Our Industrial Policy Needs to Do More than Arm Dictators

Spencer has a useful catalog of all the war toys Egypt buys with our military aid.

Whatever Egypt’s military does next, chances are they’ll do it with American weapons.Al-Jazeera showed M1A1 Abrams tanks carrying Egyptian soldiers through Cairo in what its correspondents called “a show of force.” Those iconic American tanks have been co-produced in Egypt since 1988; the Egyptians have about 1000 of them. As was endlessly re-tweeted, canisters containing tear gas that the police used on protesters — before the hated police melted away over the weekend — had “Made in America” stamped on them. (Our colleagues at Ars Technica take a look at what’s inside the Pennsylvania-manufactured tear gas.)

On Sunday, fighter jets flew low over a Cairo crowd, turning on their afterburners to deafen their audience. Most likely they were part of Egypt’s fleet of 220 F-16s.

Most of the $1.3 billion that the U.S. annually provides to Egypt in military aid goes for weaponry to defend Egypt against foreign assault, like Patriot air-defense missiles, Multiple Launch Rocket System rocket pods and TOW anti-armor missiles. That’s not particularly relevant for crowd control against protesters.

He’s right: the spectacular images of the Egyptian military showing its presence amid protesters serves to highlight the war toys at the heart of our influence with the Egyptian military, and therefore at the heart of our relationship with Egypt. No more spectacular, of course, than the video from al Jazeera, above, showing US-made F-16s buzzing thousands of protesters in Tahrir (Liberation) Square.

Meanwhile, in far less spectacular news, today Commerce Secretary Gary Locke and Energy Secretary Steven Chu will quietly be rolling out the White House’s effort to “Startup America,” which is either an effort to focus an investment on jobs or a cynical election year stunt.

The contrast, though, is instructive.

We have long publicly forsworn anything that resembles an industrial policy here in the US. But we actually do have an industrial policy; it’s called the Military Industrial Complex (recently enhanced with the Intelligence Industrial Complex). While we refuse, as a country, to invest in technologies and jobs in manufacturing peaceful goods, an enthusiasm for investing unlimited amounts in military technology (the jobs are a critical side benefit) is almost a requirement among our elected leaders.

Not only do those toys provide desperately needed jobs around the country. Not only do these toys allow us to extend our empire around the world. But just as critically, they serve a critical role in maintaining our hegemony. We give millions and (in the case of Egypt) billions in aid to friendly leaders, and they turn around and spend it on our war toys. Many of these friendly leaders are dictators that use the toys as a veiled threat and occasionally a blunt instrument to sustain their own power.

Which leads to uncomfortable moments like these, where a dictator’s last gasp consists of unleashing American war toys against his own people.

While the juxtaposition of those F-16s buzzing the brave protesters with this latest attempt to try to solve the jobs crisis in the US is just an odd coincidence, it needs to be instructive as the Administration tries to “Startup America.” Not only do we need a more proactive jobs policy, an investment in goods that someone besides friendly dictators will want to buy. But if we don’t do that–if we don’t find something to make that won’t inevitably end up playing a starring role in a dictator’s brutality–then we’re going to have a lot more problems down the road.

Obama may really believe that we will “Win the Future” by out-innovating, out-building, and out-educating our competitors. Good. Because it’s increasingly clear the way to “Win the Future” is not by brutalizing other countries’ mobs.

  1. emptywheel says:

    Presumably, of course, the rollout of “WintheFutureStartupAmerica™ would have probably been a real campaign level rollout if the White House hadn’t concluded that the footage from AJE is far more interesting.

  2. WilliamOckham says:

    Over at the TPM Egypt Wire, I saw this (my bold):

    Per Playbook, the Obama administration has invited several experts on Egypt to the White House today for a think-tank style discussion. Invitees are: Michele Dunn of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, the Brookings Institution’s Robert Kagan, Elliott Abrams, President’s Bush’s deputy national security adviser for the Mideast, and George Washington University Middle East expert Marc Lynch. The four belong to a bipartisan working group on Egypt.

