Center for Strategic Communication

Loren Thompson from the Lexington Institute speaks at a 2008 conference. Photo: Reuters/Corbis

Shed a tear for the executives at Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Northrop Grumman and the rest of the sprawling defense industry. Yes, they benefit from billions in taxpayer dollars while millions of Americans struggle to make ends meet. But they’re not getting the praise they deserve for killing Osama bin Laden. Wait, what?

That is an actual argument made by Loren Thompson of the Lexington Institute, a Beltway research group that reliably represents the interests of defense contractors. Thompson wants President Obama to tip his cap to the defense companies whose hardware and software SEAL Team Six and the CIA used to kill Osama bin Laden. “[I]s it really asking too much for some sort of official acknowledgement of the role that private enterprise played in the Bin Laden raid?” Thompson asks in a Monday op-ed.

Boeing’s Chinook helos, Raytheon and Northrop Grumman’s sensors, Lockheed Martin’s stealth drone — all these things the SEALs carried, Thompson writes, so it’s time the defense industry got its due.

Yes, the SEALs had impressive gear for the raid, from stealth helicopters to powerful satellites. But if you gave, say, me every piece of equipment that the SEALs had, I regret to inform you that bin Laden would still be alive. Louisville Slugger did not win last year’s World Series. Mario Manningham’s cleats did not keep him in bounds for one of the greatest receptions in Super Bowl history. Even the haters must recognize that LeBron James’ NBA Finals performance is not attributable to Nike or Gatorade.

In truth, defense corporations receive a different form of acknowledgement for their services: giant Defense Department contracts. Unlike SEALs, the defense industry’s reward isn’t always based on performance.

And if Thompson wants to give “some sort of official acknowledgement” to defense corporations, why stop there? Why not honor the welders who assembled the helicopters; the designers of the algorithms that underlay the sensor processors; or the laborers who mined the metals from the earth contained in the stuff the SEALs used on the raid? Alternatively, why not credit the defense industry’s gear for the success of routine patrols in Afghanistan?

Thompson is a defense consultant for profit as well as a military analyst, an inherent conflict of interest. His writing, like that of Lexington’s, more broadly, consistently cheerleads for the defense industry. And it’s especially conspicuous that Thompson’s op-ed is published on the same day that Politico reports Lockheed Martin is threatening to throw thousands of people out of work before a presidential election unless Congress rolls back hundreds of billions of dollars in defense cuts that its failed deficit-reduction gambit teed up.

The defense industry makes valuable things for troops, and it makes dubious things. It offers the promise of future US military supremacy and overpriced, lucrative boondoggles, sometimes all at once. It acts selflessly and it acts shabbily. If the industry feels slighted for a lack of public recognition in any military operation, they’ll just have to console themselves with giant stacks of taxpayer money.