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Engelhardt writes: "Who hasn't seen the mind-boggling stats on the way assault rifles have flooded this country, or tabulations of accumulating Newtown-style mass killings?"

The NRA has a strong grip on Congress. (photo: unknown)
The NRA has a strong grip on Congress. (photo: unknown)

The Pentagon As a Global NRA

By Tom Engelhardt, TomDispatch

14 January 13


For Washington, There Is No Arms Control Abroad

iven these last weeks, who doesn't know what an AR-15 is? Who hasn't seen the mind-boggling stats on the way assault rifles have flooded this country, or tabulations of accumulating Newtown-style mass killings, or noted that there are barely more gas stations nationwide than federally licensed firearms dealers, or heard the renewed debates over the Second Amendment, or been struck by the rapid shifts in public opinion on gun control, or checked out the disputes over how effective an assault-rifle ban was the last time around? Who doesn't know about the NRA's suggestion to weaponize schools, or about the price poor neighborhoods may be paying in gun deaths for the present expansive interpretation of the Second Amendment? Who hasn't seen the legions of stories about how, in the wake of the Newtown slaughter, sales of guns, especially AR-15 assault rifles, have soared, ammunition sales have surged, background checks for future gun purchases have risen sharply, and gun shows have been besieged with customers?

If you haven't stumbled across figures on gun violence in America or on suicide-by-gun, you've been hiding under a rock. If you haven't heard about Chicago's soaring and Washington D.C.'s plunging gun-death stats (and that both towns have relatively strict gun laws), where have you been?

Has there, in fact, been any aspect of the weaponization of the United States that, since the Newtown massacre, hasn't been discussed? Are you the only person in the country, for instance, who doesn't know that Vice President Joe Biden has been assigned the task of coming up with an administration gun-control agenda before Barack Obama is inaugurated for his second term? And can you honestly tell me that you haven't seen global comparisons of killing rates in countries that have tight gun laws and the U.S., or read at least one discussion about life in countries like Colombia or Guatemala, where armed guards are omnipresent?

After years of mass killings that resulted in next to no national dialogue about the role of guns and how to control them, the subject is back on the American agenda in a significant way and - by all signs - isn't about to leave town anytime soon. The discussion has been so expansive after years in a well-armed wilderness that it's easy to miss what still isn't being discussed, and in some sense just how narrow our focus remains.

Think of it this way: the Obama administration is reportedly going to call on Congress to pass a new ban on assault weapons, as well as one on high-capacity ammunition magazines, and to close the loopholes that allow certain gun purchasers to avoid background checks. But Biden has already conceded, at least implicitly, that facing a Republican-controlled House of Representatives and a filibuster-prone Senate, the administration's ability to make much of this happen - as on so many domestic issues - is limited.

That will shock few Americans. After all, the most essential fact about the Obama presidency is this: at home, the president is a hamstrung weakling; abroad, in terms of his ability to choose a course of action and - from drones strikes and special ops raids to cyberwar and other matters - simply act, he's closer to Superman. So here's a question: while the administration is pledging to try to curb the wholesale spread of ever more powerful weaponry at home, what is it doing about the same issue abroad where it has so much more power to pursue the agenda it prefers?

Flooding the World With the Most Advanced Weaponry Money Can Buy

As a start, it's worth noting that no one ever mentions the domestic gun control debate in the same breath with the dominant role the U.S. plays in what's called the global arms trade. And yet, the link between the two should be obvious enough.

In the U.S., the National Rifle Association (NRA), an ultra-powerful lobbying group closely allied with weapons-making companies, has a strong grip on Congress - it gives 288 members of that body its top "A-rating" - and is in a combative relationship with the White House. Abroad, it's so much simpler and less contested. Beyond U.S. borders, the reality is: the Pentagon, with the White House in tow, is the functional equivalent of the NRA, and like that organization, it has been working tirelessly in recent years in close alliance with major weapons-makers to ensure that there are ever less controls on the ever more powerful weaponry it wants to see sold abroad.

