Up in arms, or how our country got to be No. 1 with a bullet


After many years studying the sordid world of weapon sales, William Hartung has to be somewhat shell-shocked. But he’s still trying to put the brakes on the international arms trade, and his newest effort lives up to its subtitle: “A Quick and Dirty Guide to War Profiteering in the Bush Administration.” The problem is whether anyone outside the choir of progressives will hear what this preacher is saying. The book’s anti-Bush call to arms unfortunately drowns out the conclusion a reader can’t help but arrive at: Our foreign and domestic policies don’t drive the arms trade; it’s the arms business that dictates those policies. This is a bipartisan problem that can’t be laid just at the feet of Dick Cheney/George W. Bush and cronies. (To be fair, the author has sometimes taken Democrats to task in previous books and articles.)

Hartung runs the Arms Trade Resource Center at the liberal think tank World Policy Institute, but he hits his stride when he goes out into the field. The highlight is the preface: a droll stroll through last June’s Paris Air Show, one of the world’s largest annual arms bazaars. Boeing’s exhibit brochure, Hartung points out, featured “a three-panel spread that alternated pictures of a rainbow coalition of smiling faces with airliners, attack helicopters, and fighter planes, all linked by the theme of ‘global partnership.’ ” He adds, “The overall impression was of a sort of hip imperial power that it would be fun to be ruled by, at least compared with those heavy-handed Russians or those stick-up-the-ass Brits.”

The rest of the book is a well-done clip job detailing how Bush’s corporate pals are using the Pentagon to loot the treasury. Plus, of course, the seemingly obligatory infomercial pitches to oust Bush.