New US Pentagon Chief – Vested Interest in War & Conflict

New US Pentagon Chief – Vested Interest in War & Conflict from Strategic-Culture

Mark Esper is expected to be confirmed in coming days as the new US Secretary of Defense. His appointment is awaiting final Congressional approval after customary hearings this week before senators. The 55-year-old nominee put forward by President Trump was previously a decorated Lieutenant Colonel and has served in government office during the GW Bush administration.

But what stands out as his most conspicuous past occupation is working for seven years as a senior lobbyist for Raytheon, the US’ third biggest military manufacturing company. The firm specializes in missile-defense systems, including the Patriot, Iron Dome and the Aegis Ashore system (the latter in partnership with Lockheed Martin).

As Defense Secretary, Esper will be the most senior civilian executive member of the US government, next to the president, on overseeing military policy, including decisions about declaring war and deployment of American armed forces around the globe. His military counterpart at the Pentagon is Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, currently held by Marine General Joseph Dunford who is expected to be replaced soon by General Mark Milley (also in the process of senate hearings).

Esper’s confirmation hearings this week were pretty much a rubber-stamp procedure, receiving lame questioning from senators about his credentials and viewpoints. The only exception was Senator Elizabeth Warren, who slammed the potential “conflict of interest” due to his past lobbying service for Raytheon. She said it “smacks of corruption”. Other than her solitary objection, Esper was treated with kid gloves by other senators and his appointment is expected to be whistled through by next week. During hearings, the former lobbyist even pointedly refused to recuse himself of any matters involving Raytheon if he becomes the defense boss.

As Rolling Stone magazine quipped on Esper’s nomination, “it is as swampy as you’d expect”.

“President Trump’s Cabinet is already rife with corruption, stocked full of former lobbyists and other private industry power players who don’t seem to mind leveraging their government positions to enrich themselves personally. Esper should fit right in,” wrote Rolling Stone.

The linkage between officials in US government, the Pentagon and private manufacturers is a notorious example of “revolving door”. It is not unusual, or even remarkable, that individuals go from one sector to another and vice versa. That crony relationship is fundamental to the functioning of the “military-industrial complex” which dominates the entire American economy and the fiscal budget ($730 billion annually – half the total discretionary public spend by federal government).

Nevertheless, Esper is a particularly brazen embodiment of the revolving-door’s seamless connection.

Raytheon is a $25 billion company whose business is all about selling missile-defense systems. Its products have been deployed in dozens of countries, including in the Middle East, as well as Japan, Romania and, as of next year, Poland. It is in Raytheon’s vital vested interest to capitalize on alleged security threats from Iran, Russia, China and North Korea in order to sell “defense” systems to nations that then perceive a “threat” and need to be “protected”.

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