May 23, 2015
Inside the Military-Industrial Complex
Posted on Oct 10, 2007
James Harris and Josh Scheer
Scheer: ... I know that recently [at] Santa Clara University, there were student groups who were starving themselves because of the university’s involvement in nuclear weapons and this kind of thing. You’re saying that it’s just a small part? So why would these students be kind of concerned about it, do you think?
Coyle: Well, they could be concerned on principle if they just don’t like the idea, no matter what it costs. But, usually the things that will draw protests are actually a relatively small part of the defense budget. The exception these days, of course, being the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Harris: With due respect, you have just in conversation mentioned over a trillion dollars. And we’re just getting started.
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Harris: Does the military have carte blanche to spend what they want to spend, develop what they want to develop, and no one is going to ask a question. Is that a safe assumption? Is that a safe statement? No one is going to question these things.
Coyle: I don’t think it is; I don’t think that’s correct. As the old saying goes, the president of the United States proposes, and the U.S. Congress disposes. So if the Congress doesn’t appropriate the money, if they don’t authorize the funds, it won’t happen. Now, unfortunately with respect to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, right now, Congress, the majority of the Congress, is trying not to authorize what the president wants, but unfortunately they don’t have the votes to make it happen.
Scheer: It’s strange though, because again, talking about this with a lot of people, Congress, their staffers, seem to be getting government jobs. The congressmen can become lobbyists, no one wants to be against defense, there is a kind of a carte blanche, a little bit, to do this, because there’s no oversight from Congress, and there’s no, these defense contractors are pitching something that people want. They want defense and they don’t want to sacrifice that need, right?
Coyle: Exactly. If you ask in the context of missile defense or any other defense program, if you ask most Americans, shouldn’t we defend ourselves? They say, in polls, they say yes. It’s only when you start to talk about the difficulty, or the cost, of a program that then American voters will say, “Well, wait a minute, I didn’t realize that.”
Scheer: And besides some groups like yours and other arms trade research, and even OMB watch, and other of these groups, there’s no one in Congress really going in and saying, there are some that are doing oversight, but it’s really these private institutions that are doing all the oversight, right?
Coyle: That’s where a lot of it comes from. The Congress does have investigative powers but they were not using them as aggressively, prior to last November.
Scheer: How much lobbying do you think the universities do? Because I know with Lockheed and Halliburton, obviously, they have powerful lobbies; they have the whole revolving-door policy where they are hiring people, congressmen, or people in the Pentagon. What do you think the universities are doing? Do they lobby as much, or are they just so trusted to get the job done, say, with Livermore or with roboflies, that they are just getting these contracts?
Coyle: It’s quite different for universities, any university, whether you’re talking about the University of California or the University of Pennsylvania. Big contractors like Boeing and Lockheed and so forth have large Washington offices and very substantial lobbying budgets. Universities do not have, they may have a Washington office but most universities don’t. Some do but they usually are small, a handful of people and very limited budgets. And the way they operate is quite different. Universities are obviously interested in their own futures, but they’re also trying to give straight answers to straight questions.
Scheer: Yeah, but it is interesting because in this last thing in May that James was talking about earlier about Lockheed, Lockheed was in that running and the university beat them out. So it is interesting that the University of California could beat out that major player in Washington. I guess the government trusts them, right? Would that be correct?
Coyle: I think that’s correct, yeah.
Scheer: It makes you wonder what they think about Lockheed, but. ...
Harris: They must love Lockheed. They spend tons and tons of money with Lockheed. Philip, it seems that as we hear more and more about private entities, as we hear about private entities and corporate America running amuck, does the government need to take more responsibility for the money that is being spent, and for the way it is being spent, because the groups that are doing it now seem like they are spending a lot of money and don’t have a lot of accountability for how that money is being spent.
Coyle: I think the Blackwater case is a very interesting one because it appears that they did not have to operate under the same rules as other security contractors who were there in Iraq. And there’s a long complicated story about how that came about, but nevertheless, our government ought to know what rules these contractors are operating under. And examine whether it’s right for some contractors to basically have no rules and others to have lots of rules.
Harris: Do you think some of the inconsistencies that exist in Blackwater and related organizations? Do you think those things are true for companies like Boeing and Lockheed that do major services for us on the military-defense end?
Coyle: I think the situation with Blackwater is quite special because, you know, it was involving, providing security in Iraq, which is a very difficult place to provide security. I don’t believe that Lockheed does that kind of work; I don’t think Boeing does that kind of work. But that doesn’t mean that greater oversight isn’t appropriate for those kinds of defense contractors, also. They spend billions and billions of dollars, and if the government is going to be a good customer, the government needs to know how its money is being spent.
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