Reining In the War Profiteers

You thought war was hard? Not for these people:

US defense contractors are riding high these days, buoyed by rising Pentagon spending on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as the high cost of homeland security in the US-declared war on terror.

The fiscal 2006 defense budget is set to climb to US$441 billion, an increase of US$21 billion over this year. It envisions an additional US$50 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The US Congress plans to approve US$79 billion for weapons systems procurement and about US$69 billion for military research and development.

Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon, General Dynamics, Honeywell and United Technologies have all done well in the first half of this year and have a huge backlog of orders. With US President George W. Bush and Congress ready to spend, they can expect robust sales for years to come.

The piece gives a blow-by-blow of the companies doing good business in war: Lockheed Martin profits jumped 41% in the first half of 2005 to $830 million. Boeing sales were up 8% to $27 billion. Northrup Grumman, specializing in warships, warplanes, information technology and space, has $57 billion in orders on the books.

And this doesn't even count the weekly scandals surrounding Iraq contractors like our friends Halliburton, which saw a former employee pleading guilty last week to accepting $100,000 in kickbacks from an Iraqi firm in exchange for handing over a military construction contract.

But all is not lost: dozens of newspapers around the country have been running this excellent editorial by Knight Ridder's Joseph Galloway, which makes exactly the right demand:

We might even suggest the creation of a Wartime Profiteering Commission like the one established during World War II. Chairmanship was handed to a little-known senator from Missouri named Harry S. Truman. He turned out to be a fireball when it came to getting the snouts out of the public trough. If you stole from the government, and cheated America's soldiers of the best equipment, arms and ammunition they deserved, Harry Truman put you out of business or in prison, or both. A Truman Commission is needed right now.