Between them, the White House and the Pentagon - with a helping hand from the State Department - ensure that the U.S. remains by far the leading purveyor of the "right to bear arms" globally. Year in, year out, in countries around the world, they do their best to pave the way (as the NRA does domestically) for the almost unfettered sales of ever more lethal weapons. In fact, the U.S. now has something remarkably close to a monopoly on what's politely called the "transfer" of weaponry on a global scale. In 1990, as the Cold War was ending, the U.S. had cornered an impressive 37% of the global weapons trade. By 2011, the last year for which we have figures, that percentage had reached a near-monopolistic 78% ($66.3 billion in weapons sales), with the Russians coming in a distant second at 5.6% ($4.8 billion).

Admittedly, that figure was improbably inflated, thanks to the Saudis who decided to spend a pile of their oil money as if there were no tomorrow. In doing so, they created a bonanza year abroad for the major weapons-makers. They sealed deals on $33.4 billion in U.S. arms in 2011, including 84 of Boeing's F-15 fighter jets and dozens of that company's Apache attack helicopters as well as Sikorsky Blackhawk helicopters -- and those were just the highest-end items in a striking set of purchases. But if 2011 was a year of break-the-bank arms-deals with the Saudis, 2012 doesn't look bad either. As it ended, the Pentagon announced that they hadn't turned off the oil spigot. They agreed to ante up another $4 billion to Boeing for upgrades on their armada of jet fighters and were planning to spend up to $6.7 billion for 20 Lockheed 25 C-130J transport and refueling planes. Some of this weaponry could, of course, be used in any Saudi conflict with Iran (or any other Middle Eastern state), but some could simply ensure future Newtown-like carnage in restive areas of that autocratic, fundamentalist regime's land or in policing actions in neighboring small states like Bahrain.

And don't think the Saudis were alone in the region. When it came to U.S. weapons-makers flooding the Middle East with firepower, they were in good company. Among states purchasing (or simply getting) infusions of U.S. arms in recent years were Bahrain, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Oman, Tunisia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and Yemen. As Nick Turse has written, "When it comes to the Middle East, the Pentagon acts not as a buyer, but as a broker and shill, clearing the way for its Middle Eastern partners to buy some of the world's most advanced weaponry."

Typically, for instance, on Christmas Day in 2011, the U.S. signed a deal with the UAE in which, for $3.5 billion, it would receive Lockheed Martin's Theater High Altitude Area Defense, an advanced antimissile interception system, part of what Reuters termed "an accelerating military buildup of its friends and allies near Iran." Of course, selling to Arab allies without offering Israel something even better would be out of the question, so in mid-2012 it was announced that Israel would purchase 20 of Lockheed Martin's F-35 Joint Strike Fighters, America's most advanced jet (and weapons boondoggle), still in development, for $2.7 billion.

From tanks to littoral combat ships, it would be easy to go on, but you get the idea. Of course, U.S. weapons-makers in Pentagon-brokered or facilitated deals sell their weaponry and military supplies to countries planet-wide, ranging from Brazil to Singapore to Australia. But it generally seems that the biggest deals and the most advanced weaponry follow in the wake of Washington's latest crises. In the Middle East at the moment, that would be the ongoing U.S.-Israeli confrontation with Iran, for which Washington has long been building up a massive military presence in the Persian Gulf and on bases in allied countries around that land.

A Second Amendment World, Pentagon-Style

It's a given that every American foreign policy crisis turns out to be yet another opportunity for the Pentagon to plug U.S. weapons systems into the "needs" of its allies, and for the weapons-makers to deliver. So, from India to South Korea, Singapore to Japan, the Obama administration's announced 2012 "pivot to" or "rebalancing in" Asia - an essentially military program focused on containing China - has proven the latest boon for U.S. weapons sales and weapons-makers.

As Jim Wolf of Reuters recently reported, the Aerospace Industries Association, a trade group that includes Boeing, Lockheed Martin, and other weapons companies, "said sales agreements with countries in the U.S. Pacific Command's area of activity rose to $13.7 billion in fiscal 2012, up 5.4% from a year before. Such pacts represent orders for future delivery." As the vice president of that association put it, Washington's Asian pivot "will result in growing opportunities for our industry to help equip our friends." We're talking advanced jet fighters, missile systems, and similar major weapons programs, including F-35s, F-16s, Patriot anti-missile batteries, and the like for countries ranging from South Korea to Taiwan and India.