    Elliot Abrams? Really? Unless the plan is to get his advice and do the exact opposite, I don’t see any reason why the administration would want his advice. Of course, we should remember that under a McCain administration it would have been much worse. The advisors would have been Michael Ledeen, Randy Scheunemann, Robert McFarlane, and James Woolsey.

    • WilliamOckham says:

      I see via the Twitter-machine that Eliot Abrams and Robert Kagan couldn’t make it to the WH pow-wow. How fortunate for everyone.

      • readerOfTeaLeaves says:

        I figured that part of the reason that Obama was being careful was because Israel was going to start blaming him Big Time just about any second.
        Just spotted at the guardian.uk’s Egypt: Live Updates section:

        Writing in Haaretz, Ari Shavit said Obama had betrayed “a moderate Egyptian president who remained loyal to the United States, promoted stability and encouraged moderation”.
        To win popular Arab opinion, Obama was risking America’s status as a superpower and reliable ally.

        Yeah, right. When Mubarak came to power, Barak Obama was about 14 years old and living in Hawaii — but let’s blameObamaBlameObamaBlameObama!


        In my view, Elliott Abrams is affiliated with Likud (which I do *not* equate with the extraordinary history of the Jewish people). Ditto Kagan.

        With the Israel rightwing press starting to shriek about how it’s all Obama’s fault, while the Israel government lets Egyptian troops into Sinai, it’s not at all surprising to me that Abrams and Kagan are ‘not able to make it’ to the WH.

        Blaming Obama, who was about 16 years old and living in Hawaii when Mubarak took office, is about as futile as trying to pour the ocean into a milk bottle. Good luck with that.

        Perhaps Abrams and Kagan are in a snit over the fact that Obama can’t turn back time, can’t magically alter the demographics of Egypt, and can’t perform miracles. Go figure.

    • Mary says:

      Man, why didn’t he just set up his meeting with Cheney directly?

      Abrams, who never met a lie to Congress he wouldn’t tell, and Kagan – who has pretty much been a cheerleader for every failed ME approach over hte last 10 years.

      Just remember – that’s just the announced list. Since all the old torture crew that are tight with Suleiman and Brennan has Obama’s ear, the unannounced consulting group Obama is listening to could very well include the Kissingers and Ledeens and Wurmsers etc.

  3. WilliamOckham says:

    Meanwhile, in far less spectacular news, today Commerce Secretary Gary Locke and Energy Secretary Steven Chu will quietly be rolling out the White House’s effort to “Startup America,” which is either an effort to focus an investment on jobs or a cynical election year stunt.

    I vote for “Both”.

  4. 1970cs says:

    Watching the Abrams tanks in Cairo had me wondering how they were going to refuel them. The achilles of the Abrams is that uses 2 gallons per mile. I wouldn’t wan’t to be the one driving a gas tanker through the burning streets to re-fuel.

    Fuel Capacity 498 gal (1,885 liters) / 505 gal (1,907 liters)
    Cruising Range 275 Miles 265 Miles
    Fuel Consumption A tank will need approximately 300 gallons every eight hours; this will vary depending on mission, terrain, and weather. A single tank takes 10 minutes to refuel. Refueling and rearming of a tank platoon–four tanks–is approximately 30 minutes under ideal conditions.
    0.6 miles per gallon.
    60 gallons per hour when traveling cross-country
    30+ gallons per hour while operating at a tactical ideal
    10 gallons basic idle
    A mine plow will increase the fuel consummation rate of a tank by 25 percent

    • oldnslow says:

      The tanks I saw on Saturday were M-60A1’s. ’60s and ’70s U.S. main battle tank. I also noted that none of them were running. The armored personel carriers were off also. This struck me an indicator that the military had no intention what-so-ever of taking action against the protesters because all weapons and communications are electical and would not be run off batteries.

      I saw the arrival of M1A1s yesterday as an escalation.

