Obama Bows to Defense Lobbyists on Arms Exports

Lockheed Martin's C-130 transport plane, now under looser export controls
Lockheed Martin’s C-130 transport plane, now under looser export controls

How much does Barack Obama love the defense corporations?

Of course, we know what candidate and President Obama says about the influence of lobbyists in Washington. “I am in this race to tell the corporate lobbyists that their days of setting the agenda in Washington are over,” he said in 2007. “They will not run my White House.”

“We must take action on both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue to end the outsized influence of lobbyists,” he said in his State of the Union address in 2012.

Anyone paying attention, even the most zealous partisan, knows Obama’s White House has been run with the influence of lobbyists from the beginning, in the energy sector, the financial sector, the health insurance and pharmacy sectors, on and on. But President Obama is now making another major concession to defense corporations (an industry whose CEOs the Obama White House loves to meet with).

“The defense industry has long pushed for a loosening of the U.S. export controls,” reports ProPublica’s Cora Currier in a piece entitled “In Big Win for Defense Industry, Obama Rolls Back Limits on Arms Exports.” Obama will loosen the restrictions on exports of arms and military equipment, moving much of the oversight away from the legal controls at the State Department and over to the Commerce Department.

Under the new system, whole categories of equipment encompassing tens of thousands of items will move to the Commerce Department, where they will be under more“flexible” controls. Final rules have been issued for six of 19 categories of equipment and more will roll out in the coming months. Some military equipment, such as fighter jets, drones, and other systems and parts, will stay under the State Department’s tighter oversight.

Commerce will do interagency human rights reviews before allowing exports, but only as a matter of policy, whereas in the State Department it is required by law.

The U.S. makes up about 80 percent of the global arms trade (up from 37 percent in 1990), a status quo that helps prop up brutal dictators throughout the Middle East, fuels civil wars in places like Congo, and heightens tensions between competing states in the Asia-Pacific region.

No wonder rent-seeking corporations like Lockheed Martin, Textron, and Honeywell are, as Currier reports, just some of “the companies that recently lobbied on the issue” of export controls. They manufacture products that are being sent over to the more “flexible” Commerce Department, like transport planes, helicopters, and military technology.

As far as I can tell, loosening the restrictions on the Pentagon’s welfare queens in the defense industry doesn’t serve some pressing strategic need. It seems this is merely a bow to the military-industrial complex, which is desperate to make some extra cash amid talk of budget cuts. And the Obama administration was more than happy to oblige.

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