President Trump has turned into a merchant of weapons, coaxing nations to buy American weapons and warfare systems. Inevitably, modern U.S. presidents are obligated to support the manufacturers of warfare systems. The Republican presidents do it openly whereas the Democratic presidents do it through deceptive quietude. Trump has been most assertive in his rambunctious ways to push the sale of lethal weapons. (Recall how Trump, the realtor, boasts fooling Libya’s Gadhafi by overcharging him for pitching a tent on Trump’s New York City estate.) The U.S. warfare establishment sees war as a necessary evil that must always remain the prime factor in foreign policy.
The U.S. warfare establishment comprised of the Pentagon, CIA, White House, warfare industry and their lobbyists, imperial think-tanks (Heritage Foundation), warmongering theoreticians, and “hawkish” congressmen in the House and the Senate, all stimulate a culture of domestic and global fear to promote the making and vending of deadly weapons. Now for years, the war on terror has been used as a grand ploy less to fight the poorly-armed Muslim militants and more to hype the need for the nations’ “self-defense“ translated into the purchase of military aircrafts, missiles, bombs, tanks, and cyber warfare equipment.
The U.S. “defense” industry, an aggregation of hundreds of large and small companies, is a formidable juggernaut and part of the warfare establishment. It benefits when the establishment germinates, exasperates, and maintains potential and real wars across the globe.
The first victims of the warfare establishment are the American taxpayers, forced to disburse their hard-earned money to the Pentagon, a military hegemon that fritters away over $600 billion every year. The U.S. spends at least 20% of federal revenues on the military (whereas the education budget is less than 2%). On huge profits and soaring stocks, the top five companies in the warfare industry have multiplied their market capitalization by over 200%.
The U.S. warfare establishment adores Trump as a grandfatherly salesman to sell arms to a legion of countries, including Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Japan, South Korea, and India. In his first foreign visit, President Trump extracted from Saudi Arabia contracts for military equipment worth $100 billion. In his recent Asian trip to Japan and South Korea, Trump offered to sell “sophisticated military gear” so that these nations can defend themselves against North Korea, a country that has been carefully cultivated as a threat in the region. Consequently, Thaad missile defense launchers, missiles with payloads of up to 2,200 pounds, bunker-busting bombs, JAASM (long-range missiles), Spy-6 radar systems, and much more are for sale amounting to billions of dollars.
Congress first criticizes the arms deals that the president makes and then, after much sound and fury signifying nothing, approves them, leaving the impression among the simple-minded domestic and global audiences that the sale of military equipment is a favor that the U.S. does to its allies. Nothing is farther from the truth.
The warfare establishment is desperate to sell weapons, and worse, it has no moral qualms in fomenting international wars and civil insurrections in many parts of the planet. Wars sell weapons just as addictions sell drugs. A booming warfare industry creates jobs, wealth for shareholders, and supports the U.S. hegemonic policies. It also proves how the warfare establishment dupes the nations of the world.
Global Grand Plan
The grand plan to sell warfare systems openly to allies and secretly to adversaries consists of a shrewd strategy. For years, the warfare establishment studies potential conflicts involving nations that can afford to buy weapons. For example, Saudi Arabia has been identified as a perfect candidate to engage in warfare with its neighbors. Saudi Arabia has a vulnerable monarchy. It is rich. In addition to domestic vulnerabilities, the war in Yemen, the Shia-Sunni discord, the disagreements with Qatar and Lebanon, and many other trigger points force Saudi Arabia to buy expensive weapons.
Wars sell weapons just as addictions sell drugs.
Creating the dread of Iran as the most dangerous, terror-sponsoring nation in the world fits into the establishment narrative that Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf States need to arm themselves against domestic revolutions and external aggression, all of it allegedly Iran-sponsored. Ironically, the dread of Iran also forces Israel to buy the U.S. warfare systems. The dread of Iran is beneficial for some European states willing to sell arms to Iran, after a “wink-wink” opposition from the U.S. warfare establishment. If Iran is militarily strong, the U.S. can sell more arms to its allies. This logic is so simple that the simple-minded finds it incredible.
Likewise, North Korea as a bully state in the region is conducive to selling arms to Japan and South Korea. The warfare establishment has every reason to showcase North Korea as a crazy country that can attack neighboring states without reason or warning. A cornered and demonized North Korea displays craziness of its own making (which country wouldn’t under starvation pressures) but the warfare establishment blows it out of all proportion because the higher the dread, the higher the need for “defense” weapons that the U.S. warfare industry can sell for billions of dollars. To reinforce the dread of North Korea, the bogus conflict over the South China Sea is exaggerated to sell weapons to vulnerable states, including Taiwan.
As India emerges from poverty imposed by the British colonists and joins the top economies, the U.S. warfare establishment is drawing India into costly conflicts with China and Pakistan. The simmering territorial disputes with neighbors have been employed to persuade India to stand up to China and fight a cold war with Pakistan over Kashmir and Afghanistan. India has surged to the second biggest buyer of U.S. weapons.
President Trump, a guy seasoned in mischief, is a sharp merchant representing the warfare establishment for selling arms to nations of the world. Trump himself has no interest in minimizing international conflicts; and, moreover, the warfare establishment will not allow him to even think of a peaceful world where companies like Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon, General Dynamics, and L3 Technologies have no buyers.
An ungodly dog-eat-dog categorical imperative constructs an idyllic world for the U.S. warfare establishment to pursue hegemony, fake conciliations, and superpower duplicities. Some U.S. officials will play the role of peacemakers citing the Bible of love while the warfare establishment cooks and inflames deadly conflicts. “If you poison us, do we not die,” complains Shylock in The Merchant of Venice.
Ali Khan is the author of A Portfolio Theory of Foreign Affairs (2011).