Review: Prophets of War

Prophets of WarWilliam Hartung’s Prophets of War is a scathing indictment of Lockheed Martin’s business practices, relationship with members of Congress and the executive branch, and seeming indifference to the forces of capitalism. Hartung does not hesitate to hammer the defense-industry giant from cover to cover. Describing massive cost overruns, bribery, unrestrained pork-barrel politics, and more, Hartung provides an important, if slightly one-sided, view of Lockheed Martin’s path to near-monopoly status in what he labels the “military-industrial-congressional” complex.

Famously prophesied by departing President Dwight D. Eisenhower, the “military-industrial-congressional complex,” is either a vital, economically invigorating union of industry and the country’s national defense needs, or a grossly corrupt, powerful, undemocratic special interest group putting this country and the world in extreme danger of unending war. Hartung clearly tends toward the latter view. He skillfully examines both the underlying arguments for massive Pentagon budgets and the grittier details of Lockheed Martin’s standard operating procedures. Although not overly enjoyable to read to those who are not keenly interested in the military-industrial complex, Prophets of War is nevertheless a salient, sober exploration of why the Pentagon needs $700 billion-plus dollars a year, and a peek at where Lockheed’s share of that money goes. Hartung concludes that far too much of the taxpayer’s money goes into wasteful overhead charges, bribes of foreign officials, and a lack of competitive bidding and production from Lockheed.

Early on, Hartung takes issue with the core arguments behind massive military spending. Basically, companies like Lockheed and their congressional supporters contend that to reduce funding to the defense-industrial base would be to seriously jeopardize its ability to produce adequate amounts of highly sophisticated weaponry in times of future need, like wars with powerful states. Although no one, including Hartung, argues for abolishing the Pentagon’s budget, the amount of waste in Lockheed programs like the C-5A transport plane, Cheyenne helicopter, and F-22 fighter plane alone demand a new approach to military spending and congressional oversight.

Apparently, the “too big to fail” argument applies to weapons manufacturers as well. Like the recent bailout of the auto and banking sectors, Lockheed Martin and the arms industry have been bailed out numerous times at the American taxpayers’ expense. What this boils down to is a dangerous immunity for defense companies like Lockheed from market forces. Adding insult to injury, “super companies” like Lockheed, Boeing, and Northrop Grumman control the vast majority of the defense-industrial base, with Lockheed receiving approximately $40 billion in Pentagon contracts in 2010 alone. Hartung’s analysis is a crucial first step at examining the role and influence of defense contractors in American society.

Derek Lyndes is an intern with Foreign Policy In Focus.