Afghanistan is Part of the Long History of War Profiteering

Interview with Sam Pizzigati, author and associate fellow with the Institute for Policy Studies, conducted by Scott Harris

After 20 years of occupation, the U.S. war in Afghanistan ended on Aug. 31. As the U.S. military raced to evacuate Americans and allied Afghan civilians out of the country, two suicide bombers struck just outside Kabul’s international airport on Aug. 26, killing 13 U.S. service members and at least 169 Afghans. U.S. officials said the attack was carried out by the ISIS-K group, which was quickly targeted by two American drone strikes.

The Pentagon reported that the evacuation from Kabul which began in July facilitated the departure of some 122,000 people, including 5,400 Americans.  But an estimated several hundred Americans and thousands of Afghans were said to still be looking for a way out of the country.

As the last U.S. plane flew out of Afghanistan, President Biden made a speech stating that he refused to extend this forever war and explained that the era of invading countries with an aim toward installing American values was no longer viable. Between The Lines’ Scott Harris spoke with author and Institute for Policy Studies associate fellow Sam Pizzigati, who talks about the end of America’s longest war and his recent article titled, “Let’s Take the Profit Out of War.”

SAM PIZZIGATI: You know, when we look at Afghanistan, I think of all of us are somewhat inured to the horror of modern warfare, which is, you know, pretty understandable. We’ve just lived through in the 20th century, the most bloody, the bloodiest century in human history. In World War II alone, 75 million people across the globe died. In Afghanistan over the past 20 years, nearly a quarter-million people have died. That sort of bloodletting is part of the fabric of our modern society. And when World War I happened, 40 million people died. People across the world were absolutely aghast. And right after the war, there was a rush to prevent something like that from ever happening again. And so people sort of look around, you know, why is this happening? And then what they did is they followed the money.

And people realized that some people were getting incredibly rich off of prepping for war. And then these merchants of death — and that was a phrase that people used in the 1930s, merchants of death. These merchants of death had a vested interest in perpetuating arms races. So in the U.S. Senate, they set up a special Senate committee chaired by Republican North Dakota’s Gerald Nye to look into this. And they had hearings over the course of two years and Nye and others concluded that war had become — in Nye’s phrase — a matter of profit for the few. And, they tried to do something about that, but they failed. And we went into World War II and the greatest horror that humanity had ever seen. And, that’s a situation we’re in today, that we have enormous profiteering in what Eisenhower called the military industrial complex. And, that is perpetuating this constant arms race that we’ve had. And the more deeper and more intense the arms race, the more likely armed conflict becomes.

SCOTT HARRIS: Sam, as you talk about in your recent article, your organization, the Institute for Policy Studies has done some initial calculations on war profits in Afghanistan. Could you talk about that?

SAM PIZZIGATI: Yeah. So if, we look at the last five years alone, which is what we’ve done this summer, we looked at CEO pay at three corporate giants that are very much involved in military contracting. They were Boeing, Raytheon and Fluor. So at those three companies, the CEOs at those three companies of the past five years have taken home $236 million. So it’s enormously profitable for these top execs. The irony here is that we actually have on the books regulations that are supposed to prevent this. We have on the books in the Federal Register a rule that says that no top executive of a defense contract or any federal contractor for that matter can take over a certain sum every year in salary. And that right now is $568,000. But the problem is, most corporate executives today, most all corporate executives don’t get the bulk of their pay from salary. They get the bulk of their pay from stock awards, not salary. So to talk about a limit on salary is meaningless, as we see in that $236 million figure for the three CEOs at Fluor, Raytheon and Boeing over the last five years.

For more information, visit Sam Pizzigati’s page at the Institute for Policy Studies  at ips-dc.org/ips-authors/sam-pizzigati/ and the Inequality Newsletter at inequality.org/.

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