All of this ensures the sharpening of divides between China and its neighbors in the Pacific amid what may become a regional arms race. For the Pentagon, it seems, no weaponry is now off the table for key Asian allies in its incipient anti-China alliance, including advanced drones. The Obama administration is already brokering a $1.2 billon sale of Northrop Grumman's RQ-4 "Global Hawk" spy drones to South Korea. Recently, it has been reported that Japan is preparing to buy the same model as its dispute sharpens with China over a set of islands in the East China Sea. (The Obama administration has also been pushing the idea of selling advanced armed drones to allies like Italy and Turkey, but - a rare occurrence - has met resistance from Congressional representatives worrying about other countries pulling a "Washington": that is, choosing its particular bad guys and sending drone assassins across foreign borders to take them out.)

Here's the strange thing in the present gun control context: no one - not pundits, politicians, or reporters - seems to see the slightest contradiction in an administration that calls for legal limits on advanced weaponry in the U.S. and yet (as rare press reports indicate) is working assiduously to remove barriers to the sale of advanced weaponry overseas. There are, of course, still limits on arms sales abroad, some imposed by Congress, some for obvious reasons. The Pentagon does not broker weapons sales to Iran, North Korea, or Cuba, and it has, for example, been prohibited by Congress from selling them to the military regime in Myanmar. But generally the Obama administration has put effort into further easing the way for major arms sales abroad, while working to rewrite global export rules to make them ever more permeable.

In other words, the Pentagon is the largest federally licensed weapons dealer on the planet and its goal - one that the NRA might envy - is to create a world in which the rights of those deemed our allies to bear our (most advanced) armaments "shall not be infringed." The Pentagon, it seems, is intent on pursuing its own global version of the Second Amendment, not for citizens of the world but for governments, including grim, autocratic states like Saudi Arabia which are perfectly capable of using such weaponry to create Newtowns on an unimaginable scale.

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-2 # DaveM 2013-01-14 22:59
An AR-15 is not an "assault rifle". It is the semi-automatic version of the M-16, which is an assault rifle. The difference? One can be purchased by the American public and is semi-automatic, the other is generally restricted to the military and law enforcement and is select fire, that is to say, it can fire semi-automatica lly or on full-auto. An "assault rifle" is a machine gun--in many cases loaded with military ammunition that is not available to the public. These have been largely banned from public ownership for some years.

The black plastic stocks, barrel shrouds, bayonet lugs, pistol grips, etc. that get a rifle demonized as an "assault weapon" do not alter its functionality in the slightest. There are in fact BB guns with all of the same features including large capacity magazines!

We would do far better to examine the hands that point the gun rather than blaming the gun itself.
+1 # 4yourinformation 2013-01-15 11:46
Here, here!

"Given these last weeks, who doesn't know what an AR-15 is?"

This opening rhetorical question is so full of agitprop. Obviously, to those of us who responsibly own and understand ANY semi-auto, there a tons of people who DO NOT know what and AR-15 really is and are being filled with media hyped hysterics. Too many of my liberal friends do not know anything about this stuff. I'm to the left of most them, too.

I really wish that people on the left would take time to be clear on the facts of guns as I would hope that people on the right would learn the facts about health care insurance from Sweden or Canada or even Taiwan. Cognitive dissonance can be found anywhere.
+3 # 4yourinformation 2013-01-15 12:06
This is a really distorted piece of agitprop designed to twist the facts and hype the BS.

First, we are to assume that the "flooding" of AR-15s and the like are leading to mass slayings on a wholesale level. Not true. Rifles of any type are at the very bottom of usage in a gun crime in this nation. Handguns are overwhelmingly used in crimes and the majority of gun violence is in the drug trade. Colombia, Mexico and the USA are the big 3 in gun violence in the western hemisphere. 12,539-11,309 and 9,146 guns deaths respectively. 91st, 42nd and 1st in legal gun ownership respectively. DRUG WAR...END IT!

As far as flooding the world with REAL military weapons....I'm all for stopping it. As we know from George Kennan and his PPS 23 memo, the USA has had a clear agenda to advance the interests of the rich elite, centered in the USA and creating a system of puppet regimes, backed by an imperial US military, the world has proliferated in arms in response to this agenda as well as join in with it.

