (translation: someone who knows a little about the subject) I'll advise Herbert, and other neo-liberals, to stick to the subjects they can speak to. Tell me about racial inequality, dilapidated schools, or welfare reform and I'll listen. Stumble through another slandering of defense contractors and that pretentious foot lands right back in your big mouths.

The facts:

Successful corporations in America can no longer depend on narrow business schemes. This is why Philip Morris makes cheese; diversification is key in today's economy. Defense contractors are no different, and as such, they are actually busy doing allot of things you might not know. The USDA, NASA, EPA, NIMA, and many other agencies that benefit America constantly depend on the defense industry for technology and research.

As one who has observed some of these 'secret meetings' that Herbert eloquently describes, the power in the room is most certainly not with the contractors. The assertion that private contractors dictate policy defies logic - power rests with the money; and the government has it. Defense Policy Boards, like Defense Science Boards and others, consist of numerous private sector entities pitching the Pentagon on ideas.

From Smallpox strategies to rebuilding Iraq, there are only a few companies in America that have the standing and capabilities to compete for these contracts. Ben and Jerry's just wouldn't know what to do with a burning oil well, and so when faced with an oil field set ablaze there is a short list of companies that can deal with it properly.

In the future I'd advise anyone else commenting on the diabolical defense contractors to do a little research before they make assumptions. These evil contractors don't eat money. They employ hundreds of thousands of Americans, they subcontract to hundreds of minority-owned businesses, and contribute millions of dollars to charities throughout the world.

These detestable contractors are also the epitome of ethical practices. As companies that deal closely in matters of national security we are constantly spot-audited by the federal government, and as such the industry is the quintessential picture of business ethics. What about those teacher's unions?

Furthermore, defense contractors protect the rights of all employees that are called into active military duty. All national guardsman, reservists, and active duty personnel are guaranteed a job when they return from protecting our people, and this puts tremendous strain on day to day business for the company.

Attacking the defense industry is a cheap shot for the uninformed, and a disservice to intelligent debate. If you're running out of war-related material to smear go back to griping about teachers' salaries. The defense industry does more for you than you could possibly know, and as such, perhaps just a 'thank you' would suffice.

Michael Leverone is a junior at American University.

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