Robert Scheer SI Podcast SI: Democracy & Media

Andrew Cockburn: War Is a Multi-Trillion-Dollar Racket and the Pentagon Knows It

The journalist and Harper's editor brilliantly documents the motivations behind the U.S. military’s war lust in his new book, “Spoils of War.”
Editor, Andrew Cockburn.
Editor, Andrew Cockburn. [Photo courtesy of Andrew Cockburn]

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Twenty years since the September 11, 2001 attacks, the human and financial cost of the United States’ failed “War on Terror” is plain to see: as one headline put it, “20 years, $6 trillion, 900,000 lives.” The estimates of lives lost and trillions spent vary throughout media sources, but even the most conservative estimates speak for themselves. Yet, while the Pentagon billed America’s latest imperial endeavors as an imperative series of operations aimed at protecting U.S. national security, there is a simpler, far more cynical and obscene motivation behind these forever wars, according to the Washington editor of Harper’s Magazine, Andrew Cockburn: money. 

On this week’s installment of “Scheer Intelligence,” Cockburn joins host Robert Scheer to discuss his most recent book, “Spoils of War: Power, Profit and the American War Machine,” released by Verso Books on September 21. Consolidating years of thorough reporting on the Pentagon, including bombshell interviews with military insiders, Cockburn comes to a scathing conclusion about the U.S. military. At the start of the podcast, Scheer, who has written extensively about the Military Industrial Complex, including in his book on defense spending, “The Pornography of Power,” recounts the many military failures that Cockburn documents in “Spoils of War,” including making useless weapons. 

“Is this really the gang that can’t shoot straight?” asks Scheer. 

“In a way yes, but the question is whether they care about shooting straight,” responds Cockburn. “The American defense system has only a coincidental relationship with actual defense. They don’t really care that much about it. What they care about is the money. Defense spending, developing weapons, and doing what they do, is only a means to that end.” 

The Harpers’ Magazine editor then points to the trillions of dollars the defense industry made during the Afghanistan War as evidence that, while it may look to the rest of us as a failure, it was a “failed war” that was wildly successful when measured by dollars made as opposed to lives lost. The two journalists then go on to discuss the crazily dangerous threat America’s drive for increasing its unmatched nuclear weapons arsenal poses to the survival of the human race. 

Listen to the full discussion between Cockburn and Scheer as they go on to examine the new high-tech threats Washington is drumming up to justify unconscionable defense spending, as well as the full extent of the U.S. military’s deadly infighting. 


Robert Scheer

Joshua Scheer

Natasha Hakimi Zapata 

Lucy Berbeo 


  1. A US president’s popularity is greatly affected by the performance of the US stock market. Understood in this context, the US didn’t “lose” its wars in Vietnam, Iraq, Libya, Syria, or Afghanistan that resulted in the deaths of millions of innocents, created “failed states” in the mid-east and the forced mass migration of tens of millions into Europe and the US. Despite periodic downturns, American elites have been enjoying a booming stock market for decades, and a substantial percentage of the corporations that comprise the US stock market are directly or indirectly involved in the US “war machine”. Weapons manufacturers such as Lockheed Martin, Boeing, General Dynamics, Raytheon, Northrop Grumman, and Silicon Valley giants like Microsoft, Apple, and Amazon that are paid billions to provide surveillance on behalf of the national security state made huge profits from these wars and helped create the “booming stock market” that elites and weapons manufacturers currently enjoy. This is why our wars never end: war is America’s “business”. Since the Vietnam War we’ve known about the unprovoked brutality, torture, murder, and massacres (e.g. the 1968 Mỹ Lai massacre, the “Collateral murder” in Iraq) of non-combatant citizens and journalists by the US military, yet Hollywood movies (e.g. “American Sniper”, “Black Hawk Down”, “Zero Dark Thirty”, et al) continue to portray US military conduct as ‘heroism’ in wars revealed to be based on premeditated deliberate lies. What accounts for this disconnect from reality? Why does “liberal” Hollywood refuse to produce movies that depict the reality of police and military violence? Follow the money; Washington truly is “Hollywood for ugly people”.

    1. Jim, two comments. Hollywood is our _unofficial_ Ministry of Propaganda. If and when the Hollywood machine wants to deliver gun porn of the military variety, it allows the Pentagon to vet the script and, magically, the military co-operates in the venture. On occasion a producer with an anti-war message is on his own.
      As for the profitability of wars for the MI Complex, we’ve known this since the profiteering that occurred after WW2 and accelerated during the Viet-Nam war. I harbor a nasty suspicion that Nixon may have been impeached, among other reasons, for “prematurely” bringing our boys home…
      I further suspect that Johnson just decided the exposure (of his baggage) wasn’t worth it, kicked the can, leaving withdrawal to a successor in the distant future.
      The MIC all but guarantees that taxpayers will pay for Forever wars in perpetuity. This withdrawal is but a hiatus, unless we see the birth of a generation of pacifists and isolationists. I survived the 60’s. I’m not holding my breath.
      Be well.

  2. I knew this before this article some years back as an avid reader, but yes, so much smoke, so many mirrors. Let people die to make a profit. Why we can’t trust pharma, military, government, even local police being armed with military style arms, is to continue that flow of money. A capitalist driven society is simply untrustworthy. The more death, the more success they have in their goal of making money.

    1. “De een zijn dood is de ander zijn brood” — one person’s death is another man’s bread.

  3. Major General Smedley Darlington Butler said this almost 100 years ago.

    The species is fucked because basic human nature remains unchanged since the beginning of time. And what proof do I have to support such an un-progressive statement?! The History Of The Twentieth Century.

    Chris Hedges has given speech after speech about the slow meltdown of the US (and the world) economy. Read ” America: The Farewell Tour”. Strauss and Howe call it “The Fourth Turning”. My read of history tells me it has happened so many times before it looks cyclical. So, if we eliminate wishful thinking from the equation, the odds of SHTF is almost certain.

    As for the End Game, Hedges again hits the nail on the head in his last article on Sheerpost. And while I think choosing an oligarchy over an autocracy is dreaming in technicolor, God bless him for trying because in his position he has to say something. But disagreements aside, if this is as good as it is going to get brings me back to my point about the species. 🙂

  4. Cockburn is right in that America’s only goal is money. Indeed but it’s a bit more than that. As Howard Zinn correctly stated as the real reason behind America’s motives during the Cold War, they weren’t to stop the spread of communism; it was simply to expand its imperial power. His rationale was simple; if it was to stop communism, then why did the American Empire continue to expand after the USSR collapsed? Exactly.

    Zinn 2005:

    Of course I don’t think Cockburn would be even the slightest bit opposed to Zinn’s stance.

  5. The beliefs we think we have, the beliefs we say we have, the beliefs we actually live day in and day out. We only see what our minds lets us believe. Unexamined beliefs are murdering us as we read this.

    1. As would those of us who can read faster than most people talk (that’s most of us). And those of us who like to copy particularly cogent stuff to send to others or paste into a file for later reference.

  6. Thanks for the fabulous revelations of the squalid details of how money worship runs “our” military, “our” government policies, and “our” cheerleading press. All one big happy corrupted monopoly.

    Additional information on the money trail to the corrupt coordinating center is at “War Profiteer Story”

  7. Although I respect that this conversation is Accurate about our Death/War “economy”, I would expect these 2 speakers would know it wasn’t Ql Qaeda who did 9/11 and that the “pandemic” is conjured for the SAME reason,, $$$$

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