      • KrisAinCA says:

        Certainly were an escalation. I also noted that once these vehicles were in place they were shut of. The M060A1’s have remained off except to reposition.

        This all indicates that the military has no intention of utilizing the weaponry mounted on these tanks. I think it also indicates that the strategic commanders realize it may be very difficult or even impossible to refuel. They’re conserving fuel heavily.

  5. eten says:

    A national industrial policy would mean reduced power for the capitalists (oligarchy). It would also mean more power for “we the people.” But who are we to demand power from the olicarchy?

  6. RevBev says:

    Almost the very thought makes me say “Thank God”….is someone paying attention to the ridiculous value of putting all our resources into arms and other lethal supplies while claiming to be a nation of peace, even before those we invade.

    Can we muster the will and the voice to shift from the MIC? How long has it been since Ike’s warning? Under Johnson there was the endless guns-or-butter question. We have been choosing guns for years while our citizens are running out of butter. How to keep the pressure on the WH and on Locke and Chu? I am sure there is a way. Coming in quite late is better than never.

  7. mzchief says:

    Yes but the US’ dysfunctional relationship to Europe isn’t helping us. Notice that when the dictators “retire,” everything gets handled via London, Switzerland, France and Germany? And who’s in Brussels today?

    Huge sums leaving Egypt?” (Jan. 31, 2011)

    The Wall_Congress/May_Farce are displeased with Egypt:

    Meanwhile, Moody’s Investor Services has downgraded Egypt’s bond rating and changed its outlook from stable to negative, following a similar move by Fitch Ratings last week. Both cited the political crisis.

    (excerpt from “Egypt protesters step up pressure on Hosni Mubarak” on Jan. 31, 2011)

  8. eCAHNomics says:

    The U.S. industrial policy is much broader that the one you point to ew. It’s basically to throw buckets of taxpayers funds at the industries that buy the pols. That now includes Wall St, PhRMA, med insur corps, telecoms, etc etc.

    • Synoia says:

      Which, by definition, is a policy that looks to yesterday’s successes and not tomorrow’s.

      How conservative, maximize your profits, to hell with the future.

      • eCAHNomics says:

        That was one of my first observations on the W admin. Mid-99 we were assigned to contribute to a tome about the New Economy in the New Millennium. It was the dot-com bubble, of course, so you know what happened to that, but that’s another story. The point I want to emphasize now is the minute W took office he emphasized the old industries, a complete 180. Energy (which I forgot to include in 16) was at the top of the list.

        • Synoia says:

          The dot com bubble was fueled by the Vendor’s of the existing infrastructure equipment declaring that everything that was past its warranty period was Y2K non-compliant.

          We replaced equipment (LAN switches, Routers) that was in no way date sensitive. In 1999 45% of capital budgets was spent on IT. The average before was 6-8%.

          The result was inevitable. Capital spending on IT went to zero for the next three years.

          Yes, it was greed, with not a thought for the future.

      • earlofhuntingdon says:


        It’s a myth that we don’t have an economic policy, just as it’s a myth that big business wants government to do nothing but let it outperform its competitors. Big business relentlessly advocates for government interference that directly promotes its narrow special interests: unfairly low taxes, high tax credits, direct subsidies, outlandish accounting rules that ignore risk or grant indirect subsidies, legal protections (eg extraordinary protection of intellectual property rights) and legal immunities (from liability for causing harm).

        Our economic policy is to give it to them. It is as firm and entrenched an economic policy as those countries in Europe and Asia that we often decry for theirs. The principal difference is that ours enables only the leaders of big business rather than also promote the interests of their employees, voters and the communities they live in.

        • earlofhuntingdon says:

          Of course, since our economic policy ignores public needs, it promotes private corporate needs at their expense, which is the reverse of part of what the economic policies of our principal competitors do. But it’s still paid for by the taxes paid by that same public.

  9. bluevistas says:

    yes. disgusting.

