We are coming off the peak of yet another propaganda push by the Bush administration, attempting to spin the war in Iraq as a success, but not many are buying it. The war has killed over 3,000 U.S. soldiers and, according to a study published in 2006 in the British medical journal, The Lancet, over 655,000 Iraqis. According to the U.N., more than 2 million Iraqis have fled the country due to the violence, and 1.7 million more have been internally displaced. Every major poll shows that both Americans and Iraqis want the war to end—in August, BBC found that 79 percent of Iraqis oppose the “presence of Coalition forces,” and 81 percent think that the U.S. troop “surge” has had no effect or made security worse.
Columbia, as a global university, has a responsibility to take a proactive stance against this brutal war. Instead, by investing in corporations crucial to the war effort, our University has aligned its financial future with America’s protracted occupation of Iraq. As of 2006, Columbia had over $4 million invested in three military contractors: General Dynamics, Raytheon, and Lockheed Martin. Given an endowment measured in the billions and war expenses measured in the trillions, it may seem like Columbia owns only a small piece of the tremendous crime that is the war in Iraq. But a small piece of a huge crime is still a serious problem. Columbia is helping fund corporations that not only profit from the war and provide the means to prosecute it, but also have close political ties to it.
Raytheon produces electronics, bombs, and the Tomahawk, Maverick, and Javelin missiles and recently unveiled a nonlethal, pain-inflicting “crowd control heat beam.” General Dynamics manufactures ground equipment from bullets to the Stryker armored vehicle, while Lockheed produces warplanes, missiles, and bombs and supplies contract “interrogators” to military prisons in Iraq.
Each of the three companies spent more than $7 million in contributions and lobbying in 2002 in the lead-up to the war. General Dynamics gave more in contributions than it has in any other year to date, and both Lockheed and Raytheon reached their second-highest figures ever.
It’s easy to guess why. Lockheed, which is the Pentagon’s biggest supplier and the world’s biggest defense contractor, has seen profits expand since 2003. Raytheon acknowledged in a 2006 regulatory filing that “the overall level of U.S. defense spending has increased in recent years for numerous reasons, including increases in funding of operations in Iraq … we can give no assurance that such spending will continue … changes in defense spending could have long-term consequences for our size and structure.” But neither has done as well as General Dynamics, the Washington Post reports: “Of the large defense contractors, General Dynamics’ concentration in Army programs has given it the most direct benefit from the Iraq war.”
Many of the architects of the war have moved directly from leading positions as Bush administration policymakers to jobs at these same arms manufacturers, reaping enormous financial gains from our country’s military misadventure. Bruce Jackson served as executive director of the Project for the New American Century through 1998, vice president for strategy and planning at Lockheed from 1999 to 2002, and thereafter as the chair of the Committee for the Liberation of Iraq. Current Bush administration Deputy Secretary of Defense Gordon England is a former General Dynamics vice president. Longtime Bush administration Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage is a former member of Raytheon’s board of directors. In all, according to the World Policy Institute, by 2004 the Bush administration had appointed 32 “executives, paid consultants, or major shareholders of weapons contractors to top policy-making positions.” Meanwhile, according to the Project on Government Oversight, as of 2004, 57 Lockheed executives, board members, or lobbyists were former “senior government officials”. The equivalent number for Raytheon was 23 and for General Dynamics 19.
Columbia does not need to be a part of this ugly tangle of people and institutions with lucrative interests in war. Columbia claims to be a “socially responsible” investor, and just recently divested from a list of companies which the University believed to be effectively supporting the government of Sudan in its crimes against humanity in Darfur—corporations tied to that violence much less directly than U.S.-based military contractors are to the violence in Iraq. Columbia’s widely publicized divestment from South Africa’s apartheid regime in 1985, after hundreds of students took over Hamilton Hall, was a significant boost to the anti-apartheid campaign.
But Columbia, right now, is complicit with the ongoing violence in Iraq. The University has not taken a neutral stance—it has tied itself financially to the continuation of the war. This is something we—Columbia’s students, alumni, faculty, and staff—should not tolerate. We must call for Columbia to divest entirely from corporations whose profits depend on the war in Iraq and which supply it with munitions or personnel.