The 2016 presidential elections are proving pivotal in U.S. history, although not just for the self-proclaimed socialist-democrat Bernie Sanders, the feminist squabble unfolding around Hillary Clinton, or the larger-than-life wild card Donald Trump.
The elections are revealing more dramatically than ever the corrosive effect of big money on the U.S.’s decayed democracy. In a country founded on the principle that every citizen has an equal voice and an equal vote, how is money stealing center stage in U.S. elections?
Following Citizens United v. FEC, SpeechNow.org vs. FEC, and McCutcheson v. FEC, corporations and the wealthiest in society have been granted the legal right to raise and spend as much money as they want on political candidates. The infamous super PACs and political nonprofit groups emerged in the wake of these cases. The 2012 elections were consequently the most expensive in U.S. history, and the 2016 elections are predicted to cost even more. Our country is in crisis as the voices of the 99% are lost to the rich, the powerful, and the few. But what does all of this money have to do with American militarism? Why do I as a member of the peace movement care, and why should other peace people care too?
I care because war is about money too. While millions of people all over the world are being killed and injured by wars and violence, a small few are making billions from the neverending war machine.
The military-industrial sector of the economy spends many millions on political campaigns, targeting House and Senate members who sit on the Armed Forces and Appropriations Committees. These manufacturers strategically have factories in every Congressional district so that they are favorable to members of Congress for providing jobs to their constituents. Due to their strong and strategic lobbying efforts, weapons manufacturers have secured the 5 largest contracts made by the federal government for the last 7 years. In 2014, the U.S. government gave a total of over $90 billion to Lockheed Martin, Boeing, General Dynamics, Raytheon, and Northrop Grumman. During the Iraq war, weapons manufacturers and a small group of other corporations that provided war related services made billions on contracts from the federal government. This included Halliburton, whose former CEO was Dick Cheney, the vice-president at the time who continued to receive money from the company as he helped Bush wage a costly, unjustified, and illegal war.
The power of these war profiteers is clear in the U.S. defense budget. Military and war spending has been one of the top three biggest federal programs since 2000. Billions of taxpayer dollars go towards Overseas Contingency Operations, a line item that first entered the federal budget process as a way for Bush to continue to fund the U.S. wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Despite widespread criticism, OCO funding continues to bypass spending caps and funnel unchecked money towards military spending, with the 2017 budget proposal including another $59 billion for the “Pentagon slush fund.” The amount spent on our military year after year is substantially greater than that on education or energy and environment. In a scathing article in U.S. Uncut, Tom Cahill points out that the same $1.45 trillion that the U.S. has spent on Lockheed Martin’s F-35 jets that are riddled with software and hardware issues could have provided tuition-free public higher education for every student in the U.S. for the next 23 years.
Given all of this, how can anyone justify war?
Some will say because of the jobs that the military creates, although a $1 billion investment in military spending creates only 11,600 jobs compared to 29,100 for the same investment in education. Some will say it’s to make U.S. citizens safer, although aggressive U.S. military response following 9/11–invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, NATO bombing of Libya, drone strikes in Pakistan and Yemen–has only further destabilized the region, opening the doors to Islamic terrorist groups like ISIS to harness control with the collapse of legitimate governments.
War is and always has been a money game played by a few but paid for by the rest. The U.S. Supreme Court has sold the freedom of its citizens to the greedy and the wealthy. Weapons manufacturers and other military-dependent corporations wine and dine elected officials to make sure war is prioritized above all else. And U.S. citizens pick up the trillion-dollar bill.
There will be no tip, but we’ve reached our tipping point. CODEPINK is joining hundreds of other endorsing organizations from the peace, labor, environment, Black Lives Matter, and other social justice movements along with thousands of individuals in a series of direct actions this April. In Democracy Spring / Democracy Awakening we are reclaiming our democracy and calling for big money out of politics. Join us to release the chokehold the military-industrial complex has on our political system, and to re-prioritize humanity & diplomacy over profit & death.
Rebecca Green is a CODEPINK outreach coordinator.