    And the US has virtually no other exports except armaments these days, so I doubt if we’ll see any decrease in arms sales.

    “New Democrats”, such as Obama, believe in a “robust” foreign policy which includes ample use of military force.

    It’s a doomed approach. We have more suffering ahead.

    • mzchief says:

      So the US’ industrial infrastructure is the +1,180 bases and private rendition and “research” sites around the world? The public doesn’t even know what that actually consists of, where it is located, what it “produces” and at what “cost” (the cost-benefit question is begged as the government and corporate books are cooked). Some tip o’ the iceberg musings were done here:

      What Do We Really Spend on Defense?
      By: Jane Hamsher Wednesday January 5, 2011 7:17 am

  10. szielinski says:

    We have long publicly forsworn anything that resembles an industrial policy here in the US. But we actually do have an industrial policy; it’s called the Military Industrial Complex (recently enhanced with the Intelligence Industrial Complex). While we refuse, as a country, to invest in technologies and jobs in manufacturing peaceful goods, an enthusiasm for investing unlimited amounts in military technology (the jobs are a critical side benefit) is almost a requirement among our elected leaders.

    That’s a winner. America’s industrial policy refers to industries that typically operate with soft-budget constraints, the support of a paternalistic state, political immunity and a limited contribution to the non-military economy.

    Militarism and empire will and probably have destroyed the United States.

  11. hotdog says:

    If anyone has never been to one of these, it will blow your mind. Especially when you see Sheiks walking around like 6 year olds at Toys R Us.

  12. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Daley’s debut as White House chief of staff tells us that Obama plans to “Cut, cut, cut” his way into that future and a second term, via winning the hearts and minds of neocons, Randians and fundamentalists.

    Mr. Daley, with Mr. Obama’s knowledge and blessing, seems intent on bringing to the White House the American corporate CEO’s sole recipe for bonus success: cut jobs, and send and grow business, profits and influence off-shore. It is lazy, thoughtless and counterproductive as corporate policy. As public policy, it is also hopelessly cynical, wasteful and cruel.

    Events in Tunisia and Egypt could be seen by democracies as extreme examples of the threats they face when they chronically ignore the needs of the vast majority of their people. Driving headlong, at greater speed and further and further down this new Daley-Obama-bipartisan lane is a course bent on making those metaphorical fears literal. The solution is not just to replace government leaders more often than once every thirty years. It is to refocus attention, policy and resources on the public’s needs, not just on those whose whispers are nearest the king’s ear. It’s not a solution those who make and profit from war toys will readily hear or employ.

  13. felicity says:

    In 2005 the US provided half, $8.1 billions worth of weapons sold to militaries in the developing world – many already engaged in conflicts. Is this possibility too sinister to even consider? Are we this century’s Merchants of Death? Do we perhaps foment ‘conflicts?’

    After all, WWII was the biggest fiscal-stimulus program in history.

  14. tanbark says:

    Antiwar.com has some good stuff on the situation in Egypt:


    Netanyahu is putting out the word that Israel’s allies should lay off of Mubarak, as Mubarak predictably and desperately plays the “Islamist” card.

    • sadlyyes says:

      all the talking gasbags ,including McNasty and other Goopers have said SAME TALKING points…be skeerd,be very skeerd

  15. sadlyyes says:

    Merkel told Bibbi to”stifle himself”

    Germany: Move Israel-Palestinian talks forward in light of Egypt riots
    Ha’aretz – Barak Ravid – ‎1 hour ago‎
    German Chancellor said Israel must freeze settlement building in order to move peace process forward, which is even more important now after unrest in Egypt. By Barak Ravid In light of the unrest in Egypt, it is especially important to move the peace …

        • tanbark says:

          Nothin’ to be sorry for. I just read the first line…

          Sloowwww down, tb. :o)

          I confess, right here and now, I see what’s happening in Egypt as a great chance for the kind of progress and for moving away from the status quo, that I’d hoped for, from Barack Obama. And we know what happened with that silly thought.

