July 31, 2011

At the Souk in Old Baghdad

(Click on the image to see full picture of satisfied customers.)I dimly recall that the chief rationale for invading Iraq in 2003 was to rid that nation of its suspected stores of weapons of mass destruction. Now that we've pacified that country (only 15 Americans killed in June, for example), it's time to do some business:

"Iraq's prime minister said Saturday he was reviving a stalled deal to buy multi-million-dollar fighter jets from the United States and affirmed the need for American trainers to help Iraqi forces operate and maintain the 36 F-16s.

"However, Nouri al-Maliki avoided saying whether the trainers would be active-duty troops or private contractors - sidestepping the key question of whether American military personnel will be asked to remain past an end-of-year deadline for withdrawing. That question is Iraq's top political issue and is being hotly debated among the country's leaders." Bradenton.com.

Look, Lockheed Martin needs to move some merchandise, and food and war are two of our best product lines. The F-16, sort of the Chevrolet of Lockheed's fighter-bomber fleet, no longer interests the U.S. Air Force, we know how to make these things, so why not work a sale with the government we put in power in Iraq? The cover story we're using is that Iraq may need these 36 F-16s "to protect its sovereignty." (From whom? From us?)

Whatever. I looked up the specs on the F-16 to get an idea just why the Iraqis would be interested in these somewhat obsolete warplanes. Turns out they're surprisingly cool, still. At top speed, they'll make Mach 2, 1,500 miles per hour. If you're wondering (as the thought immediately occurred to me) how long it would take an F-16 to fly from Baghdad to Tel Aviv, the answer is about 20 minutes, since Tel Aviv is 565 miles away (as the F-16 flies). Of course, we've also sold plenty of F-16s to the Israelis, and the F-16, as well as being an effective bomber, is also highly maneuverable and a good dogfighter, so the Israelis will probably put in a purchase order for more F-16s to deal with the F-16s we're about to sell to Iraq.

Actually, we've sold F-16s to just about everybody. And no wonder:

"The F-16 soars above all others as the world’s standard. Nations around the world have evaluated the variety of choices available and consistently selected the F-16, the world’s most capable multirole fighter. More than 4,400 F-16s have been produced for 25 countries with 53 follow-on buys by 14 customers – a key indicator of customer satisfaction. These customers have experienced the performance and reliability of the F-16 firsthand and reaffirm the high quality of the aircraft."

Okay, that's Lockheed tooting its own horn a little. "Customer satisfaction:" you have to kind of like that. We're not really instigating war by governments when we sell these warplanes. We're servicing our customers. Could Milo Minderbinder have said it better? I wonder if you can get a luxury-pak upgrade with seats made of fine Coreenthian leather? It's surprisingly difficult to get a clear read on what the F-16 costs. For one thing, you can't just get an out-the-door price. It's not like Best Buy where you have a choice on the extended warranty and the Geek Squad. If you buy an F-16, you're going to need all the spare parts and the Geek Squad, most likely private contractors from the U.S. who know how to maintain these complicated contraptions. The basic price seems to be about $25 million, but $40 million, counting all the support you need, is more likely. Thus, by creating a new customer in Iraq, the U.S. government has handed Lockheed Martin and subsidiary companies a cool sale of about $1.44 billion. You don't think Lockheed Martin appreciates that? Just ask Senator Daniel ("Mr. Earmark") Inouye, a wholly owned subsidiary of the company, whether they do, next time a senatorial election is held in Hawaii.

Lockheed Martin lobbies like hell, in fact, which, along with their satisfied customer base, is one of the reasons it's such a huge government contractor, where it derives about 86% of its business. In our civics class fantasies, we don't always think about these things as much as we should. John Tirman wrote about the influence of the arms trade in his landmark Spoils of War: The Human Cost of America's Arms Trade, quite some time ago. Since reading it, I've acquired a different way of looking at Congressional voting patterns. Why is Sen. Joe Lieberman such a hawk? Well, what companies are headquartered in Connecticut? What about Dianne Feinstein of California? California has a very large aerospace business, including Lockheed Martin in Palmdale, California. Hell, even Barbara Boxer voted for the continuation of the F-22 fighter-bomber, even though the Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates, thought we didn't need it. We don't need it for war, maybe, but members of Congress need Lockheed's money, so let's build the damn thing.

Sometimes, when you add it all up, you have to be a little...pessimistic about America's overall influence on the well being of the world. Uncooperative (and ignorant) about climate change; flooding the world with genetically modified, patented, unreproducible crops; endlessly warmongering to protect our oil interests so we can maintain our car-based transportation system, and selling other countries the means to wage war and subjugate their populations with our high-tech gimmickry.

I guess all these things are offset by our intentions, however, which are always good. If we make a little money at it, it's only our just reward.

1 comment:

  1. Machipongo John6:56 PM

    And the best part, of course, is that since we've sold F-16s to everybody in the world we will need a much better fighter to defend ourselves against the F-16. Hence, the F-22. And after we've sold F-22s all over the world, we'll need...