We should set the military budget based on what it actually costs to defend the country, not how much it costs to indulge neo-cons and their neo-colonialist fantasies, or how much it costs to keep the military industrial complex from underwriting attack ads on Democrats being "weak on defense."
When polled on the military budget last year, 50% of Republicans agreed that that Pentagon budget should be cut by 10% so that the money could be re-allocated for domestic priorities. 37% of Republicans disagreed. Some Democrats also disagreed-- 19%. But 69% of Democrats agreed with the 10% cut. Even with numbers like that, Biden, decided to announce Trump's Pentagon budget increases were correct and then released his own military budget, increasing it even further! Biden has finally found the issue that will shatter Democratic unity and bring him into comity with conservatives.
Washington Democrat, Jason Call, one of 2022's top progressive primary candidates, told me yesterday that "It’s stunning that we already spend more on military than the next dozen or so countries combined. We should be decreasing military spending, not increasing it. The priorities of the military industrial complex are to sell weapons and foment conflict. These are not the priorities or the needs of the American people. We need healthcare, housing, education, and a federal jobs guarantee. We don’t need to continue to line the pockets of Lockheed and Raytheon shareholders. I’m not going to voting for these war budgets."
Pramila Jayapal (D-WA), chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus sees it a lot like Jason Call does and told me through her comms director that "We’re in the midst of a crisis that has left millions of families unable to put food on the table, make their rent, and pay the bills. But at the same time, we’re dumping billions of dollars into an already bloated Pentagon budget that is larger than the defense budgets of the next 10 countries combined. We should not be increasing defense spending; we should be cutting it-- and investing that money into our communities."
Biden asked Congress for $753 billion, claiming he needs it to counter the threat from China as the department’s top challenge." Republicans-- and right-wing Democraps-- are already screaming it isn't enough. Marcy Winograd, Co-Chair of Progressive Democrats of America's End War and Occupation Team; and Coordinator, CODEPINK Congress, told me that "To increase Trump's bloated military budget by almost 2% suggests the Biden Administration is not serious about ending U.S. wars, drone killings and nuclear proliferation. Stakeholders everywhere should be outraged at Biden's proposed near trillion dollar Pentagon budget, particularly since the Pentagon itself constitutes one of the gravest threats to our global survival. The Pentagon is the largest consumer of oil and largest emitter of greenhouse gases warming our planet. To release this increased military budget weeks before Earth Day signals a lack of urgency and sincerity in addressing the climate crisis."
One of the country's foremost peace activists, David Swanson, reminded his readers today that "just five weapons dealers poured $60 million into U.S. election campaign bribery in 2020. These companies now sell more weapons abroad than to the U.S. government, with the U.S. State Department acting as a marketing firm, and with U.S. weapons and/or U.S. military training and/or U.S. government funding going to the militaries of 96% of the most oppressive governments on earth... The United States, every year, takes $2,170 from every man, woman, and child for wars and war preparations, while Russia takes $439, China $189, and Iran $114. 'Takes' is the right word. President Eisenhower once admitted it out loud, saying, 'Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed.' When a mere $30 billion could end starvation on earth, there is no question that militarism kills first and foremost through the diversion of funds from where they are needed, while of course risking nuclear apocalypse and driving environmental collapse, justifying secrecy, fueling bigotry, and degrading culture."
A couple of days ago-- before the increase was announced-- moderate Democrat Peter Beinart opined for the NY Times that Biden might not decrease military spending. "That’s particularly remarkable," he wrote, "given that, according to the Center for International Policy, today’s military budget, adjusted for inflation, is far higher than the post-World War II average. It’s not as if there aren’t places to cut. In 2016, Bob Woodward and Craig Whitlock of the Washington Post disclosed that, according to an internal study, the Defense Department could save $125 billion over five years simply by trimming its distended bureaucracy. The department, the study found, employed close to 200,000 people in property management alone. After a summary of the report became public, Mr. Woodward and Mr. Whitlock noted, the Pentagon 'imposed secrecy restrictions on the data making up the study, which ensured no one could replicate the findings.' It remains the only federal agency that has never passed an audit."
Advocates of America’s mammoth defense budget claim it generates jobs. But academic studies reveal that it does so far less efficiently than government investment in education, clean energy, transportation and health care. Defense hawks also insist that without increased spending, the United States will lose its military primacy. In 2018, the Trump administration warned that America’s “competitive military advantage has been eroding,” especially in relation to China and Russia. In his confirmation hearing, Mr. Biden’s defense secretary, Lloyd Austin, called China “a pacing challenge for our department.”
China, however, spends less than one-third as much on defense as the United States does and has fewer than one-tenth as many nuclear weapons. China’s military could indeed be a match for the United States in conflicts near China’s shores, but globally, China poses a far greater economic challenge. To meet it, the United States must invest enormously in education and emerging technologies-- the very investments that military spending will sooner or later crowd out. The two superpowers also compete ideologically, and the United States gravely undermines the appeal of its democratic system when, amid a pandemic, the dictatorship in China proves better able to keep its citizens alive.
One explanation for Mr. Biden’s reticence lies in Dwight Eisenhower’s warning about the “unwarranted influence” that America’s “military-industrial complex” could amass in “the councils of government.” This influence is especially intense in Congress, where many districts rely on military spending and where legislators feel the weight of the more than $100 million per year that the defense industry lavishes on lobbying.
But dollars don’t have to be destiny. Over the past decade, grass-roots rebellions have blunted the hold that other powerful industries wield inside the Democratic Party. As a result of Occupy, Black Lives Matter and populist political campaigns by Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, the days when a Democratic president could easily appoint a Treasury secretary from Goldman Sachs seem to be over. When it comes to defense contractors, however, there has been no similar transformation. So Mr. Biden, with minimal controversy, has appointed a defense secretary, General Austin, who served on the board of Raytheon Technologies.
It’s not just General Austin. Mr. Biden’s deputy defense secretary worked at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a think tank whose funders include Northrop Grumman, Boeing and Lockheed Martin. As Mandy Smithberger at the Project on Government Oversight has noted, more than a dozen members of the Biden administration-- including his top Asia adviser at the National Security Council and the official leading the Pentagon’s China strategy review-- have ties to the Center for a New American Security, which according to a report by the Center for International Policy received more funding from defense contractors between 2014 and 2019 than any other think tank the group analyzed. Before becoming Mr. Biden’s secretary of state, Antony Blinken advised a private equity firm that focuses on the defense and aerospace sectors, among others.
None of this means that Mr. Biden and his advisers aren’t doing what they believe is best for the country. But their beliefs about what’s best for the country have evolved in a Beltway ecosystem in which the military-industrial complex wields enormous power.
Counteracting that power will require a mass movement. In 1967, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. warned against the “triple evils of racism, economic exploitation and militarism.” In this new season of progressive ambition, Mr. Biden is beginning to challenge the first two. It’s time for ordinary Americans to make him challenge the third.
One long-time member of Congress told me this morning that "It always surprises me to see how many of the Progressive Caucus members vote for the Defense Authorization and Defense Appropriations bills each year. Those are probably the most meaningful regular votes we take on any substantive issue, and the results are appalling."