I'm all for reducing this nation's defense down to a National Guard that can provide an effective Air, Land and Sea DEFENCE of this country. No need for a giant Imperial invasion force and nuclear terror umbrella. We need to dismantle ALL nukes, multilaterally.

I think Switzerland and the Nordic nations have struck a good balance in this as I have reviewed their defenses enough.
-3 # robroy 2013-01-14 23:40
anybody else notice that the assault rifle in the sandy hook massacre stayed in the perpetrators locked car trunk the whole time of the incident? Only found after the fact. He did the killing with a couple of automatic pistols. How did he kill 20 plus people with only pistols? Now we get an assault weapon ban?
-2 # JTHinSD 2013-01-15 10:10
Quoting robroy:
anybody else notice that the assault rifle in the sandy hook massacre stayed in the perpetrators locked car trunk the whole time of the incident? Only found after the fact. He did the killing with a couple of automatic pistols. How did he kill 20 plus people with only pistols? Now we get an assault weapon ban?

SEMI-automatic pistols...not AUTOmatic pistols! Learn the difference (it's BIG) and get the nomenclature correct. Then maybe there can be some credibility to one's argument, whichever it might be! Sheesh!
+1 # mdhome 2013-01-15 19:34
The fact IS what was found in the trunk was a SHOTGUN, the LARGE capacity clip semi-auto rifle WAS used to KILL the FIRST graders, 6 YEARS old, BIG BRAVE MAN!
0 # reiverpacific 2013-01-15 19:40
Quoting robroy:
anybody else notice that the assault rifle in the sandy hook massacre stayed in the perpetrators locked car trunk the whole time of the incident? Only found after the fact. He did the killing with a couple of automatic pistols. How did he kill 20 plus people with only pistols? Now we get an assault weapon ban?

So what's your bloody point?
The dead are still dead and the guns of all kinds are still in the hands of -(creepy theatrical quivering voice and eerie music) many in YOUR neighborhood and will be heavily featured soon in a shootout or massacre NEAR YOU!
+9 # SOF 2013-01-15 00:56
Who get's the 'broker's' cut? And which corporations are selling? Do they pay taxes? Did they get welfare subsidies? if we're arming the world -especially the Middle East, aren't we just escalating war, revolution, dictators, genocide? And decreasing our own security. Isn't this a bad idea? How can we be sure the killing machines aren't turned on US? Isn't it like treason? Since guns and striker jets don't kill people, people kill people, shouldn't we at least examine the sanity and motives of the people involved? And do the People like this plan? Or only artificial corporate people? Insecurity begets Fear. Fear begets paranoia and resistance. Instability begets chaos. Attack begets counter-attack. Insanity begets Madness. And so the madmen lead the blind. We are so doomed to our own karma. Sigh.
+6 # Adoregon 2013-01-15 12:20
And the geniuses in government are concerned about people consuming cannabis because?? cannabis is more dangerous than firearms???

Get your priorities straight. When was the last time anyone was killed with a bong hit?
0 # mdhome 2013-01-15 19:35
YES, bad idea, no question.
+10 # RMDC 2013-01-15 05:44
Right on, Tom. A fully armed world is just what the Pentagon dreams of. Only they will have better weapons and they believe they can win any fight. The fact prove them wrong. They lost in Iraq, Afghanistan, and most other places. All they can do in kill a lot of people and destroy a lot of lives. They cannot do any good.

You would think that as we become more civilized (?) we would rely less and less on guns and violence. But it seems the opposite is true. Gun violence is growing world-wide and most of it is driven by the US.

"create Newtowns on an unimaginable scale." -- of course we already have these in most of the developing nations of the world. All over Africa, CIA armed militias are terrorizing populations and murdering children. The destruction of societies disperses people so mining companies can move in. Something like 10 million people have been killed in the last decade or so in eastern Congo.

The US military including the CIA is a global Newtown. They are all psychopath killers.
-2 # JTHinSD 2013-01-15 10:12
Ha! So, the US/CIA/Military is "arming the world" and the Left is DISarming the American Citizenry. Sounds like a bad combination and future for us Citizens!

