Kelley Vlahos discusses the scandalous ties between the arms industry and the American government, starting with the fact that so many members of the Defense Department are former employees of top arms firms like Raytheon, Lockheed, and Northrop Grumman—and vice versa. This revolving door inevitably leads to a deliberate alignment of the interests of these two parties, meaning more unnecessary wars in the Middle East so we can make and sell more bombs. In particular, the entire justification for allowing the war in Yemen to continue is the fact that America’s weapons deals with Saudi Arabia supposedly mean a great deal for our economy. President Trump has even claimed that this relationship is responsible for a million American jobs. In reality, says Vlahos, that number is probably more like 40,000, many of which are white collar consulting and lobbying jobs in Washington D.C. that are otherwise completely worthless.
Discussed on the show:
- “Before COVID Strong, Navarro Was Big War’s Man in the White House” (The American Conservative)
- “Turns Out Saudi Arms Deals Won’t Add a ‘Million’ Jobs to U.S. Economy” (The American Conservative)
- “5/15/20 Ben Freeman on the Qatar Lobby in Washington” (The Libertarian Institute)
- “Arms Dealers and Lobbyists Get Rich as Yemen Burns” (The American Conservative)
This episode of the Scott Horton Show is sponsored by: NoDev NoOps NoIT, by Hussein Badakhchani; The War State, by Mike Swanson; WallStreetWindow.com; Tom Woods’ Liberty Classroom; ExpandDesigns.com/Scott; Listen and Think Audio; TheBumperSticker.com; and LibertyStickers.com.
The following is an automatically generated transcript.
For Pacifica radio, June 7 2020. I’m Scott Horton. This is anti war radio.
All right show welcome. The show is anti war radio. I’m your host, Scott Horton. I’m the editorial director of antiwar.com and the author of the book fool’s errand time to end the war in Afghanistan. You can find my full interview archive more than 5000 of them now going back to 2003. At Scotthorton.org and youtube.com/ScottHortonShow. All right, you guys introducing Kelly Vlahos, from the American Conservative magazine. She’s got two important pieces for you here before COVID strong. Navarro was big wars man in the White House. And then the follow up. Turns out Saudi arms deals one Add a million jobs to the US economy. Oh, you don’t say. Welcome back to the show. Kelly, how are you?
Kelley Vlahos 1:06
Oh, great. It’s awesome talking to you again. Yeah. Great
Scott Horton 1:10
to have you here. So I guess first of all, with the first one here, this was your reaction to what was is the New York Times piece right? All About Raytheon, and their role in lobbying for the continuation of America’s genocidal campaign against the civilians, of Yemen. So first of all, tell us all about what we learned in that piece.
Kelley Vlahos 1:35
Well, well, we learned is, you know, I don’t think many people are very familiar with Peter Navarro. So up until COVID, he’s sort of been behind the scenes as Trump’s chief trade adviser. He you know, and he’d come out during COVID as a sort of primary spokesman for you know, redirecting our manufacturing Back from China, particularly pharmaceuticals, and I feel like you know, so he had gotten a lot of props from people who had looked at China as sort of like, you know, dominating the manufacturing space and people who have wanted to see particularly in crisis for jobs, manufacturing, and also pharmaceuticals and emergency equipment coming back to US companies. But aside from that, the New York Times had published a piece that you brought up, that it talked about his advocacy, very strong advocacy for the defense industry inside the White House from the get go since he was since he was hired. So you know, the idea that you know, he is a predominant spokesperson for you know, made in America, America first trade policy. This is doesn’t begin and end with, you know, the stuff that we would like to see happen like, you know, being able to manufacture penicillins and, and vitamin C, but also to export in munitions in arms to countries that are currently involved in bombing civilians, like in Yemen. So that’s what I had written about. And I had written about his fierce advocacy, which had included lobbying on behalf of Raytheon inside the White House. And as you know, Raytheon has, you know, this huge footprint in this administration, including, you know, the Secretary of Defense Mark Esper, who is you know, who is a former Raytheon, executive and lobbyists so and you see that throughout the the Defense Department, you have a number of people who have bounced back and forth From the private industry, but Esper obviously is the top dog. So aside from their small army of lobbyists that they have in Washington right now, now they have their hooks into actual White House officials, and Pentagon, top Pentagon, senior officials, and it’s very disturbing because it like I pointed out in the piece that Navarro was able to floor an effort by Senator Mike Lee republican constitutionalist who had attempted to stop the sales of weapons to Saudi Arabia, because of their human rights abuses because of the things that are happening in Yemen don’t want to be a party to the civilian the 10s of thousands of civilian deaths there, and Navarro was able able to whisper in the ears of Jared Kushner and Trump himself and to thwart any attempt to stop those sales. And they have gone through. You know, there was later on there was a bill that was passed by both the House and Senate after Jamal Khashoggi had been killed and dismembered by by Saudis to stop these arms sales and President Trump vetoed that bill. And so the sales go on.
