Daniel Wirls / San Francisco Chronicle – 2018-04-02 00:01:50
Democratic Party Is Guilty of Dereliction of Duty on Defense Spending
Daniel Wirls / San Francisco Chronicle
(March 29, 2018) — By completing the $1.3 trillion spending bill for the remainder of 2018, the Republican Congress and the president took the first big step in implementing their highest priority: a huge increase in the Pentagon budget. The United States has embarked — with hardly a pause after 16 years of costly and counterproductive wars — on another binge of military spending.
But when it comes to national security, which is worse? The Republican Party’s crude equation of greater spending with more security, or the Democrats’ utter lack of opposition to this unjustified boondoggle for the Pentagon?
Each is a powerful indictment of the state of our politics. Together they could signal the end of any rational debate on national security in a country that spends about as much on defense as the next eight nations (ranked by military expenditures) combined.
Although President Trump campaigned as a blunt critic of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, he has governed as a mindless hawk who measures national security by the metric of money and military parades. Some congressional Republicans might snicker about the parade but are pushing as hard as the president for more money than the Pentagon wanted.
The defense budget at the end of President Barack Obama’s administration, adjusted for inflation, was still at the levels of the Reagan buildup in the 1980s. The jaw-dropping increases in the congressional agreement and Trump’s proposed budget for future years will return us to near the record levels of 2010 when the country still had about 150,000 troops deployed between Iraq and Afghanistan. Today, the United States has about 19,000 troops deployed to those two nations.
And the response by the Democratic Party? With few exceptions, complicity and silence.
Since Trump assumed the presidency, congressional Democrats have had one concern about increased military spending: how to use it as leverage for comparable increases in domestic spending. And that is exactly what happened with the recent spending bill, which more Republicans voted against than did Democrats. Republicans gave the Pentagon more than it even asked for, and Democrats took far less for the entire array of domestic needs.
During February’s fiscal fight, what concerned progressive activists and many Democratic members above all else? Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, an immigration issue that should not have been entangled with budget negotiations.
Torn between their desire for domestic dollars and a deal for the “Dreamers,” Democrats voiced almost no concerns about the trillions of dollars being committed to a new Cold War.
This is not a new development. What comes to mind as the only examples of Democratic activism on military policy in recent years? Gays in the military and sexual assault and harassment in the armed services.
Fundamentally important? Yes, absolutely. But both in the relatively safe liberal wheelhouse of civil rights and irrelevant to anything affecting excessive militarism and spending.
Once upon a time, the Democratic Party had members willing and able to confront military excess head-on. Fights against the MX missile and for a nuclear freeze come to mind. But an audit would declare the current Democratic Party to be in intellectual bankruptcy on military policy and spending. Adult supervision of the military? Forget it. Too politically dangerous.
The Obama years, with the party’s focus on domestic affairs, induced apathy on most military issues, as the party kicked tough decisions to control defense budgets down the road.
That was a mistake. Now the Democrats confront a tidal wave of defense spending that, in combination with the tax cuts, could sweep away their domestic policy dreams.
Without an effective voice, a healthy dose of rational opposition — the kind that only one of the major parties can supply — the American public will be left largely in the dark about the choices before them regarding military spending and the enormous stakes involved for both war abroad and peace at home. Stakes that should be on their minds come Nov. 6.
Democratic leaders need to rectify the imbalance between their understandable emphasis on domestic concerns and their relative passivity toward excessive militarism, because the two — the “guns and butter” — are in direct conflict. The party must rebuild its arsenal of arguments in support of a more rational and efficient national defense.
Daniel Wirls is a professor of politics at UC Santa Cruz.
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