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A Never-Ending Loop

April 12, 2015

“Understandably proud of this pre-eminence, we yet realize that America’s leadership and prestige depend, not merely upon our unmatched material progress, riches and military strength, but on how we use our power in the interests of world peace and human betterment.”

– President Dwight D. Eisenhower

In case you’ve not been paying attention, things have heated up in the Arabian Peninsula land called Yemen. It’s history is short on peace. Like any number of places in that part of the world, security, harmony and human rights aren’t held dear by those in power and are withheld from all others. Today’s war involves a long list of parties:

  1. A Shia-Muslim group calling themselves Houthis (“Partisans of God”);
  2. Supporters of the country’s most recent president, Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi, who was elected with 99.8% of the vote in a one-person ballot;
  3. Supporters of the country’s president in office immediately before Hadi, Ali Abdullah Seleh, a corrupt military man who held the top office for thirty-three years even though he never made it through elementary school;
  4. Iran, the most powerful Shia-Muslim country in the world, who according to the U.S. is supporting the Partisans of God;
  5. Saudi Arabia, the most powerful Sunni-Muslim country in the world, who is leading airstrikes against the Partisans of God;
  6. Eight other countries who are supporting the Saudi’s efforts, including Egypt, Quatar, UAE, Bahrain, Morroco, Sudan, Jordan and Kuwait;
  7. Al Qaeda in Yemen (“The Foundation”), who you may recall killed seventeen US sailors in 2000, when it blew a hole in the U.S.S. Cole, bombed the U.S. Embassy in Aden, Yemen in 2008, and sponsored an unsuccessful crash of a U.S. commercial jet headed to Detroit on Christmas Day 2009; and
  8. The self-proclaimed Islamic State, a Salafi-Muslim group whose allegiance to a book written in the seventh century requires them to kill or enslave anyone and everyone who does not hold their religious beliefs.

Confusing, isn’t it?

Russia is on the sidelines for now, but remains open to future involvement. China is also being coy. It has long economic investments and ties with Yemen to secure oil supplies, but has also kept an open communication with the Partisans of God.

The U.S. has long ties with Yemen, that’s why the U.S.S. Cole was anchored there. Seleh was quick to join George Bush’s war on terror after Al Qaeda’s September 2001 murderous attacks in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania. Seleh’s and his kleptomaniac cronies are gone and so are the materials that we sent to Yemen. The Pentagon recently conceded that a half-billion dollars of weapons and other military items are unaccounted for and could very well be now held by the Partisans of God, The Foundation, Iranians, or the self-proclaimed Islamic State, among others. They don’t exactly know.

These mishaps seem to repeat themselves. The most powerful military the world has ever known simply can’t keep track of the stuff we buy for them. Just in the past few years, military gear has been compromised in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria and Somalia.

It seems almost certain this would happen in Yemen. The rotten place is abound with desperation and poverty and shackled by corrupt and unscrupulous bullies armed with guns. Rampant blind loyalty to a religion and to sects that cannot accept others makes it certain that the U.S. weapons were targeted before they arrived.

150406083013-01-yemen-unrest-0406-restricted-super-169

Children are armed for war in Yemen. http://www.cnn.com

Guns of every shape and size are everywhere in Yemen – American, Russian, Chinese. They are part of the Yemenis’ self-identities. Yemenis shoot guns when they are happy and they shoot them to kill. They teach their kids to use guns early and then send them to battle. A UNICEF official estimates that one-third of fighters in Yemen are children.

The only thing better to a Yemeni than a big gun is a bigger gun. There are more guns per capita in Yemen than anywhere else in the world. Except for here. Americans evidently like their guns more than even people in war-torn Yemeni.

For the time being, the U.S. is staying out of this conflict. Well, almost. We’ve helped the Saudi’s with jet refueling logistics and are talking about expediting an order for more weapons to Saudi Arabia. You’d think that there’s not much more that we need to do, since we’ve already armed every one of the countries participating in the air strikes. The Saudis alone received $90 billion in weapons deals from the U.S. in the four years ended October 2014, including fighter jets now being used in Yemen. Last fall, more $26 billion of helicopters were sold to Saudi Arabia. Nonetheless, John Kerry has warned Iran to clear out and says that we will “not stand by” without doing something to further dissuade them.

