Obama's war: follow the money

"Just … follow the money" was the advice given by Deep Throat to Washington Post journalist Bob Woodward in the brilliant 1976 film All the President's Men. It is sage advice to which I frequently turn when trying to get a handle on complex problems.

Complex problem of the day: what to make of the new President, hope-inspiring Obama, his men and women and, of course, his $787 billion fiscal stimulus package?

The fact is, no-one yet knows for certain what to make of the President, beyond the soaring rhetoric and the desperate hope (yes, that again) that he is the man for the job of rescuing the United States and the world from global recession, pulling back from the global 'War on Terror' (terminology now discontinued) and restoring America's reputation in the world.

Then I see on my BBC newsfeed that 12 people have been reportedly killed by a US unmanned drone in Pakistan, the fifth such attack on Obama's watch. Well, we know that an increased military focus on Afghanistan / Pakistan is part of Obama's foreign affairs strategy just as much as the withdrawal of troop presence in Iraq.

By chance, dropping into my RSS feed at the same time from Huffington Post is this wonderfuly detailed analysis of the huge budget spend which the Pentagon is set to enjoy over the next two years in addition to Obama's mammoth punt to spend the US out of recession.

The analysis comes from Frida Berrigan, Senior Program Associate of the Arms and Security Initiative at the New America Foundation. She also happens to be the daughter of the late, lamented veteran peace activist Philip Berrigan and niece of Catholic priest and veteran peace activist Daniel Berrigan. The pair were once on the FBI Ten Most Wanted Fugitives list for their nonviolent activism against war. This in itself probably should be enough to recommend their daughter/neice.

Anyway back to the story…

Berrigan notes that the "defense industry received its own special stimulus package – news of the dollars available for the Pentagon budget in 2010; and at nearly $700 billion (when all the bits and pieces are added in), it's almost as big as the Obama economic package and sure to be a lot less effective."

Among the major benficiaries, of course, will be the likes of Lockheed-Martin and Boeing, two of the leading manufacturers of 'unmanned aerial vehicles' the likes of which are currently being deployed to deadly and controversial effect right now in Pakistan as part of what has been termed Obama's War.

Berrigan recalls the phrase 'military-industrial complex', coined by President Dwight D. Eisenhower in his farewell address of 1961 to warn his fellow citizens of the growing network of relationships between the military, arms producers and politics and the danger to liberty and democracy which its influence poses. As Berrigan discusses at some length, nearly fifty years on from Eisenhower's warning, this power and influence has grown, not diminished, and she ends with this warning:

"As the Obama administration grapples with economic disaster and inherited wars, it will have the added challenge of confronting a military-industrial complex accustomed to budgets that reach almost three quarters of a trillion dollars, based on exaggerated global threats, unsubstantiated economic claims, and entrenched profligacy."

Is Obama up to the job of confronting the military-industrial complex? Is he interested in doing so? If so, will he find the power of the President only goes so far?

We're fifty-three days into Obama's presidency. I welcome your thoughts on the above (and, meanwhile, don't forget to join Amnesty's campaign for Obama's first 100 days).

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