Scott Horton 5:29
Now. I mean, there was just a little sub scandal here, what a week or so ago about Trump firing the Inspector General at the State Department on Palm pails recommendation, then it turned out that inspector general, it sounds like the limited hangout was he was investigating pompeyo having staff walk his dog when the berry raid was actually regarding this that pompeyo had intervened and invoked, apparently illegally invoked some emergency measure To continue the arms sales, even against the will of Congress. So, but I guess I’m confused if Trump vetoed it, which will of Congress? Was it that he was in violation of Do you know?
Kelley Vlahos 6:13
I think I think what happened was, what happened was that there was a constant battle over this $8 billion that had been set to $8 billion worth of arms that had been set to be sold to Saudi Arabia. So Mike Lee made an early effort. That’s the word it the you know, the sale. Navarro steps in there is then later on, there’s a bill and then it’s vetoed. But apparently, in order to get this, this this $8 billion push through that, you know, the Congress tried to stop Secretary pompeyo and invoke this emergency declaration saying that it was an emergency for the safety of our allies against Iran, that these these weapons needed to be sold. And this was this is obviously controversial, and the IGP was looking into it. Now, we don’t know if that’s why the IGP was ultimately, you know, canned by palm pail, but it’s one of the reasons that has been raised, you know, in this weird abrupt firing, you know, other than what you had stated where there’s the weird, him having his staff walk his dog and pick up dry cleaning. There’s other issues regarding these dinners that he’s he’s held these Madison dinners in which donors and other corporate types have been sort of like immediate brought in and it kind of just smacks of, you know, he’s campaigning for 2024. But yeah, this emergency deputy ration, which is a bunch of hoo ha, really, ultimately grease the skids for this this arms deal. And Trump was able to get what he wanted and Congress looks, you know, a bit mask elated by it all.
Scott Horton 8:17
Yeah. Well, you know, one of the things about Donald Trump, you know, he really kind of just takes the veneer off of this thing.
Kelley Vlahos 8:25
Well, it also take away all of the the fake laws that they have governing, you know, lobbying, you know, that the controls, they supposedly have these grace periods where, you know, people who left the military and higher office in the Pentagon have a grace period where they cannot lobby for such and such time. And then they find other ways of lobbying and they call it consulting. And so this these loopholes are riddled like Swiss cheese all through the Pentagon, all through the State Department, all through every major You know, industry, you know, where it looks like yay, we’re paying attention to ethics. And we really don’t want, you know, lobbyists coming back. We don’t want people who have worked for staff members on the hill, or for the Secretary of Defense coming back a year later representing Raytheon, or Lockheed and Northrop Grumman. So we’ve passed these these measures, these agencies have passed these message measures to control that, and then they that it’s blatantly violated. So, you know, American people think well, there, there are controls there. You wouldn’t possibly have somebody, you know, who had just left the Secretary of Defense office coming back and representing Lockheed Martin, but it happens all the time. And then those guys you know, and then or they come from Lockheed and start, there are pointed to major major influence It’s influencing positions, like Secretary of Defense, like Secretary of the Navy, like Secretary of the Army, when they had just left places like Lockheed and Boeing. I mean, it’s it’s amazing. Pat Shanahan was our last Secretary of Defense, and he came directly from Boeing, as a major top executive. yet so this happens all the time in there. There’s a lot of trappings of democracy and rules and ethics. But if you strip it all the way, people that are really in charge, and the people who have a major influence on Capitol Hill and in the halls of the Pentagon are representing major corporations, not interest groups, like the project for government oversight, or you know, when without war, or all, all these groups that are advocating to get out of Yemen, they have no presence, no presence at all.
