The military-industrial complex exerts influence in mysterious ways, large and small – sometimes very small. So it is with the official 2019 White House Christmas ornament, available from the White House Historical Association for the low, low price of just $22.95. This year’s trinket is a model of a presidential helicopter, complete with a wreath hanging off the front. It is being produced and distributed to honor Dwight D. Eisenhower, a helicopter enthusiast who used the presidential versions – one Army, one Marine – for everything from flying Nikita Khrushchev on a tour of Washington, DC, to going back and forth to Camp David.
Fair enough. Ike liked helicopters. But there’s a twist. The official video promoting the model helicopter/ornament and the landing page for ordering it both end with the following dedication:
“Since 1957, Sikorsky, a Lockheed Martin Company, has proudly built the Presidential helicopter. The men and women of Lockheed Martin are honored to have flown every commander in chief since President Eisenhower. The Official 2019 White House Christmas Ornament honors that legacy and is proudly supported by Lockheed Martin.”
Eisenhower, who coined the term military-industrial complex in his 1961 farewell address, would be rolling over in his grave if he knew that the world’s largest military contractor – which receives almost $50 billion per year of your tax dollars – is “proudly supporting” a Christmas ornament in his honor. Thankfully, the ornaments are not actually being produced by Lockheed Martin – as a colleague of mine pointed out, if they were they might well cost $22,000, not $22, and would probably not be delivered until 2022, Christmas 2019 be damned.
Thankfully, the ornaments are not actually being produced by Lockheed Martin… if they were they might well cost $22,000, not $22, and would probably not be delivered until 2022, Christmas 2019 be damned.
Lockheed Martin’s operations are a case study in the “unwarranted influence” Eisenhower warned of in his farewell speech. According to the Center for Responsive Politics’ “Open Secrets” database Lockheed Martin spent $84 million on lobbying and $14 million in campaign contributions in the last three election cycles – a tidy sum for you or me (unless Bill Gates or Jeff Bezos are reading this essay), but well worth it for a company that racks up tens of billions of dollars in Pentagon contracts year in and year out. Proudly, no doubt.
Lockheed Martin has also mastered the use of the revolving door – the movement of officials back and forth between the Pentagon, the military, and private contractors that gives it a leg up in the race for government largesse. According to a new report and database created by the Project on Government Oversight (POGO), in 2018 alone the company hired 55 former senior government officials as executives, directors, or lobbyists. It also has former lobbyists, consultants, and executives serving in the Trump administration, including Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson and John Rood, undersecretary for policy at the Pentagon. In short, when it comes to pushing its interests in Washington, Lockheed Martin is wired.
However, there is at least one Trump administration official who may fail to be amused by the Lockheed Martin-themed ornament – acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan, who is a Boeing man. Shanahan has bragged to associates that his former company would have done a far better job than Lockheed Martin on the F-35, a combat aircraft that has been plagued by cost overruns and performance problems so severe that the aforementioned Project on Government Oversight has suggested that it may never be fully ready for combat. But given the rapid turnover in the Trump administration, who knows if Shanahan will even be around long enough to complain.
Meanwhile, the rest of us have a golden opportunity to be proud owners of our very own, Lockheed Martin -approved and -supported White House Christmas ornament. Lockheed Martin owns Washington, so why shouldn’t we get a small, symbolic piece of the action?
William D. Hartung is the director of the Arms and Security Project at the Center for International Policy.