Most of us have no idea about planning for a war or executing battles. I certainly don’t. But it seems self-evident that the poor management of these weapons and the proliferation into every merciless corner of the world is bound to create a never-ending loop of deadly conflict. Americans want better than this. Young men and women who commit themselves to our military deserve better.

I have no solution to offer for these places or for dealing with the Middle East. How could an outsider like me know? It’s a snake pit that has bedeviled the best, even those with good intentions. It can not be claimed that armaments haven’t been tried, however. Military aid from every corner of the world has been pouring into the Middle East for decades. Desperate and damaged people, as well as the psychopaths among them, have been armed with enough weapons to decimate entire countries and kill millions. We will hear people make the case that it’s time to send more.

*********

The large defense contractors couldn’t be happier to see these ongoing wars. Their careers and livelihoods depend on it. They don’t even try to hide their glee and satisfaction with war. Take the CEO of Lockheed. She is a baby boomer named by Forbes as one of their favorites and she is widely adored on Wall Street. She earned $25 million in 2013 when she took over as the company’s lead executive. One of Lockheed’s strategic initiatives is to increase its foreign military sales to 25% of the company’s total revenue. She explains here to a Wall Street analyst how she sees the disorder around the globe.

Even if there may be some kind of deal that is done with Iran, there is volatility all around the region and each one of these countries believes they’ve got to protect their citizens and the things that we can bring to them help in that regard. So similarly, that’s the Middle East. And I know that’s what you asked about, but you can take that same argument to the Asia-Pacific region, which is another growth area for us. A lot of volatility, a lot of instability, a lot of things that are happening both with North Korea as well as some of the tensions between China and Japan. So in both of those regions, which are growth areas for us, we expect that there is going to continue to be opportunities for us to bring our capabilities to them.

For an even more chilling experience and hear her talk about the company’s bright future, go to the recording of Lockheed’s fourth quarter 2014 earnings forecast. The excerpt above can be heard at 56:38. I would guess that she and the company’s other executives don’t sweat these events, since the stock price has increased by nearly a third in the past year. What else could Wall Street expect?

These are the people who Eisenhower warned about in his last presidential address to the country in 1961. Eisenhower, who joined the military in 1921 and rose to the position of Supreme Allied Commander in Europe during World War II, held that the military industrial complex would make its mark on America if it was not held in check.

This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence — economic, political, even spiritual — is felt in every city, every State house, every office of the Federal government. We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources and livelihood are all involved; so is the very structure of our society.

In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.

We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.

Lockheed and the other military contractors have created hellish lives for a large part of the world’s population, especially when their weapons end up in the wrong hands. By charter and the very nature of their venture, they are indifferent to misery. Cash is king. Weapons losses like those in Yemen create more demand for their products. War combined with corruption is good business.

I have no illusion that companies like Lockheed don’t directly contribute to the defense of our borders and to my safe and soft days here in California. I know that our borders are more secure because of the mighty machines that they build. But still…

 

 

 

40 Comments
  1. That’s quite a piece you wrote, Bruce. Perfect title for the never-ending conflict.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Kelly. As for the title, I wrote the blog post and had no title. No big deal, but it didn’t seem right to name it “someone lost their guns in Yemen” or such. It sat empty and I concluded while tending to something else. It just came seemed like the obvious point at that time.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. It is indeed very chilling to hear someone refer to these historically troubled and conflicted countries as ‘growth areas’ in business terms. Quite shameful. Thank you Bruce for this well informed piece.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It does, Rebecca. And this was in an earnings call, open to the world to hear. Imagine how it sounds during management meetings or in informal interactions over coffee in their offices.

      Like

  3. Thanks for your comprehensive article, Bruce. In the end, it all comes down to profits over people.

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    • Thank you, Rosaliene. Money matters to the weapons manufacturers. Wars need weapons. Seems like a ready market. Yemenis may have preferences for US-made, but in the end however, they will buy or steal the guns from wherever they can.

      Like

  4. Like you, I have no answers, but I enjoyed reading through your article and getting a better sense of some of the issues. You’ve obviously done your research on the subject. Some days, I struggle to turn on the news. But I do. And it never seems to get any better…

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    • Hi Carrie.

