04/08/2016 |

On Military Spending and National Defense: Interview with William Hartung

Interview by Derek Paulhus – Harvard Political Review

Having served as the director of the Arms Trade Resource Center at the World Policy Institute in the past, William Hartung is the current director of the Arms and Security Project at the Center for International Policy. In addition, he has worked as a speechwriter, policy analyst, and author, who has published several books on the critique of U.S. arms sales policies. He has been featured on Huffington Post, The New York Times, CNN, and more.

Harvard Political Review: How much money has been spent on the War on Terror after 9/11? Where has it gone and has it been effective, particularly with regard to defense contractors?

William Hartung: Following 9/11, we have seen the biggest Pentagon spending buildup in history, since World War II. Although close to two trillion dollars went directly to fighting the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, an even larger amount went to the Pentagon’s base budget, which is not directly involved in fighting the wars. Contractors have been involved in waste and promoting misguided spending priorities on both sides in the war spending and in the base budget spending. On the base budget, there have been a lot of efforts to sustain production of systems that are not relevant to fighting the War on Terror, like the M1 tank, prior generation fighter planes, and things like the F-35.

Companies push their own interests for systems that are good for their revenues but that might not be the best choice for what we need to defend the country. In Iraq and Afghanistan, there is huge waste fraud and abuse on the part of companies like Halliburton and others that they were able to get away with in the fog of war. There wasn’t enough scrutiny into what they were doing. In some cases, billions of dollars went missing, and they were overcharging for everything from simple tasks like doing the laundry for troops, to making their meals, to maintaining vehicles, to building shoddy facilities for schools and water and electricity. So, there’s been a lot of money spent that has not contributed to defense, and companies are a significant part of that problem because of things that they lobby for, which tend to be more for special interests than national interests.

HPR: Do you think that we are in any way safer than before the War on Terror, or in what ways might we be at higher risk after getting involved in the Middle East?

WH: I think that the spending has been double edged. We’ve spent a lot more than we needed to in terms of providing security. Some of the things that we’ve done have exacerbated the problem. I think that the drone strike policy has created a lot of political backlash against the United States in places like Yemen [and] Pakistan, which has been more damaging to our long-term security than the ability to eliminate any particular leader of ISIS or al-Qaeda. The general [plan] of intervening in Afghanistan, in Iraq, in Yemen, throughout the region, and also the policy of arming Saudi Arabia’s bombing campaign, undermine U.S. reputation in the region, and they give the impression that the U.S. is a country that looks to solve its problems through military means rather than diplomacy. There’s certainly a role for force, but I think that we’ve used it indiscriminately in the Middle East. Particularly the intervention in Iraq has caused all kinds of problems including setting the stage for an al-Qaeda branch in Iraq, which then morphed into ISIS, a sectarian government… The general pattern has been to solve complicated political, social, and strategic problems primarily using force, and by and large it has backfired.

Read the whole interview on Harvard Political Review’s website