After Afghanistan-- A Peace Dividend? You Must Be Joking
Who's To Blame?
The U.S. finally withdrew from Afghanistan, the smoothest and most successful withdrawal from that country since... I don't know... Alexander the Great? The military actually did an amazing job withdrawing from a devastated country that has every reason in the world to kill every American that could be grabbed. But that isn't what happened. Despite Republican Party propaganda-- spread by Fox and Hate Talk Radio-- the withdrawal was better than anyone could have imagined, and much better than any of the English or Russian withdrawals from Afghanistan. To make it even better, Biden should have announced a $100 billion annual peace dividend by cutting the Pentagon's budget and transferring the money to domestic spending.
Instead, as you probably already know, the military industrial complex has been making certain that the Pentagon's budget is rising, not falling. Writing for The Intercept this morning, Peter Maass noted that the end of the Afghan war-- basically a defeat-- should have been taken as "an opportunity to rethink the logic of America’s war machine. That’s what defeats often do: They force you to reconsider the destructive tendencies that got you into the hole. One of those tendencies has been a nearly ceaseless rise in military spending that has little popular support. Even before the fall of Kabul, opinion polls consistently showed that only a minority of Americans think that the U.S. should spend more on its defense-- just 26 percent in a survey conducted by Gallup in February. And on the day that the U.S. got out of Afghanistan, Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA), the lone member of Congress to vote against the invasion in 2001, called on Republicans as well as Democrats to finally reconfigure the nation’s spending priorities. 'Now is the time to shift our investments away from endless wars and toward addressing human needs,' she said."
I'm sure you know roughly what happened next. Maass takes his readers back to April, when Biden "proposed a $715 billion Pentagon budget for 2022, which represented a 1.6 percent increase from 2021. Progressives like Lee were not pleased-- and were even less pleased in late July when the Senate Armed Services Committee added $25 billion to Biden’s proposal. This “plus-up,” as it’s called, raised the budget to $740 billion, a 5 percent increase over the previous year. At that rate, military spending over the next decade would easily exceed $7 trillion, or four times more than the $1.75 trillion [a ten year expense, unlike the Pentagon's annual expense] Build Back Better program that Biden is trying to push through Congress. Then "on September 2, the House Armed Services Committee met to consider the military budget, and as expected, an amendment was introduced by the ranking Republican to match the Senate increase. This set off a debate in which one of the strongest backers of the plus-up was a Democrat [a very conservative New Dem], Rep. Elaine Luria, a former Navy officer whose Virginia district includes the naval station in Norfolk. Luria said. 'We are ending our longest conflict of 20 years, but more than ever, the world is watching what we do here today… Right now there are malign actors who seek to attack us and do us harm.' This has been a reliable power move over the decades: When one threat fades away, another seems to come along at just the right time. The so-called war on terror is a spent force, but now there is China, which devotes two-thirds less to its defense than the U.S. and is not known to be planning any 9/11-style attacks on the homeland-- but is having a conveniently timed 'Sputnik moment.'"