      Oh yes. The news stations are full of despair, fear, greed and desires. And that’s just from the incessant string of commercials. It gets even worse once the “news,” “analysis” and images begin.

      Like

  5. You put a lot of thought and research into this article, Bruce. Also, you post came at me from an angle I don’t usually consider. Thank you, I really enjoyed reading your perspective.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you. The topic is complex and no matter how obvious any of the responses or answers might seem, there are always long lists of considerations and potential unintended consequences right behind. Decades worth of these now.

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  6. It is so hard for me to keep track of who’s who in the Middle East. Thank you for providing your field guide to the Yemeni conflict.

    Eisenhower was misunderestimated 😉

    Liked by 2 people

    • Elyse, The crazy thing about this roster is that it is likely so far from complete. There must be other countries in the background and layers of sects, and sub-sects and tribes involved.

      Yes, Ike may be misunderestimated. :/ He was a decider long before hanging chads. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Thanks for explaining the, in some ways, unexplainable. I find it all so indescribably sad, and yet, also extremely scary. Whatever happens in Yemen could (will) most definitely affect the rest of the world. And we’ll all be armed to the teeth to kill each other (can’t believe I just wrote that, and you wrote it much better). Depressing.

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  8. Scary stuff, Bruce. And you are right, it happens over and over again, with basically one objective: destabilizing the world to maximize profits regardless of the cost in human lives. War crimes comes to mind. And the Krupps of Germany in World War II. –Curt

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    • Lockheed and the others win when the wars break out. They are only too happy to fill the orders and cash the checks. Policy decisions open the doors for them. Psychopaths and other dangerous people set the table for the policy makers. And we elect some of these policy makers. Sometimes, even after we’ve given them a term or more in office. A never-ending loop.

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  9. That was quite a head-spinning post, Bruce. I have long thought that the world went from bad to worse thanks to George W. Bush’s obscene mishandling of 9/11. In the aftermath of the attacks, I recall riding on a bus down Fifth Avenue where all the businesses, many which were not based in the US, flew American flags side by side with those of their nations. It was very heartwarming to see such solidarity. Then, Dick Cheney’s puppet, GWB, distorts the attacks, lays the blame on Saddam Hussein who had nothing to do with what happened, let Osama bin Laden get away when we could have captured him in Afghanistan, and created this mega-horrorshow where we invade Iraq and greedy hawks like Cheney pocket megamillions off this downhill slide in US credibility that has only succeeded in fostering more and worst terrorism. Every day I ride the subway to and from work it’s in the back of my mind that some disgruntled home grown idiot enamored with ISIS (or ISIL, take your pick) will strap a bomb made out of cow shit onto himself and detonate it on the train in the name of jihad because he hates slinging hash in the corner bodega and he’s too much of a loser to get laid. Poppy Bush, like Ike, who served in WWII, understood the consequences of war. Bush 2 and Cheney, one a basic draft dodger and the second, a genuine draft dodger, don’t. And they’re the ones who have made this world infinitely unsafer trying to upstage Shrub’s daddy who had the sense to not proceed deeper in the first Gulf war. Ike must be doing back flips of fury in his grave.

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    • The lead-up to the invasions was a dark period. It was so full of lies and deception. Our military, no matter how powerful and skilled that it might be, was then put into an impossible position by the strategies and intentions of our policy makers. Now, all these years later we are still dealing with the consequences.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I completely agree. This illustrates why voting for president is so important. If the guy who won the popular vote in 2000, who served in Vietnam, had been running the country I think it’s possible that 9/11 might not have happened, or if it did, no way would it have been exploited to invade Iraq. Thanks to a right wing leaning Supreme Court giving the presidency to Bush, that bit the US, and by extension, the entire Western world, hard. My friends who voted for Nader that year look back and feel lousy about that decision. They should.

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        • One would hope Nader would feel the same way. Not even close. Not his way. Gore had his own limitations, but could there have ever been time for people to see through the differences between campaigns and ability to work through the issues? Set aside 2000 however. Is it really possible that we sent the crew back for four more years?

