As Facing South readers know, the military is a big factor in the politics and economics of the South. More of our country's troops come from the South, and more are based in the South, than any other region in the country.
The South is also tied to the military through the big defense contracts that come to Southern states -- 40-45% of total defense dollars, according to Institute research. Through these contracts, Southern states often find themselves implicated in unsavory defense deals that wreak havoc overseas.
A case in point: this week, Harper's writer Ken Silverstein (the best investigative blogger in D.C.) has a revealing story about a $10 billion deal that would send Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighters -- manufactured in Fort Worth, Texas -- to battle "terrorists" in Turkey.
The story is shocking because it reveals the intimate ties between arms contractors and government officials, and shows how the revolving door between the private and public sector can cause defense bloat and skewed foreign policy.
Here's what happened: Three months ago, the Bush Administration appointed retired Air Force General Joseph Ralston to be U.S. "Special Envoy for Countering the PKK," or Kurdistan Workers Party -- a group the U.S. identifies as a "terrorist" organization.
As Silverstein notes, it wasn't clear at the time why a high-power General like Ralston -- former supreme allied commander of NATO -- would get such a job.
But then in September, the Pentagon announced it would buying planes from Lockheed Martin to send to Turkey -- most likely the F-35. And Ralston has direct ties to Lockheed Martin:
Did Special Envoy Ralston lobby on behalf of Lockheed Martin during his encounters with Turkish officials? It seems likely. Ralston sits on the Board of Directors of Lockheed Martin and serves as vice chairman of The Cohen Group, a lobbying firm that has represented Lockheed since 2004. On August 11 of this year, seventeen days before he was named Special Envoy, Ralston was appointed to The Cohen Group team that lobbies for Lockheed.
Lockheed and Ralston have also worked closely together in Turkey. As Kurdish activist/blogger Mizgin Yilmaz has revealed, Ralston sits on the advisory board of the American Turkish Council -- of which Lockheed Martin is a leading member and financial sponsor.
Silverstein closes out his piece by saying:
It's hard to understand how the Bush Administration could appoint a special envoy with so many conflicts of interest, but Lockheed's corporate slogan says it all: "We never forget who we're working for." Neither, it seems, does General Ralston.