Scott Horton 10:58
Yeah, and that’s the other thing right? Is They can just spend a pittance as the smallest fraction of the taxpayer money that they’re receiving on lobbying Congress, you by Congressman for 1000 bucks if you’re already in their position Anyway, you know, as Ben Freeman has shown, quite specifically, here’s a lawyer for a lobbyist donate some money to a senator and his vote changes from against genocide to four genocide in a day for $1,000. Yeah,
Kelley Vlahos 11:29
yeah. It’s so much for their character of these members of Congress. That’s for sure.
Scott Horton 11:37
Oh, by the way, so listen, I’m making some wild accusations with the big g word there. And so maybe people don’t know that. Yes. In fact, when America is American companies, the American government is all working together to sell all these weapons to the Saudis. Unlike the old days, where they all just collected dust in their warehouses, or maybe were used by National Guard forces to you know, oppress their own people. Right now they’re being used in a war of extermination of civilian life in Yemen for the last five years, where the entire strategy and this is a proven fact, this strategy has been to target the civilian infrastructure, to starve and destroy and murder the civilian population of the country in a way to try to make them so miserable, that they’ll overthrow the government in the capital city, which is of course ludicrous and has not worked.
Kelley Vlahos 12:33
Right. It’s not working. But you know, our reporter at the American conservative.com Barbara Boland did a piece last year, where she emphasized that munitions by Lockheed Martin, Boeing, General Dynamics, and Raytheon were all identified at the site of over two dozen attacks that had killed civilians in Yemen open to that time. When she, you know, produced this report, so you know, these bombs are showing up in you know that that terrible carnage of those children on the school bus. I don’t know if you remember that that was an American laser guided bomb. Raytheon’s technology she reports killed 22 people attending a wedding in 2018. So we can actually trace these these companies munitions to civilian Carnage in Yemen. And yet Congress was unable even pointing all this out, was unable to stop it was unable to stop the sale the weapons and it was also unable to stop our assistance to the Saudis.
Scott Horton 13:47
And because he says Kelly, we’re making $400 billion off the Saudis and so therefore, the part on said but pretty explicit, is if we got to kill every last year For the money, then that’d be worth it. $400 billion. What about that?
Kelley Vlahos 14:05
Right? Well, I think there’s two things going on here. We have the idea that we are making money and Donald Trump likes. He’s the art of the deal, man, he likes to make money. He’s getting lots of pressure, as we’ve just spoken about on the inside, to continue these deals. He has Peter Navarro in there, lobbying him personally saying these exports are not only going to make money for the American economy, but jobs as well. He’s got pressure from corporations. These are his friends and CEOs who are representing themselves and their shareholders. But he also has the pressure of Iran and the anti Iranian narrative within the US government. And as long as there are people within the administration who make this about Iran There’s always the pressure to stay in and continue to assist the Gulf states because somehow this is a prop. They’ve made this out to be a proxy war. So I think that you have these two different two distinct tensions that are playing on Trump right now. But getting back to the jobs, his hundred billion dollar deal was a piece of paper, they’ve managed to push through $8 billion of sales since that big announcement was made. And we’re finding now that it’s resulted in maybe at the very most 40,000 jobs a year, you know, based on William hard tongs, very thorough investigation of arms sales, not just Saudi, but all foreign arms sales. So the idea that, that our sales of weapons to the Saudis is going to result in a million jobs for America. has not been worn out. It sounds good, but it’s it’s not been worn out. We don’t really know how many jobs and how many of those jobs are actually manufacturing jobs that would help the working class that is always implied when we talk about jobs for Americans. We don’t think of them as consulting, lobbying executive jobs, we think we need to sell arms so we can put more guys to work in a factory. You know, we don’t know how many. And I tried to find out personally through the you know, the trade organizations or the aerospace industry trade organization that tracks us and they haven’t made any of their numbers for defense jobs public. I wonder why I tried. So, you know, I feel like it’s it’s it’s a bill of goods that we’ve been sold, and it sounds great, especially at a time when Well, right now we have 40 million people out of work to say that we have to keep selling these weapons to foreign countries, whether they misuse them or not, because we have to keep Americans working. I don’t like that.