As to your claim of "gun violence is n by the US..." please explain. Facts do not support your "conclusion."
+8 # tbcrawford 2013-01-15 12:34
.... as we become more civilized (?)

To judge current history, we are anything but. Allowing Citizen's United to turn our fragile "democracy" into a plutocracy where ALEC et al. lead us into the abyss of ignorance, poverty and addiction. Watch "Heist" to understand the commitment to destroy societal protection and allow winners to take all.

Education, a first priority of a healthy society, is being destroyed. "Starve the beast" to quote Grover Norquist. With access by vouchers and charter-schools come vile attacks on teacher integrity and commitment, public education is crumbling. Current debate is attempting a mortal blow to Social Security, which has done nothing to increase the debt. Demean this "paid-for retirement insurance" as an "entitlement" is brain-washing the gullible public. Resistance to universal healthcare ensures we place lowest of modern nations with higher costs and lower outcomes. Even drug negotiations are denied. How many high-tech killer jets would it take to provide shelter and basic subsistence for our homeless (many are vets)? The current and deceptive budget agreement sustains huge benefits for the rich...and eventually their children. As for any concern for our environment, our oceans are dying, our agricultural lands are poisoned, our climate is on a path to the catastrophic destruction of life as we know it. Yet few seem to give a damn. "Let them eat cake" is our modern metaphor..or "Fiddle while Rome burns".
+4 # intheEPZ 2013-01-15 05:58
Exactly. Until we the people decide that we value peace and abhor violence, and that weapons that kill people should not be part of our taxpayer-funded federal budget (be it bombers, fighters, general's salaries, or contracts to arms dealers), it will be business as usual in Congress. And the business of Congress is maximizing profits for those who keep them in office. The root of violence is deep and it is fertilized by fear. The mass murder of our children is just a preview of where this culture is taking us and the world. I'm with Dennis Kucinich: establish a Department of Peace, and fund it with the money that currently funds the culture of death that is the Dept. of Defense.
+16 # walt 2013-01-15 07:04
War, guns, violence, weapons of mass destruction, drones, combat....they are all a part of the culture of violence the USA supports.

Note too that we are losing one soldier a day to suicide. That's more than are killed in action.

Is anyone really surprised when we see a Newtown shooting tragedy at home?

Is there a message here in all of this?
+5 # wrknight 2013-01-15 08:29
Is there any doubt that all these weapons make it easier to kill people? And the more of them there are the more likely that more people will be killed with them? Is this the goal? To kill more people? Is this what Christ taught us? How can anyone claim we are a Christian nation when so many are so eager to own the power to kill others? And if we don't follow the teachings of Christ, what does that make us?
+6 # Ray Kondrasuk 2013-01-15 09:20
It's no longer "WWJD?" - What would Jesus do?

It seems to need another "w": "WWWJD?" -

What weapon would Jesus deploy?
+4 # Kathymoi 2013-01-15 10:55
I'm not a genius or a clare voyant, so I could be wrong, but the way it looks to me is that President Obama cooperates with the republican agenda. There is a claim that he is hamstrung and unable to fulfill policies he would like to see passed, but that's not what I see. I see him concede before he pushes. I see him silent instead of popularizing the point of view he campaigned on. I see him as cooperative, pretending to wish it were different.
+3 # reiverpacific 2013-01-15 12:26
Maybe the American Indian ghost dancers and other holy-men and prophets had it right (for which they were massacred at Wounded Knee) -the the Wasicu death culture would lead them to wipe themselves out and the mother planet would be returned to it's wiser, more worthy and respectful stewards.
I begin to hope so.
0 # mdhome 2013-01-15 19:42
Some days, I wonder if it would be a bad thing if a nuke was dropped on the pentagon and I am downwind. Is there no way to stop the insanity? Of course I am 67 and unemployed, so not much to lose here.
0 # Dale 2013-01-16 10:14
And what do we think of the morality of Barack Obama who seriously deplores the killing of children in Newtown, but at the same time personally orders drone attacks in the Middle East and Africa that are murder in themselves but also collateral damage as children die by rocket attacks?

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