New US Pentagon Chief – Vested Interest In War & Conflict

Via The Strategic Culture Foundation,

Mark Esper is expected to be confirmed in coming days as the new US Secretary of Defense. His appointment is awaiting final Congressional approval after customary hearings this week before senators. The 55-year-old nominee put forward by President Trump was previously a decorated Lieutenant Colonel and has served in government office during the GW Bush administration.

But what stands out as his most conspicuous past occupation is working for seven years as a senior lobbyist for Raytheon, the US’ third biggest military manufacturing company. The firm specializes in missile-defense systems, including the Patriot, Iron Dome and the Aegis Ashore system (the latter in partnership with Lockheed Martin).

As Defense Secretary, Esper will be the most senior civilian executive member of the US government, next to the president, on overseeing military policy, including decisions about declaring war and deployment of American armed forces around the globe. His military counterpart at the Pentagon is Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, currently held by Marine General Joseph Dunford who is expected to be replaced soon by General Mark Milley (also in the process of senate hearings).

Esper’s confirmation hearings this week were pretty much a rubber-stamp procedure, receiving lame questioning from senators about his credentials and viewpoints. The only exception was Senator Elizabeth Warren, who slammed the potential “conflict of interest” due to his past lobbying service for Raytheon. She said it “smacks of corruption”. Other than her solitary objection, Esper was treated with kid gloves by other senators and his appointment is expected to be whistled through by next week. During hearings, the former lobbyist even pointedly refused to recuse himself of any matters involving Raytheon if he becomes the defense boss.

As Rolling Stone magazine quipped on Esper’s nomination, “it is as swampy as you’d expect”.

“President Trump’s Cabinet is already rife with corruption, stocked full of former lobbyists and other private industry power players who don’t seem to mind leveraging their government positions to enrich themselves personally. Esper should fit right in,” wrote Rolling Stone.

The linkage between officials in US government, the Pentagon and private manufacturers is a notorious example of “revolving door”. It is not unusual, or even remarkable, that individuals go from one sector to another and vice versa. That crony relationship is fundamental to the functioning of the “military-industrial complex” which dominates the entire American economy and the fiscal budget ($730 billion annually – half the total discretionary public spend by federal government).

Nevertheless, Esper is a particularly brazen embodiment of the revolving-door’s seamless connection.

Raytheon is a $25 billion company whose business is all about selling missile-defense systems. Its products have been deployed in dozens of countries, including in the Middle East, as well as Japan, Romania and, as of next year, Poland. It is in Raytheon’s vital vested interest to capitalize on alleged security threats from Iran, Russia, China and North Korea in order to sell “defense” systems to nations that then perceive a “threat” and need to be “protected”.

It is a certainty that Esper shares the same worldview, not just for engrained ideological reasons, but also because of his own personal motives for self-aggrandizement as a former employee of Raytheon and quite possibly as a future board member when he retires from the Pentagon. The issue is not just merely about corruption and ethics, huge that those concerns are. It is also about how US foreign policy and military decisions are formulated and executed, including decisions on matters of conflict and ultimately war. The insidiousness is almost farcical, if the implications weren’t so disturbing, worthy of satire from the genre of Dr Strangelove or Catch 22.

How is Esper’s advice to the president about tensions with Russia, Iran, China or North Korea, or any other alleged adversary, supposed to be independent, credible or objective? Esper is a de facto lobbyist for the military-industrial complex sitting in the Oval Office and Situation Room. Tensions, conflict and war are meat and potatoes to this person.

During senate hearings this week, Esper openly revealed his dubious quality of thinking and the kind of policies he will pursue as Pentagon chief. He told credulous senators that Russia was to blame for the collapse of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty. That equates to more Raytheon profits from selling defense systems in Europe. Also, in a clumsy inadvertent admission he advised that the US needs to get out of the INF in order to develop medium-range missiles to “counter China”. The latter admission explains the cynical purpose for why the Trump administration unilaterally ditched the INF earlier this year. It is not about alleged Russian breaches of the treaty; the real reason is for the US to obtain a freer hand to confront China.