  16. tanbark says:

    Hillary says that the U.S. won’t call for Mubarak’s ouster.

    If a million Egyptians show up in the streets of Cairo tomorrow, and it keeps snowballing, she may have to eat that.

      • tanbark says:

        Exactly! If Fisk is right, and that it’s gone too far for any plan to hang onto Mubarak, then the gnoshing on prior news-turds is going to be audible.

        • KrisAinCA says:

          Obama sending out someone today to tell the world that we have asked Mubarak to step down and offered to facilitate his departure to speed up the process is the only right move.

          Otherwise, we’re going to look like even BIGGER asshats on the international stage. Dubya hurt our credibility enough. This is Obama’s time to show of his Nobel and rub it against El Baradei’s.

  17. tanbark says:

    And having a German leader warning the Isrealis about democracy and human rights, is too delicious for words.

  18. Bluetoe2 says:

    How many times do we have to endure someone saying, “this is the ideal time to reevaluate failed U.S. policy” before the elite actually reevaluates that policy? It’s obvious that the elites benefit from failed policy.

  19. tanbark says:

    I hope, and think, that the rest of the world’s leaders will not follow Obama’s fence-straddling on this…that they will step up and add their voices to the growing calls for Mubarak to leave.

    God knows, too many of them have been led around by the nose by american presidents for too long.

    It’t not a stretch to say that, with Iraq and Afghanistan moving to the front burner with a vengeance, this may be the last chance for us to show the Muslim world that we really do care about basic human decency for all peoples. If we don’t, if we ally ourselves yet again, with the cynical despots exploiting their people, then the moral high-ground will look like the Himalayas for us, for a long time to come.

  20. tanbark says:

    Hillary’s having a big meeting with our ambassadors.


    I’d like to be a fly on the wall for THAT.

    This is going to get very interesting. One of the things that Obama did, pre-election, was tell Israel that the war in Iraq had not made them safer. Another example of the courage that disappeared when he raised his hand.

    As we know, figuratively, Hillary has an AIPAC tatt on her rump.

    If Obama decides to step up and call for Mubarak’s ouster, will she be a team player?

    Obama has shown so little spittle on issues like this, maybe Hillary just made the decision to say that the U.S. won’t call for Mubarak to step down. With 2012 looming nearer every day, this whole thing is…fraught.

  21. dabear says:

    Marcy, what do you think about Carter saying that Mubarak has to go then saying:

    “In the last four or five years when I go to Egypt, I don’t go to talk to Mubarak, who talks like a politician,” Carter said. “If I want to know what is going on in the Middle East, I talk to Suleiman. And as far as I know, he has always told me the truth.”

    Do you know anything about WTF Carter is talking about? Why Suleiman would be his prime contact with Egypt? What do you make of this?

  22. Stephen says:

    ” While we refuse as a country, to invest in technologies and jobs in manufacturing peaceful goods”. I thought China, India and S. Korea had that covered? Ah well, back to the Military Channel.

  23. Stephen says:

    Oh BTW, I read that Rumsfeld will be honored with ” Defender of the Constitution Award ” on Feb. 10, by CPAC. Knock yourself out Donald.

  24. lakeeffectsnow says:

    What Hillary Rodham Clinton Really Meant to Say on Egypt

    We are deeply scared about our empire in the region and slightly embarrassed that we fund the Egyptian security forces to repress their own people, and we call on the 30-year dictatorship in Egypt to do everything in its power to protect our interests. . . . As we repeatedly say, we promote human rights for the privileged, when it is politically beneficial to us, including freedom of expression, except in our own country if you engage with any dissident groups. . . . As Obama said yesterday, reform, but not an inspiring revolution, is critical in Egypt. Egypt has long been an important puppet of the United States on a range of financial issues. As a partner, we won’t know what to do if the political climate in the region changes. . . . As I said in Doha, leaders we install need to prevent this type of revolution from happening and to help ensure the rich can live extravagantly at the expense of our collective resources.