Center for American Progress: a tool of the military-industrial complex

Speaking Security Newsletter | Advisory Note for Organizers and Candidates, n°54 | 26 October 2020

Situation

A Center for International Policy initiative found that at least $1 billion from the US government (mostly military) and defense contractors went to the top 50 think tanks in America (2014-19). 

For its part, Center for American Progress (CAP) took money from these major war industry players:

^Source

Do militarized funding models lead to militarized policy recommendations?

A militarized funding model doesn’t always play out in a neat, quid pro quo sort of way, since each think tank produces different policy recommendations despite being bankrolled in a similar fashion. But it does appear to set the parameters for debate, which oscillates between the following:

  1. More defense spending, less social spending (conservative think tanks)

  2. More/maintain defense spending, more social spending (liberal think tanks)

Contrary to how it’s presented, this isn’t really a ‘two sides’-type deal because securing social spending necessitates a confrontation with the military-industrial complex — converting DOD funds is often the only recourse we’ve got left to fund social programs (explained here). But liberal think tanks like CAP aren’t willing to go there.

Manipulating public opinion

The public is largely on board with talking about this kind of funding conversion: a Data For Progress survey found that 56 percent of all US voters and 69 percent of Democratic voters supported converting 10 percent of the military budget to fund public health and other social programs.

CAP’s own survey of voter attitudes toward foreign policy issues omitted this question. It abided strictly by the parameters above. Here’s CAP’s survey question on the 1st (conservative) parameter (more defense spending, less social spending):

And here’s it asking about 2nd (liberal) parameter (more/maintain defense spending, more social spending):

CAP’s survey didn’t include a less defense spending, more social spending option, even though that’s what the supermajority(+) of what Democratic voters want.

And wouldn’t that be the proper way to run a survey, in a general sense? The 1st and 2nd questions above aren’t opposites, and they’re the only two questions related to defense spending. Respondents had zero opportunity to express support for a defense-to-social funding conversion.

Conclusion

Ultimately, and just as with members of Congress, war industry cash enables establishment think tanks to reject public opinion (with varying degrees of subtlety). CAP’s no exception — it’s a case study.

To be sure, I don’t think CAP’s funding model (all of its listed donors, here) is the only reason why it produces dogshit analysis (questionable leadership, authoritarian influence, etc). But CAP’s corporate funding model is undoubtedly what keeps it afloat.

So maybe the question is not how CAP’s analysis would be different if it were fully grassroots-funded, but whether it would exist at all.

Thanks for your time,

Stephen (@stephensemler; stephen@securityreform.org)

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