It is ludicrous how blatant a so-called democratic nation (the self-declared “leader of the free world”) is in actuality an oligarchic corporate state whose international relations are conducted on the basis of making obscene profits from conflict and war.

Little wonder then than bilateral relations between the US and Russia are in such dire condition. Trump’s soon-to-be top military advisor Mark Esper is not going to make bilateral relations any better, that’s for sure.

Also at a precarious time of possible war with Iran, the last person Trump should consult is someone whose corporate cronies are craving for more weapons sales.

Has E.T. Gone Home?

UFO sightings have been making headlines again lately, notably with The New York Times running an interesting article about several U.S. Navy fighter pilots encountering mysterious objects near the southeastern coast of the United States.

That high-profile story remains unexplained and so do plenty of other UFO sightings reported by members of the public every year like strange lights crossing the night sky or orange disks hovering in the distance.

However, as Statista’s Niall McCarthy notes, according to The National UFO Reporting Center – which is based in the U.S. and maintains statistics – global UFO sightings have declined steadily since 2014.

Infographic: Has E.T. Gone Home? | Statista

You will find more infographics at Statista

There were just over 8,000 reported sightings in 2014 and in 2018, there were 3,343. So far in 2019, 2,371 UFO sightings have been reported. Despite the decline in sightings, interest in UFOs and alien life remains strong judging by an event that went viral on social media this week.

Conspiracy theorists have long maintained that a secret U.S. base in Nevada known as Area 51 harbors alien life or parts of a crashed spacecraft. The event called for people to storm the base and find out and it attracted 1.4 million signatures. Entitled “Storm Area 51, They Can’t Stop All Of Us”, it also prompted the Air Force to issue a warning to stay well away from the facility.

Circumventing The Straits Of Hormuz – Time To Dust Off The Trans-Arabia Canal Project?

Via Climateer Investing blog,

Far from a perfect solution, in the event of a shooting war, one sunk tanker would be enough to stop traffic for a considerable period of time. But, and that’s a big but, anything short of that level of bellicosity, such as current Iranian piracy, would make having an alternative to the Straits of Hormuz a strategic and tactical asset.

The linked piece references the proposed north-south Salman canal but there have also been proposals for longer east-west canals that avoid Iran’s beachhead, Yemen and connect the Persian Gulf and the Red Sea.

h/t: Thai Military and Aisia Region,  April 24, 2016.

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Saudi Arabia is planning to build a canal that will connect the Persian Gulf and the Arabian Sea bypassing the Strait of Hormuz controlled by the Iranians.

Since the canal would pass the Shia territories in Yemen, Riyadh needs to take the country under full military control.

h/t: Craig Murray, April 21, 2016

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Study calls for 950-kilometre canal bypassing Hormuz

 

According to the project by the Riyadh-based Arab Century Centre for Studies, the canal will be 630 kilometres in Saudi Arabia and 320 kilometres in Yemen and will reduce by half the distance ships are currently taking by passing through the Strait of Hormuz.

“It will be 150-metre wide and 25 metres deep,” Saad Bin Omar, the head of the centre, said.

“The canal will have a main course across Saudi Arabia and Yemen; however, we have thought of Oman as an alternative for Yemen if the country suffers political instability,” he said.

h/t: Gulf News, Sept. 10, 2015

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Additionally, as part of their spat with their LNG producing brothers, the Saudis are threatening to build the Salwa canal across the base of the Qatar peninsula and turn Qatar into an island.

As we saw in last month’s “Closing the Canal: The 1967 Six Day War’s Impact on Maritime Trade“, canals are important.

And then there are pipelines, in fact there used to be one that ran northwest through Jordan.

Either way though, Qatar is screwed, and that’s 25% of world LNG.

Just sayin’, lots of moving parts here.

How To Financially Prepare To Make A Career Change

Ready to make a career switch off of the corporate executive track? Turns out you might not need that big options payout to pull it off. Morningstar’s Rob Pinkerton offers some surprisingly basic but valuable tips for financially planning ahead so you can tuck away enough to walk away.