The Trump administration has had a tough time filling key vacancies, notably in the defense sector, owing to the nomination of controversial candidates who have been suspected of having unsavory business ties or have documented histories of discriminatory behavior. The final service secretary position to be filled, following the approval of Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson and Navy Secretary nominee Richard Spencer who is expected to be confirmed in the Senate, is the Army Secretary position. After a string of failed nominations for the position of Army Secretary, the Trump administration has settled on nominating Mark Esper, the vice president for government affairs at Raytheon. Many have called into question the ethics of this nomination, citing a “business-as-usual” approach to defense.
Before cashing out in the private sector, Esper had a long career in military dating back to 1986 when he graduated from West Point. By the time he had decided to leave his career as active duty military, Esper had achieved the rank of lieutenant colonel and for 2 years served as a deputy assistant secretary of defense under the Bush Administration. Esper then began getting involved in politics when he was appointed national policy director for Fred Thompson’s 2008 presidential campaign and later became the director of National Security Affairs for Sen. Bill Frist (R-Tenn.). Esper developed a strong relationship with Congress when he served as the policy director for the House Armed Services Committee; he is, by any account, the poster boy for the “revolving door.”
The Trump administration’s policies have been very advantageous to Raytheon, as was reported earlier this week when the CEO of Raytheon Tom Kennedy told investors that Trump “has opened several doors.” Raytheon announced on Thursday that they had well surpassed their second-quarter earnings estimates. Raytheon also stands to benefit greatly from the $350 billion contract that Trump signed with Saudi Arabia, which includes over $100 billion for arms trade alone, and is generating record dividends for defense contractors. Raytheon stocks have now jumped to an all-time high of $170.74, and reports revenues of $6.28 billion this quarter. Raytheon’s huge jump began in early April of 2017 when the Trump administration made the decision to launch 59 tomahawk missiles, manufactured by Raytheon, against a Syrian airbase. Immediately after the strike, Raytheon stocks began to rise rapidly alongside other military contractors including Lockheed Martin.
The same reverence for the military industrial complex present in foreign policy is reflected in domestic policy notably with the 2018 National Defense Authorization Act that gained sweeping bipartisan support. Support for the act included 117 Democrats and all but eight Republicans in the House of Representatives. The NDAA provided $696 billion in funds earmarked for defense purposes, surpassing even Trump’s defense budget request that was the largest in history. The defense authorization is so large that it would pass the $549 billion cap on defense spending that was set under the 2011 Budget Control Act. Congressional Republicans have called on a military buildup to overcome what they see as a “readiness deficit”, and are calling on an updated navy, which would include new ships, and an updated missile system. In fact, today Raytheon was awarded a $10 million Army contract alongside Lockheed Martin to upgrade America’s Javeline missile system which also follows a recently awarded $75 million Air Force contract to develop precision guided bombs. You can bet that the boards of these companies are jumping for joy.
In a bizarre speech aired yesterday, Trump, aside from openly advocating for police brutality, in a glorification of rich people and their ability to govern, said “I want people that made a lot of money now to make a lot of money for our country,” when discussing his administration’s controversial appointments. Trump’s administration is, of course, the richest in history, and reflects a demeanor that is oriented towards the bottom line. That is, the culture reflected in the Trump administration’s policies is one of profit over anything else— the culmination of a long debunked idea that corporate profits translate to general prosperity. His administration has been more than willing to oblige the demands of corporate America all across the board. Military contractors are in a unique position to benefit from entanglements in government, ultimately generating private revenue, because their business operates entirely off of America’s bloated military budget and perpetual warfare. It is not only the firms themselves that benefit, but also other large corporations, largely financial firms, that own large shares in the defense industry.
If Esper is confirmed as Army Secretary, this will be yet another huge score for not only Raytheon, but large corporations as a whole. And it appears that Esper may be poised to snatch the Army Secretary position following the successful confirmation of Boeing Executive Patrick Shanahan as Deputy Defense Secretary late last month. The revolving door between the private military sector and the public military sector gives a clear insight into the business-friendly practices of Trump’s defense strategy, which is more accurately a siphoning of public funds to wealthy business executives.