Governing Under the Influence: Are Pentagon Contractors Driving U.S. Foreign Policy?

Kevin Rutledge on November 02, 2015

Lawrence Wilkerson, retired U.S. Army colonel and former chief of staff to U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, was on a speaking tour with AFSC's GUI project in Iowa to educate first-in-the-nation caucus goers about the excessive political influence from private weapons manufacturers in the decision making process. These manufacturers earn tremendous profits from multi-billion dollar contracts for seemingly interminable war.

Lawrence Wilkerson, retired U.S. Army colonel and former chief of staff to U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, joined AFSC on a speaking tour titled “Governing Under the Influence: Are Pentagon contractors driving U.S. foreign policy?” from October 21 – 23 at Iowa State University, Drake University, Central College, and University of Iowa.

AFSC’s Governing Under the Influence project in Iowa invited Col. Wilkerson to speak and educate our first-in-the-nation caucus goers about the excessive political influence from private weapons manufacturers in the decision making process.  These manufacturers earn tremendous profits from multi-billion dollar contracts for seemingly interminable war.

After Kathleen’s op-ed, Time to stop governing under the influence, was published in The Des Moines Register, the former colonel and current professor at College of William and Mary in Virginia embarked on the tour in his 50th state.

“We have militarized the decision making process,” said Col. Wilkerson, calling attention to how Washington D.C. calls for war more often than peace.  Wilkerson reiterated President Eisenhower’s warning from 54 years ago about the growing influence of the military-industrial complex.  After 14 years of war, these massive weapons contractors are profiting now more than ever.

“In fiscal year 2013, the American people were taxed and spent $1.2 – $1.3 trillion for this idea of national security…most Americans don’t know that. This is a tremendous amount of money, and it is money by and large not being spent on any strategic purpose,” said Col. Wilkerson on Iowa Public Radio.  Along with almost $500 billion in the Pentagon budget, this includes nuclear programs in the Department of Energy, the Veterans Administration, the Intelligence budget, the State Department, and Homeland Security.

“When you make war that profitable, you’re going to get more of it. Lots more of it,” Wilkerson exclaimed.

The military-industrial complex has two lobbyists for every member of Congress and continues to drive the U.S. war economy in Washington D.C.  In 2013, the top five Pentagon contractors  - Lockheed Martin, Boeing, BAE Systems, Raytheon, and General Dynamics  -  all invested $53 million to influence Congress (source Open Secrets).  In return, they were awarded $142 billion in contracts.  Lockheed Martin dominated the pack, receiving over $44 billion in contracts that year.

“If war goes away, so does your profits, so does your shares, so does your stock,” Col. Wilkerson said bluntly, and continued to explain the motives for the CEO of Lockheed Martin, saying, “she’s there to make profit.”

Throughout his tour, Wilkerson addressed Lockheed Martin’s F-35 Lightning II, the most expensive weapons system in history at $400 billion.  With tremendous shortcomings after 14 years, it still can’t operate properly during flight.  At $159 million a plane, the U.S. ordered almost 2,400 planes, with additional costs to American taxpayers of another $1 trillion to maintain and operate them.

So why does the U.S. continue investing in programs like the F-35? 

“Largely just to keep defense contractors alive and breathing and very rich, rather than the nation’s national security,” said Wilkerson.  While referring to a London Times article, he said, “If the F-35 isn’t bought, Lockheed Martin will flounder.”

The military-industrial complex relies on the U.S. government to continue manufacturing weapons, just as the U.S. government relies on the military-industrial complex because it creates jobs across the country for the American people.  Wilkerson drew similar comparisons between the Black Hawk helicopter he planned and developed for the U.S. Army and the F-35 fighter jets, which now have over 1,200 suppliers from 45 states and abroad.  It is easy for members of Congress to support funding the jets when it means more jobs in their districts and more money for their re-election campaigns from the military-industrial complex.

How did we get here?

Before World War II, Col. Wilkerson explained, the United States never had defense contractors.  During the war, the United States war machine sold weapons and instruments of war for the Russians, French, British, and ourselves.  In the 1950’s, the U.S. continued to support states who said they were anti-communist with military training, education, equipment, and weapons.  However, too often, they would  use U.S. weapons and training to oppress their own people. 

“We use the same model today, it’s called ‘counter-terrorism,’” said Wilkerson.  Why?  “Top defense contractors wanted to sell weapons all over the world,” he explained, adding, “we need to take a serious look at how we govern ourselves.”

Our Governing Under the Influence project is taking a serious look at how corporations are governing our nation’s public policy decision-making process through their excessive political influence.  GUI has been questioning presidential candidates over the past year about the military-industrial complex in Iowa and New Hampshire to educate the candidates, the media, and the audience about these issues.  Check out our other bird-dog reports to see the candidates’ responses and some pictures and video of Col. Wilkerson’s event at Drake University.  Read more about Col. Wilkerson’s April tour with AFSC in New Hampshire here.


Kevin Rutledge

Kevin Rutledge AFSC Governing Under the Influence Presidential Campaign Project

Kevin Rutledge is the Grassroots Education Coordinator with AFSC’s Presidential Campaign Project in Iowa.  Kevin has deep family roots in Quaker activism for peace and social justice.  A graduate from Iowa State University in Sociology and Criminal Justice, his previous work includes: United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW) organizer, Public Citizen online organizer to overturn Citizens United, U.S. Senator Tom Harkin, and a youth residential treatment facility.  Kevin hopes to one day return to Brazil and live by the beach.

“What the mind can conceive and believe, it can achieve.” – Napoleon Hill .