Scott Horton 17:06
Yeah, I mean, even if you took the fantasy of the half a trillion dollars in sales over 10 years or whatever, that Donald Trump or mercenary in chief says is the reason why we continue this policy? That’s a pittance. Right? Oh, yeah. Thank goodness in Fort Worth, we’re still turning out f 16. Because our whole economy would collapse. Without that, or without, you know, a couple of shipbuilders in New Jersey cashing in making aircraft carriers. That’s completely ridiculous. We could abolish that entire industry out of America, and all be the better for it.
Kelley Vlahos 17:42
Right? Well, I mean, this is the thing. I mean, do we want to be a country that depends, you know, our economy depends on exporting weapons of war, so that countries like Saudi Arabia, can turn other countries like Yemen into a smoking crater and result in levels of cholera not seen since the 1940s. is I think that bears some sort of conversation. And and aside from that moral justifications that have been used to send these weapons over, but the fact that on his and on the other side of his mouth. President Trump has talked about getting out of needless wars in the Middle East. That’s he won in part on that promise. How does he think we are ever going to extricate ourselves from these entanglements from these wars, these endless wars if we are supplying countries to continue them and are directly linked to violence in the Middle East, it’s not going to get us out of these wars. So it’s just this self licking ice cream cone. And I feel that if if he could threaten Saudi Arabia like he did in the last few months when they would refuse to decrease their oil production, and he said you watch outside Arabia I have leverage over you. I we have security we have we’ve been sending you troops to protect you from ostensibly from Iran. You know, we’ll pull those if you don’t play play nice with us over there’s oil. And he did. He actually pulled the Patriot missiles out of there. He started pulling troops out of there, who were put in to the area into Saudi Arabia last year, when they were getting there when their oil facilities were being attacked. And he never came out. Nobody ever came out and directly linked the two things. But he gave a speech the next day after the Pentagon announced it was pulling these assets out. And he says we’re tired of these wealthy nations taking stuff from us and getting nothing in return. But I’m not talking about Saudi Arabia there. He was talking about Saudi Arabia. So it’s very sad that he was able to follow through on a threat when it looked like our oil industry was being affected by the actions of Saudi Arabia. But the Senate had tried to send him a bill cutting off weapons of destruction because people, people were dying, not just 1000 we’re talking 10s of thousands of people, and he vetoed it. That wasn’t enough. So it’s a matter of priorities. I get that. But it would be nice if he extended, you know, his interest and putting some leverage on this country to Saudi Arabia in that regard. Human Rights.
Scott Horton 20:46
And you know, I know that there was a some kind of bureaucratic sort of snafu the way they did the resolutions. Were one is the concurrent resolution and the other is resolution. And I forget which one it was they passed, but they they passed the kind you can veto instead of the kind you had. And so Trump just vetoed it. But still Congress twice. The house in the Senate, working together with the exact same language for the first time in history invoked the 1973 War Powers Resolution to try to force Trump to stop this war, or that Obama had no authorization whatsoever to start when he started. I mean, under the IMF, he was bombing al Qaeda, but this is the war for Al Qaeda against the Houthis. And yet, you know, they hide behind. Oh, well, it’s the Saudi lives. coalition, even though again, it’s entirely dependent on American has been it’s leading from behind as the Obama is called it. That’s exactly what it is leading still. So America is the world’s superpower. There’s no question about that. And right, and there’s no authorization for it in the first place. Then Congress says, you have to stop it. And Trump just vetoes it and keeps going anyway. Sounds like there’s grounds for impeachment, right? They’re not just for war crimes, because you know, he’s committing more crimes in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya, but at least, just like we saw in the bush years, we have a memo that says we could do that. But there’s nothing that says they can do what they’re doing in Yemen at all. It’s completely illegal. And so, you know, too bad that they wasted three years, accusing him of being a Russian spy, and literally, impeaching him for holding up an arms deal to a bunch of Ukrainian Nazis. But anyway, now here we go. He’s still he’s five years into Obama or sorry, four years into Obama’s war in Yemen, continuing it. And, and where’s the outcry about that? The worst thing that’s happening in the whole world today, American Saudis war against Yemen, makes what’s happening in America pale in comparison. And in fact, for the audience, for people who don’t know anything about this, just put in Yemen child in your Google Image return and know that it’s brock obama and Donald Trump that did that.