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          • Gore ran a horrible campaign. As for the fiasco of 2004, how did that happen? Several of my friends who feel disgusted with politics don’t bother to vote. I tell them, “If you don’t vote, don’t bitch.” I love to bitch. Unrealated: I hope that your site is getting some traffic from mine. I linked you to this week’s LA.

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  10. The simple reality is that the only thing that can change this entire dynamic is that if America were to withdraw from the world. An idea I would like to see become reality. Not in the sense that we would isolate ourselves as the Hermit Kingdom does, but that we would no longer be the world’s policeman, that we would no longer have a foreign policy that “requires” us to intervene anywhere and everywhere. There are so many places in the world that we will not change, cannot change, and should not try to change. We need to stop fighting other people’s battles, or picking sides in other people’s battles and limit our interventions only to those places and situations where our survival or security truly is at risk.

    I also had this thought as I read your description of all of the groups at play in Yemen. There are many countries in the Middle East and Africa just like Yemen. I wonder if the idea of “country” simply is unworkable in those areas. It’s kind of like Yugoslavia. As long as Tito was in control, Yugoslavia had a strongman leader who kept all of the factions and groups and religions in check, but as soon as he died, it all unraveled and Yugoslavia is now how many countries? I think the reality is, and it’s one that far too many in this country doesn’t get, that democracy actually doesn’t work every where. At least not right at this moment. There are things that have to happen, institutions that need to be developed, leaders who need to take chances, all sorts of things … before democracy can take hold. And maybe, just maybe, democracy isn’t the best governing system everywhere in the world.

    Like

  11. John K permalink

    Ike’s prophecy is so on target and now chilling real and accepted as business as usual . The way she talks of it as a business opportunity is shocking when one thinks of the misery and destruction these weapons unleash on so many innocent and undeserving people. Great post Bruce

    Like

    • One would need special training to talk like this. In the end however, it seems to me to start with the insane and dangerous people advancing their own ignorant agendas on the ground in Yemen and other places Lockheed’s weapons are used. These are the people who are the most accountable. Without them, Lockheed could pivot to commercial jet liners. The kind we used to board for long summer weekend get togethers.

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  12. Excellent post Bruce. Thanks for your research and truth. Weapons in the hands of children and fools is a scary image and it’s not always easy to sort out the good guys these days. The arms we supplied in Afghanistan in the 80’s where surely used against us in the more recent past. Beating swords into plowshares does not seem to be in our immediate future.

    I cannot imagine a present day leader using his farewell speech to warn us as Ike did. For a military man it would have been hard not to be corrupted by the influence peddlers. I’m sure he could have taken a position with the Lockheeds of the day and lined his pockets with cash. A true leader. We could use some of that now. I noticed how he seemed unassuming of his look and delivery and trusted his audience would see past his stumbles into the content. Can we say he would be electable today?

    Again, thanks for that post.

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    • Hello GB. I too noticed Ike’s delivery. (Clumsy, but smoother than W.’s. and no smirk.) No cynicism about the viewers and a seriousness befitting of a 4-star general. He’d have been an outcast in his own party during the Reagan years, just as Reagan wouldn’t be taken seriously by today’s party powerful.

      Like

  13. Very good post. Excellent exegesis of what you rightly call, a never ending loop. I just tweeted a link to it to my twitter followers. Thank you.

    Like

    • Thank you, Matt. Welcome back. Your trip sounds exhausting.

      It’s hard to see how any of these entrenched conflicts end soon, if ever.

      Like

  14. Maybe it’s my cynicism raising its persistent head, but one part of this post I reacted to is how the media fails to report right now that the US *is* involved. The US has been bombing in Yemen pretty heavily since 2010, and the first drone strikes began more than a decade ago. Disturbing on multiple levels, and the first obvious one being whether the masses are satisfied that the use of drones means we are not actually involved? Or does it mean that our news sources are complicit in protecting our government from public criticism? Yikes, I think I just scared myself.

    Bruce, your insights are always thought-provoking. You are not a person to avoid difficult topics, and you encourage your readers to think about them with you. I appreciate this greatly.

    Like

  15. “Today’s war…”

    Two simple words characterize our present world.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. “I have no solution to offer for these places or for dealing with the Middle East.>

    Neither do I. Neither do they. Seems there is none.

    Like

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