Years ago, I was running operations in an Asian country and trying to get a handle on the status of a particular nation’s effort to develop a new tank. After a decade of effort and massive expenditures, this country was no closer to having a working domestically-produced main battle tank than when it started. It seemed a colossal failure.
Then I realized I did not understand what was going on at all. I thought the goal was to produce an armored vehicle that could win wars and that the nation in question was failing miserably to achieve that goal. I was wrong. The goal was to make money, and at that, the military-industrial complex of this nation was succeeding brilliantly.
No tanks that could win a war had been produced. It was unclear if or when they ever would be. But a lot of people and very powerful corporations had made billions and were going to make billions more.
I had wondered how long this could go on. The answer was – forever.
All over America, people are dealing with the fallout from Afghanistan. They are wondering what it was all about. They are thinking of lost loved ones, shattered lives and mangled bodies and thinking – never again. We are collectively awash in a powerful mix of emotions, regret, anger, grief.
Not so in the halls of power where the uniformed bureaucrats and the leaders of the most powerful defense contractors on the planet decide the fate of young men and women who aspire to serve their nation and protect their fellow citizens.
You may think the lesson learned from Afghanistan is “never again.” They don’t think any such thing.
Afghanistan was a bonanza for American defense contractors. If you purchased $10,000 worth of stock on one of the top defense contractors right after 9/11 and held on to it, you would be looking at close to $100,000 today. That is a much greater return on investment than you would have realized from investments in the market as a whole. In fact, during the Afghanistan War, defense stocks outperformed the stock market overall by 58 percent.
You think we failed in Afghanistan. From the perspective of the boards of directors of the nation’s biggest defense contractors, which are full of retired senior military officers, the Afghanistan War was a massive success. They made a “killing.”
The United States of American spent $2.6 trillion in Afghanistan. A massive proportion of that money went straight into the coffers of defense contractors who fundamentally don’t care whether we won or lost or ever even knew what we were doing. They will build you a runway on the dark side of the Moon for the right price.
The spending in Afghanistan was only a small piece of a broader “war on terror” effort. The U.S. military has spent over $14 trillion since 9/11. Half of that has gone to defense contractors.
The world’s largest defense contractors, of which the vast majority are American, and their hirelings have no intention of living without that kind of cash. They will find a way to continue the spending and maintain the giant “self-licking ice cream cone” that is the military-industrial complex.
There are now 29 U.S. military bases in Africa alone. They span the continent and are located in 15 different nations. These bases are in addition to locations at which the U.S. military shares space with host nation military forces.
One of the bases in Africa is a drone base in Niger. It cost $100 million to build. It will cost $30 million a year to operate. We will have poured $280 million into this one facility alone by 2024.
American military officials are already talking to Central Asian countries and even Vladimir Putin about new American bases in Central Asia to help monitor and impact the Taliban from afar. Speculation has begun, almost incredibly, about when we will have to send troops back into Afghanistan. A new Marine base on Okinawa may never open but discussions have begun about starting from scratch on such a facility in Palau.
Worldwide we continue to operate close to 800 bases in over 70 countries. We still have troops in Syria. We still have troops in Iraq. A few years ago, a study found that U.S. special forces had carried out operations in 138 nations in 2016. That is 70% of the nations on the planet.
No sane person believes we can simply walk away from global commitments. Nobody who is paying attention would deny there is a massive threat from Communist China and an urgent need to redirect resources to meet it. Isolationism died a long time ago. The oceans are not walls behind which we can hide.
Our national security interests, however, do not include making American defense contractors rich or providing comfortable corporate jobs as landing pads for our generals and senior bureaucrats. When we spend money and allocate resources, we should do so to make our nation safer not to improve the price of stock. When we send brave young men and women to fight and die, we should do so because it is necessary to defend this great nation not to pad a corporate bottom line.
We spent twenty years in Afghanistan pursuing disastrous policies that harmed this nation while making a relative handful of powerful people rich. We must never repeat that mistake.
As retired Air Force lieutenant colonel Karen Kwiatkowski said in the 2005 documentary Why We Fight: “American people who have a son or a daughter that’s going to be deployed… they look at the cost-benefit, and they go ‘I don’t think that’s good.’ But when politicians who understand contracts, future contracts, when they look at war, they have a different cost-benefit analysis.”
For the defense contractors, it may be all about the money. It can never be about that for us as a nation.