The final vote was 42-17 to shovel more money into the Pentagon budget. As Maass pointed out, "The committee spent far more time debating critical race theory (about two hours) than the amendment to cut the budget (about 30 minutes)." 14 committee Democrats joined 28 Republicans to push the Pentagon budget higher:
Jim Langevin (RI)
Joe Courtney (CT)
Jared Golden (Blue Dog-ME)
Elaine Luria (New Dem-VA)
Mikie Sherrill (Blue Dog-NJ)
Stephanie Murphy (Blue Dog-FL)
Anthony Brown (New Dem-MD)
Filemon Vela (TX)
Seth Moulton (New Dem-MA)
Salud Carbajal (New Dem-CA)
Elissa Slotkin (New Dem-MI)
Kai Kahele (HI)
Marc Veasey (New Dem-TX)
Steven Horsford (New Dem-NV)
So what are these men and women like Jared Golden, Seth Moulton and Elaine Luria responsible for and why should they-- along with the Republicans-- be driven from office forever? Maass explains:
If you want to understand the soul-killing trajectory of U.S. military spending, you should look at a recent home purchase in Beverly Hills, California. Last month, a wealthy buyer paid $20.9 million for a mansion with 8,600 square feet of living space that includes five bedrooms, seven bathrooms, and an interior courtyard with an olive tree. The buyer’s name, according to a news article that was widely shared on social media, is Daoud Wardak. Little is known about Wardak except that his father was a defense minister in Afghanistan and his older brother founded an obscure logistics company that landed more than a quarter billion dollars in U.S. military contracts. It’s not clear how Wardak was able to purchase his new residence or the $5.2 million condo he also owns in Miami Beach, Florida. But what’s known is that nearly half of U.S. military expenditures since 9/11-- the total is about $14 trillion-- have gone to contractors. Some are global brands of lethality, such as Raytheon and General Dynamics, while others are pop-up entities with headquarters that are post office boxes. The money that has vanished through corruption is legendary as well as unknowable, because the Pentagon has never passed an audit, and until recently, it didn’t even try to conduct one."
It’s a scenario of national deformation that was predicted in 1961 by President Dwight Eisenhower, who warned in his farewell address of the rise of a military-industrial complex. The numbers behind this deformation are stunning. Since 2001, the five largest weapons manufacturers in the U.S. have spent more than $1.1 billion lobbying the government-- and that statistic doesn’t even include their donations to candidates, their funding of think tanks, or their payments to generals who become board members. These investments have paid off, according to Stephen Semler of the Security Policy Reform Institute, which calculates that those five firms have received more than $2 trillion in government contracts since 2001.
And then there is the revolving door. Biden chose as his defense secretary a board member of Raytheon-- retired Gen. Lloyd Austin, who received a payout of up to $1.7 million when he left the company. Austin was also a member of defense contractor Booz Allen Hamilton’s national security advisory board, for which he was paid $200,000 in the year before he became defense secretary. The revolving door was operational during the Trump administration too: President Donald Trump’s last confirmed defense secretary, Mark Esper, was a senior lobbyist for Raytheon before joining the Cabinet; the company paid him more than $1.5 million in his final year.
The door continues to spin. Just last month, the Pentagon’s head of foreign military sales, Heidi Grant, left her government job and a day later started her new one as Boeing’s vice president for business development. The closeness of the industry and the government, to the point of being indistinguishable at times, was even referenced in a conference call last month between investors and the chief executive of Raytheon, one of the largest weapons producers in the U.S.
“Defense spending is nonpartisan,” noted Gregory Hayes, the Raytheon CEO whose compensation exceeded $20 million last year. “We’re encouraged to see Congress supporting plus-ups to the president’s budget that are also aligned to our business and our investments.”
Last year, Lee and Mark Pocan started the Defense Spending Reduction Caucus and these 50 members joined them in sending this letter to Biden, urging a reevaluation of the Pentagon budget:
Jake Auchincloss (D-MA), Nanette Barragán (D-CA), Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR), Jamaal Bowman (D-NY), Cori Bush (D-MO), Judy Chu (D-CA), Steve Cohen (D-TN), Danny Davis (D-IL), Mark DeSaulnier (D-CA), Anna Eshoo (D-CA), Adriano Espaillat (D-NY), Jesús "Chuy" García (D-IL), Jimmy Gomez (D-CA), Raul Grijalva (D-AZ), Alcee Hastings (D-FL), Jahana Hayes (D-CT), Jared Huffman (D-CA), Pramila Jayapal (D-WA), Hank Johnson (D-GA), Mondaire Jones (D-NY), Ro Khanna (D-CA), Dan Kildee (D-MI), Andy Levin (D-MI), Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), Alan Lowenthal (D-CA), Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), Jim McGovern (D-MA), Grace Meng (D-NY), Gwen Moore (D-WI), Marie Newman (D-IL), Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), AOC (D-NY), Ilhan Omar (D-MN), Frank Pallone (D-NJ), Katie Porter (D-CA), Ayanna Pressley (D-MA), Jamie Raskin (D-MD), Bobby Rush (D-IL), John Sarbanes (D-MD), Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), Mark Takano (D-CA), Rashida Tlaib (D-MI), Ritchie Torres (D-NY), Lori Trahan (D-MA), Nydia Velázquez (D-NY), Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ) and Peter Welch (D-VT).
