The tragic chain of events that followed President Trump’s order to assassinate Iranian General Qasem Soleimani at Baghdad’s international airport culminated in Iran’s admission that it had accidentally shot down a civilian Ukrainian airliner on Jan. 8, killing all 176 aboard. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau blamed the U.S. in part for the tragic loss of life, linking the apparent accident to the rise in tensions following the assassination of General Soleimani.
President Trump and his administration’s explanation for their decision to kill Soleimani, Iran’s second most powerful official, have been inconsistent and incoherent. Trump and his national security officials have issued contradictory statements about how imminent a threat General Soleimani posed to the U.S. In a Fox News interview, the president said that Soleimani was planning attacks on “four U.S. embassies.” However, Defense Secretary Mark Esper directly contradicted the president when he told an interviewer that he “didn’t see” specific intelligence indicating an imminent attack on multiple embassies.
While neither the U.S. or Iran have benefited from President Trump’s order to assassinate the Iranian general which increased the threat of war, there is one sector that has: the military industrial complex. Between The Lines’s Scott Harris spoke with Sarah Anderson, director of the Global Economy Project at the Institute for Policy Studies, who talks about her recent article, “The Threat of War Inflates Stock Holdings of Military Contractor CEOs” and war profiteering.
SARAH ANDERSON: Well, I decided to look at the top five military contractors and look at how much the CEOs of those companies benefited just from that first day of trading after the news of the assassination of General Suleimani in Iraq hit the financial markets. Wall Street traders know that a war with Iran would mean more lucrative contracts for U.S. weapons makers. And so they, drove up the value of stock in these companies and CEOs get so much of their compensation in the form of stock-based pay. And so I looked at how much stock they were holding in their companies and how much the value of that increase just in that first day of post-assassination trading and what I found was that these five executives before the assassination, had stock in their companies worth a combined $319 million.
And by the closing bell the following day, the value of their combined shares had increased by $7 million just for these five people. I checked the markets right before I left work today and found out that the value has continued to inch up after that real spike that first day. And it is so important, I think, to look at this because this creates a profit motive for war. And I don’t think we should have to sit here right now in this very scary time where we really don’t know where things are going to go with Iran and have to worry that that might be a factor – that the personal profit motives of executives like these five could be part of what is driving this march to war.
SCOTT HARRIS: And Sarah, before we run out of time, I did want to ask you about some alternative ways that contracts could be awarded to avert war profiteering. One of the things you talked about in your article was a proposal to deny federal contracts to corporations that pay their top executives excessively. What would that look like? And you can review for us proposals from Vermont senator and presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, and the late Sen. John McCain of Arizona also had a proposal.
SARAH ANDERSON: Yeah, I pointed out John McCain, when he was running for president as a Republican in 2008, that was the time of the financial crisis and he came out with the idea of capping CEO pay at bailout – companies that were receiving taxpayer dollars in that context. And he thought it would make sense to not allow them to make more than the American president’s salary, which was about $400,000.
And I think that a general principle of having companies that rely on taxpayer money not have unlimited amounts of pay going to the CEO is something that should be extended to contractors as well. And, Senator Sanders has said that if he’s president, he would actually use an executive order. He says he doesn’t think he would need to go through Congress in order to crack down on excessive pay among contractors and the plan he has out there would cap CEO pay at no more than 150 times the median worker pay at that company – which, you know, I think most people would think that that kind of ratio would be pretty reasonable. So I think that, you know, the main point here is just to remind people that this is our money. We should have a say over it. We shouldn’t have to watch so much of it flowing into the pockets of these CEOs. And the worst part of that is that it creates a profit motive that can be part of the pressure to escalate the conflict.
SCOTT HARRIS: Well, Sarah, before we say goodnight, say a word about what the citizens’ role should be here in advocating for the regulation of war profiteering. What can people do to have an impact here?
SARAH ANDERSON: Well, I know that there is going to be a coordinated actions on Jan. 25th to demand no war with Iran. You can find out about actions around the country and the world. And one place I know you can find out about protests in your area is on the website of CodePink. So CodePink.org and I think that at the same time that the immediate thing is no war with Iran, but we should also use this really scary time with this chaotic approach to Iran and all of the increased tensions as an educational moment about the problem of war profiteering. And at the same time that we’re saying no war with Iran, why don’t we also say no more war profiteering either?
For more information, visit the Institute for Policy Studies at ips-dc.org.