The washington post recent investigation about how hundreds of former US military officials worked for repressive foreign governments like Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates is just the latest sign of how too often US foreign policy is determined by particular interests rather than the national interest. The investigation, supplemented by work by the Project on Government Oversight, was made possible by Freedom of Information Act lawsuits that forced the U.S. government to reveal at least some information about what the Post called rightly “foreign servants” among the elders. generals, admirals and others who went to work for the Gulf States and others for contracts often worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.
There is supposed to be a process for applying for permission to work for foreign entities that includes informing officials of former military service and seeking approval from the Department of State. But applications are generally approved, with the vast majority passing without complaint. Moreover, many former officials do not seek approval in the first place, but brag about their foreign ties on their LinkedIn pages and elsewhere. For its part, the administration seemed more concerned with protecting the “privacy” of former officials and protecting them from “embarrassment” or “harassment.” God forbid an ex-general is held to account in the court of public opinion for allowing regimes like Saudi Arabia to continue their brutal war in Yemen, let alone turn a blind eye to the Kingdom’s human rights abuses, including his murder of a US resident Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi.
The question now is whether the new revelations will lead to real reforms to the system allowing former US military officials to sell their services to the highest foreign bidder, or whether this will be a one-off situation that fades from public debate as other crises will attract public attention. . The issue needs to be addressed seriously, among other reasons because military leaders’ judgments of regimes like Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates can be colored by their knowledge that they can profit by working for those governments after leaving. the armed forces.
But the employment of former admirals and generals by foreign governments seeking to shape American foreign policy is only one element of a system that tips the balance in favor of an aggressive, militarized foreign policy. As the Government Control Project has amply documented in its database on the revolving door between government and the arms industry, hundreds of senior officials from the Pentagon, the National Security Council and Congress regularly go to work as lobbyists or consultants to major arms manufacturers after leaving the public service. They have a privileged track to promote the arms industry agenda through privileged access to former colleagues and special expertise in manipulating legislative and procurement processes. According to recent data from the organization Open Secrets, the arms industry as a whole job about 700 lobbyists each year, most of whom come from the halls of government.
And it is important to remember that the revolving door swings back and forth. Leaders of arms manufacturers often rise to high-level political decision-making positions in government, positions that allow them to defend the interests of their former employers. To cite just one glaring example, four of the last five secretaries of defense have come from one of the top five defense contractors – General Dynamics, Boeing or Raytheon.
Then there is the role of former military officials in shaping the media narrative on issues of war and peace. Former officers with ties to the arms industry are ubiquitous as expert guests discussing vital issues of war and peace, and their ties to the industry are rarely disclosed.
The influence of foreign governments and arms suppliers often goes hand in hand, as in the pressure exerted by companies like Raytheon and governments like Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to promote arms sales to the states of the Gulf. Some lobbyists, like former House Armed Services Committee Chairman Howard “Buck” Mckeon, have worked for both companies like Lockheed Martin and governments like Saudi Arabia. Add to that the important role of the Pentagon, contractors and foreign governments in funding major foreign policy think tanks, as my colleague Ben Freeman has documented in detail, and the potential for conflicts of interest that foster a militarized approach to US global policy have become painfully apparent.
It is high time that Congress took strong action to reduce the stranglehold of the arms industry and foreign governments in shaping debates on US foreign policy and national security policy more broadly. Without such reforms, the public will never know for sure whether decisions about our safety and security are based on objective assessments or skewed by local financial interests.