The Permanent War Economy: What’s Really Behind the U.S.-Saudi Military Alliance

Saudi security forces on parade. Photo - Al Jazeera

The historic $60 billion military “aid” package between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia is a classic example of the dangers of the American war machine

By: Anthony DiMaggio in FireDogLake

The historic $60 billion military “aid” package between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia is a classic example of the dangers of the American war machine. Al Jazeera reports that it represents the “largest ever U.S. deal to sell advanced fighter jets to Saudi Arabia.” The deal speaks to the vital role of U.S. imperial planers in committing massive resources to entrenched oil oligarchies in the Middle East. As is well known, these regimes are more interested in providing cheap oil to the U.S. than in allowing democratic representation for their people.

The new U.S.-Saudi agreement represents only the most recent attempt to prop up corruption throughout the region. This policy reaches back six and a half decades to the early efforts of FDR to establish ties to the fundamentalist medieval regime of Abdul Aziz bin Saud, the political and political founder of modern day Saudi Arabia. The forging of this relationship represented a blatant violation of FDR’s rhetoric in support of democracy and self-determination throughout the world. The Saud family’s support for an extreme interpretation of Islam known as Wahhabism (which persists in Saudi Arabia to this day) is a blatant violation of the notion of separating church and state, but this fact was deemed irrelevant in light of the Arabian Peninsula’s massive oil reserves. FDR and his successors paid little attention to harsh realities in Saudi Arabia: specifically its legalized slavery, its notorious repression of women, and its reliance on corporal punishment (in forms such as whipping and amputations for criminal offences such as stealing).

U.S. militarism abroad is also understood as intimately linked to corporate profiteering at home. In commenting on the permanent war economy, Lloyd Dumas argues that “the prevention of war may well require a re-orientation of priorities away from the military and toward the domestic economy…[peaceful]conversion [of the institutions of militarism] reaches into the economy and redirects human and capital resources from military to civilian-oriented activity.” Sadly, as Dumas reminds us, “today there are generations of managers, engineers, scientists, and production and maintenance workers whose employment experience includes little or nothing but military oriented work.” Rather than working in areas of the economy that contribute to human growth, this generation of military technocrats commit their energies to furthering American imperialism, greatly enriching a neocolonial system that places profits above human life and need.

The Wall Street Journal reports that “the [Obama] administration plans to tout the package as a major job creator – supporting at least 75,000 jobs – and sees the sale of advanced fighter jets and military helicopters to key Middle Eastern ally Riyadh as part of a broader policy aimed at shoring up Arab allies against Iran” (which has long been framed, contrary to all available intelligence, as a nuclear threat). The notion that the Iranian (non) threat will be countered by additional Saudi fighter jets and anti-ballistic missiles should strike any rational observer as insane, but the administration’s comments on the importance of the deal for the military industrial complex are instructive.

Military lobbyists provided more than $150 million in political contributions over the last decade, and these donations were distributed evenly across partisan lines. Like other corporate interests, military developers also exhibit tremendous political-economic power simply due to their power to hire and fire mass numbers of workers, thereby sustaining the U.S. manufacturing base.
Military projects such as the B-2 bomber are deliberately spread across most states in the union, thereby ensuring that most Congressional representatives retain a locally job-based economic interest in sustaining them. This broad-based commitment can border on the absurd (even in military planning terms), when reflecting upon a case like the “controversial” 2009 discontinuation of Lockheed’s F-22 raptor. The aircraft costs a whopping $227 million, and is nearly useless as a state-of-the art stealth fighter that sat on the sidelines in the non-battle between the U.S. military and defenseless punching bag of Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. Such logistical problems did not escape the attention of imperial planners. As the Washington Post reported about the F-22, the “top-fighter jet” required “more than 30 hours of maintenance for every hour in the skies, pushing its hourly cost of flying to more than $44,000, a far higher figure than for the warplane it replaces, confidential Pentagon test results show. The aircraft’s radar-absorbing metallic skin is the principal cause of its maintenance troubles, with unexpected shortcomings — such as vulnerability to rain and other abrasion — challenging Air Force and contractor technicians since the mid-1990s, according to Pentagon officials, internal documents and a former engineer.”

One might think that the revelation that the top American fighter jet can’t fly in the rain would be a major point of reflection for any competent imperialist. Then again, air superiority is not the only goal of such massive boondoggles. The F-22 was designed from the beginning to be too big to fail, in light of the $65 billion pumped into the program. This is a tidy sum, considering that the spending was distributed through more than 1,000 sub-contracts across more than forty states. Predictably, the cancellation of the project met strong resistance among Congressmen.

The wide basis in which military contracts are distributed across America provides a structural incentive for the perpetuation of the imperial military industrial complex. Other institutional connections work to ensure the preeminence of military spending priorities. One merely needs to look to Congress to see evidence of the process at work. Military contractors are much likely to contribute to those sitting on the House and Senate Armed Services and Defense Appropriations committees than those who are not on these committees. In the Senate, those officials who receive the largest sums from defense contract political action committees are almost twice as likely to support higher military spending when compared those who receive the least in contributions. Similarly, Congressional districts with defense committee leaders provide their constituencies with a 249 percent greater rate of defense projects than that received by districts without such leaders. In short, military contractor interests are well represented in the halls of Capitol Hill, and show no signs of subsiding in the foreseeable future.

Military contractors are also extremely shrewd in deciding where to locate manufacturing sites. Poorer rural districts are traditionally the most reliant on military funding, in part because they are characterized by low levels of worker organizing and unionization. This allows military producers greater leverage over negotiating pay and other benefits for workers. Military contractors also locate in poor rural areas because these locations are the least diversified when it comes to business activities. Fundamentally reliant on military contractors as the prime foundation for local economic activity, representatives from poor rural districts retain a distinct incentive to join defense-related committees. As recent data indicates, those members of Congress hailing from rural, poorer districts are twice as likely to join defense committees, compared to those from non-rural, wealthier districts.

In sum, the American military industrial complex is intricately interwoven into the halls of power in Washington. Its strong presence in Congress and throughout needy Congressional districts (in addition to its broad based presence across the vast majority of states) ensures that military spending will continue to receive a high priority in terms of national spending. Factor in U.S. imperial interests in the Middle East and around the world (and a continued reliance on cheap oil) and one has a recipe for the creation and maintenance of a permanent war economy.

An economy structured around neocolonialism and local clientelism/district-based pork barrel military spending represents a daunting challenge for those who would like to see a change in the status quo. Understanding the problem, however, is half the battle. Once Americans better understand exactly what they’re up against in confronting the military industrial complex, they will be in a better position to pressure their own representatives to redirect spending toward more productive endeavors. The time has come to re-prioritize our priorities away from destruction and toward helping those in need. Rather than sending billions of dollars in destructive hardware to corrupt oil-dictatorships, we owe it to those suffering without jobs and homes in current-day depressed America to work toward a better future for all.

Anthony DiMaggio is the editor of media-ocracy (, a daily online magazine devoted to the study of media, public opinion, and current events. He has taught U.S. and Global Politics at Illinois State University and North Central College, and is the author of When Media Goes to War (2010) and Mass Media, Mass Propaganda (2008). He can be reached at:


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