Kelley Vlahos 24:33
Yeah. Well, you know, going back to the Congress for a second, I feel like and I know you have there are critics out there. Winslow Wheeler comes to mind because every time one of these 1973 war power act stories come up, he he has a meltdown because the way that they have done it, like you said, sets them up for the veto. Second of all, they have another opportunity. Bye Just not funding, and the Congress has not been able and not been willing to just shut off the spigot. And it sounds like the nuclear option, but come on, they know these bills are going to be vetoed. It puts them on record is making a stand. That’s really nice. And I’m glad I’m with you. I’m happy to see that, that they were able to come together twice for this and get something passed. But for me, I’m thinking you have the power of the purse string, and they never use it because to them that’s going nuclear. That’s actually that’s putting them on record for making a stand that could have some serious repercussions with their constituencies who might be defense contracting job, you know, companies who have jobs in their district is taking it to another level. I think that these weaselly Congress persons do not want to do. I think there are plenty of guys out there who would do it and gals, I just think that it’s harder for them to get support for really going nuclear, because so many are just so skittish about campaign contributions, and primaries. And that all goes back to the way the system is set up, that they’re constantly running for office. And they’re getting money from members from these PACs and from the companies and their, their employees. And they get opponents who say How dare you want to eliminate the jobs that our district is getting for the F 35. Because we know these jobs, they’re spread out all over the states purposefully, so that they can they can get the foothold in and pull these kinds of stunts during election time. Yeah, so I agree. I just I think that at some point. If these members really care, then they got to, they actually have to step up to the plate and stop with these resolutions
Scott Horton 27:09
right now. I’m sorry, because I’m over time. But I gotta let you make this last point about the US funding out Qaeda, its enemy, the only real enemy of the American people in the world which of course, our government made for us in the first place. But here we are, and backing them again, in Yemen, just like in Libya, and in Syria, by way of the UAE, which we’re still on right and funding to in this work.
Kelley Vlahos 27:32
Absolutely. And I know we don’t have enough time, but this cnn actually did a really good investigation last year where they found that weapons that we had been sending to UAE, were ending up in the hands of these al Qaeda linked groups in Yemen, which obviously is just a nightmare. The government that said we’ll do our own investigation, apparently the Pentagon did an investigation and the State Department did an investigation. Last week, CNN reported that they had sources inside saying that they finished their investigations and they found that there were no nefarious handover of our weapons to al Qaeda linked groups and that they are going to be continuing these arms sales ua was cleared. And so any hold that has been put on arms sales to the UAE in that time has been lifted. This is in the middle of Coronavirus is in the middle of all sorts of crises that are going on in this country. But let’s get those let’s get those arms sales to the UAE running. And let’s just put out besides the Yemen. I mean, besides the al Qaeda linked issues, we know that both of these countries are violating people’s rights. And that is supposed to be a precursor or an obstacle for us to sell them weapons under State Department rules, right? We just overlook that.
Scott Horton 28:58
Aren’t you guys. That’s Kelly Vlahos. From the American Conservative magazine, her latest is turns out Saudi arms deals won’t add a million jobs to the US economy. Thank you so much, Kelly.
Kelley Vlahos 29:09