All the amendments to cut the budget failed and in the end 38 peace-oriented Democrats and 75 GOP crackpots voted against the National Defense Authorization Act for 2022. Among the Democrats voting no were Barbara Lee, of course, plus the best of the progressives: Pramila, AOC, Jamaal, Cori, Ilhan, Mondaire, Ayanna, Rashida, Ro, Nikema, Chuy, Bonnie Watson Coleman, Jamie Raskin, Jim McGovern, Jan Schakowsky...
Americans need to be more careful about who we elect to higher office. "There is blame to go around," Washington congressional candidate Jason Call told me today, "but Eisenhower warned us pretty clearly as he was leaving the White House about the military industrial complex and the craven profiteers who would ever seek to use war as a means of enrichment. The founding fathers themselves claimed that standing armies were a 'mischief' (politely put) for the very reasons we have experienced throughout the 20th century: you have an army waiting, they’re going to get put to use. And as Hermann Göring said, 'naturally the common people don’t want war…the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders…all you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger.' Then you’ve got Marine Corps General Smedley Butler with his 'war is a racket' and 'I was a gangster for capitalism.'" Call had more to say, some of it directly related to his congressional race:
So it’s pretty clear with all of this historical context-- from military people no less-- that war is indeed about profits and exploitation. For the industries that make the weapons of war (now a wide and extremely varied coalition) and the industries that will profit from the exploitation that inevitably follows the war and occupation. There is no pure motive for war, no 'we’re just the good guys trying to put things right.' The patriotic fervor that accompanies war is always based in fear and hate, never in a goodwill that would belie the knights in shining armor.
Our elected officials have for the most part bought into this illusion of the US being the good guys, but in the end it’s only premise is might makes right. Justice is a back seat passenger, if on the ride at all. Perhaps surprisingly the last politician I remember making any kind of empassioned plea to Congress about warmaking was Sen. Robert Byrd (D-WV) on the relative eve of hostilities in Iraq, 2003. And what he said really struck me, because I think it’s still where we are, politically speaking. 'This chamber is silent,' he said.
I think what we have to recognize is that silence is bought. It’s bought by Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, Honeywell, and Boeing. It’s bought with millions of dollars in campaign contributions that are a business investment in bloodshed. But we can stand together and end this cycle. Elect representatives who reject war machine and fossil fuel industry funding (inextricably linked), and reject cyclical warmongers like the incumbent in WA-02, Rick Larsen.
North Carolina Senate candidate Erica Smith feels strongly about war and peace-- and military spending-- as well. She told me this afternoon that "In the name of 'fiscal responsibility,' policies that would've housed the homeless, expanded and improved healthcare and education, and addressed the climate crisis in a meaningful way, have been gutted. The very same Congress, without as much as blinking, approved a defense budget over $750 billion. I've always said, 'show me your budget, and I'll tell you your priorities.' Congress has prioritized the funding of war and the profits of defense contractors over the needs of working people because they've been paid to. The forces that bloated the defense budget or the same forces that are shrinking the Build Back Better agenda. The mandate of the voters, and the needs of the poor, the working poor, and the barely middle class are not enough to influence Congress over the money they receive from special interests and corporations. That's why I'm proud that my campaign doesn't accept a dime of corporate PAC money. I'm proud to be unbought and unbossed, powered fully by people. I come from a community challenged by perpetual underfunding. These aren't just numbers to me. They're livelihoods. I'm asking that our Government prioritize our lives over making a down payment on the next forever war. I'm asking that we stop legislating violence both with what we choose to spend money on and what we fail to spend money on. I'm asking that instead of destroying communities in foreign countries we invest in rural communities like mine and usher in a brighter future for America."