A whopping 85% of media quotes on US military involvement come from someone paid by the defense industry.
Experts with important-sounding titles linked to academic-sounding entities have been shaping hearts and minds in the press, both at home and abroad, in favor of endless conflict in Ukraine. Guess what deep-pocketed benefactor lurks beneath the surface?
During the Iraq War, the Pentagon backed retired generals to make the rounds of TV and radio shows as ‘military analysts’ to promote the Bush administration’s agenda in the Persian Gulf. It was like inviting Ronald McDonald on a program to debate and discuss the merit of Big Macs. You could almost see the strings attached to the puppets, linked to the military-industrial complex that benefited from war without an off-ramp.
Fast forward 20 years, and the sales tactics have drastically changed. The generals have been replaced by various experts with academic credentials, typically linked to one or more ‘think tanks’. Far from the neutral academic centers of intellectual integrity that the names suggest, these entities are little more than laundromats for discreet special interests. I should know – I used to be a director of one.
Every Wednesday, some of the highest-ranking figures of the Bush administration would come to our Washington, DC office to deliver their main agenda points for the week, requesting assistance in placing and promoting them to both grassroots activists sympathetic to the cause and to the general public. The experts within the think tank were hired based on political litmus tests, no doubt to ensure that their views aligned with the organization’s. When they no longer do, you’re either fired or you leave.
The donors, many of whom were well-known millionaires and billionaires driven by a passion for certain issues, would come straight out and ask for bang for their buck in exchange for the opening of their wallets. In some cases, an entire project or department would be mounted at the think tank with the understanding that it would be fully funded by a single donor.
These rich, influential folks typically had business or investment interests that benefited from shaping the establishment narrative in their favor, and they wanted to do so without leaving any footprints. What better way than to have it all fronted by a shiny veneer of expert credibility?
So while the generals of the Iraq War era had all the subtlety of a sledgehammer in representing the interests of the military-industrial complex, the new salesmen of endless armed conflict in Ukraine have overwhelmingly adopted the more subtle model.
A study published in 2020 found that the top 50 think tanks received over a billion dollars from the US government and its defense contractors and manufacturers, including some of the biggest beneficiaries of weapons production today ‘for Ukraine’.
The top recipients of this funding include the Atlantic Council, German Marshall Fund of the United States, Brookings Institution, Heritage Foundation, Center for Strategic and International Studies, New America Foundation, RAND Corporation, Center for a New American Security, Council on Foreign Relations, and the Stimson Center.
Some of these black boxes are more ideologically-driven than others. The Heritage Foundation, for example, leans overwhelmingly neoconservative and interventionist. Others, like the Atlantic Council and German Marshall Fund, are effectively force multipliers for NATO talking points.
But the RAND Corporation also houses systems analysts and scientists specializing in space and computing. The fact that not all of these entities – or even the people who work within some of them – can be tossed into the same basket and labeled mere parrots for the special interests of their organization’s benefactors helps to muddy the waters.
In an analysis published in June of media coverage related to US military involvement in Ukraine, the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft found that, when a think tank is cited regarding the issue, 85% of the time it’s a think tank with “financial backing from the defense industry.”
Taken at face value, this risks being interpreted by the general public as expert ‘consensus’ on the need for US taxpayers to continue flooding Ukraine with weapons, unaware that it’s really just a bunch of Pentagon-backed actors agreeing with each other about the need to pursue the most profitable course of action on behalf of their War Inc. sugar daddies.
Just like when climate scientists, who have parlayed climate change into endless funding and a perpetual justification for their existence, aren’t going to kill their cash cow by arguing that the climate can’t be controlled by man and that throwing cash at the issue – or at them – is futile.
Many of the Ukraine think tank experts are quick to attack analysis and information published on platforms they don’t like – such as RT – as ‘Russian-backed’. You’d have to be living under a rock these days to not know that RT is linked to Russia. No transparency issues there. But there is far less transparency around their own organizations’ financing.
Where is their insistence on being above board about the use of defense industry cash to influence not just the general public but the course of the conflict itself? Around a third of top foreign policy think tanks don’t disclose this Pentagon funding, according to the Quincy Institute.
Nor is it unheard of for these experts to springboard from these establishment-friendly platforms and the public notoriety they provide, right into public office – where they can translate the same agenda that they promoted into actionable policy. Isn’t it important for voters to consider the powerful hidden hand who helped to get them there?