During a recent interview on NBC’s Meet the Press, Maine Republican Senator Susan Collins reiterated one of the biggest lies about Barack Obama’s presidency.
When host, Chuck Todd asked Collins if there is “any part of [President Donald Trump’s] budget you support?” she responded:
“Yes. I do think that we need an increase [in spending] for our veterans and an increase in military spending because readiness has really suffered.”
For context, the majority of Collins’ six-and-a-half minute interview was devoted to the president’s proposed health care bill which, as of this writing, is DOA. These remarks were her sole reference to military-spending.
Yet, the statement, minor though it may be, is extremely significant.
The notion that military readiness has “really suffered” due to Obama’s budgetary policies has been widely repeated by congressional Republicans, Trump, and the corporate media. The GOP maintain Obama “depleted” military funding, leaving the U.S. woefully under-prepared—if not, in fact, completely unprepared—to adequately respond to a foreign attack.
Trump alluded to this notion of a “weakened” military during his March 1 address to Congress.
“I am sending Congress a budget that rebuilds the military, eliminates the defense sequester and calls for one of the largest increases in national defense spending in American history,” Trump said of his proposed $54 billion military-spending budget.
This oft-repeated talking point that the military suffers from a lack of “readiness,” corresponds with the equally false narrative that Obama was “weak” on matters of foreign policy—too eager to engage in “wimpy diplomacy,” and “negotiations,” rather than military force.
But this baseless narrative ignores the fact that both military spending and the use of military force increased under Obama. Indeed, Obama—who received the Nobel Peace Prize less than a year into his presidency—proved to be more of a warmonger than George “I’m a War president!” Bush.
Under Obama, the U.S. escalated the war in Afghanistan, down-scaled—but did not end, entirely—the U.S. military occupation of Iraq, and engaged in covert drone bombing campaigns in Yemen, Pakistan, Somalia, Libya, and Syria. Perhaps most unnerving was the Obama administration’s penchant for relying on unmanned predator drones which can be controlled from thousands of miles away, and its codification into law of extrajudicial targeted assassinations.
The latter tactic claimed the lives of at least two U.S. citizens: Anwar al-Awlaki and his 16-year-old son, Abulrahman al-Awlaki.
Obama even maintained a not-so-secret “kill list” of suspected terrorists targeted for death, for Christ’s sake! Perhaps Republicans are just jealous a black man got to engage in all the really deranged, ultra-violent stuff, while Cheney and Rumsfeld had to settle for merely waterboarding people.
The fact is Obama was hardly the peacenik Republicans—along with their subservient echo-chamber in the corporate media–constantly portray him as. Likewise, the claim that Obama “depleted” the military of funding, leaving it in a “weakened” state, is downright laughable.
Contrary to the GOP’s rhetoric, the United States still maintains the largest, strongest, most expensive military force in the world.
As Branko Marcetic writes in a March 6 piece for Jacobin titled, “The Lie of ‘Rebuilding’ the Military”:
The US military has a vastly larger airforce, navy, and number of aircraft carriers than any of its closest rivals. While it commands less manpower than China and India, its nuclear stockpile—a mind-boggling 6,970 warheads—is second only to Russia. The massive three hundred held by France in third place looks piddling by comparison. According to a 2015 Credit Suisse report, all of this and more means the United States far outmatches any other country in terms of military strength.
As Marcetic notes, maintaining an absurdly massive military of this size does not come cheap. The Pentagon ate up $622 billion of the federal budget in 2016, alone. Fifty-four percent of our federal tax dollars go to military spending. And much of this money is wasted on outdated, Cold War-era weapons and fighter jets the Pentagon has no need for—a fact that, curiously, goes unnoticed by “fiscally conservative” Republicans who constantly harp about the need for the government to “get its fiscal house in order.”
(And while we are on the topic, can we mention the hypocrisy of claiming to want to “shrink the size of government,” while lavishing the military–which, last time I checked, is part of the executive branch of the federal government–with billions of dollars?)
Contrary to what the talking heads on “liberal” NPR insist, the largest portion of the federal budget is devoted to the misleadingly-titled category, “Defense”—not so-called “entitlement” programs like Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.
But military-spending is so sacrosanct among both political parties it is almost never brought up in budgetary debates. Instead, we are told immigrants, refugees, public school teachers and their “cadillac-style” retirement benefits, and the earned-income programs won through hard-fought working-class struggle are to blame for our nation’s budgetary woes.
This is the perverse genius of the so-called “austerity” policies the global capitalist elites have pushed in Europe and the U.S. since the Great Recession: Socialize the costs and privatize the profits. And during Obama’s presidency those profits continued to soar for weapons manufacturers like Lockheed-Martin, Raytheon, and General Dynamics, which owns Bath Iron Works, one of the largest employers in Maine.
The Trump administration, meanwhile, is eyeing deep cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which is now headed by climate change denier, Scott Pruitt. Also on the chopping block is funding for the National Endowment for the Arts, the State Department, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, and most federal regulatory industries.
Turns out Americans should have heeded President Dwight Eisenhower’s outgoing warning about the dangers of the “military-industrial complex,” after all.
“As millions of Americans struggle with inadequate health care, low wages, deteriorating public services and uncertainty about their futures as the wage gap between the wealthy elite and the working poor widens,” famed consumer advocate and ertswhile independent presidential candidate, Ralph Nader wrote back in 2013, “billions upon billions of taxpayer dollars are pouring into the coffers of the Department of Defense ever year.”
All of this makes clear the left’s urgent need to revive the beleaguered anti-war movement, which largely remained dormant during Obama’s presidency. As Maine anti-war activist, blogger, and professional organizer, Bruce Gagnon told me in a 2015 interview, “Liberal Democrats are reluctant to challenge the president when he’s ‘their guy.'”
“It’s a real hypocrisy,” Gagnon added. “And it’s a real problem for maintaining an active anti-war movement.”
Perhaps the fact that it is now a Republican carrying out these disastrous wars will reinvigorate the anti-war left. The mass opposition to Trump’s racist campaigns against Muslims and immigrants is certainly an encouraging sign. Socialists must tap into this growing movement, while also making the broader connections between the global refugee crisis and U.S. imperialism.
But our first task must be to offer a forceful rebuke to the bourgeois falsehood that the military needs “rebuilding.” Quite the reverse, we should be investing less money in killing people, and more on infrastructure, good-paying jobs, renewable energy programs, health care, and our public schools.
“Monopolies, oligarchy, the striving for domination and not for freedom, the exploitation of an increasing number of small or weak nations by a handful of the richest or most powerful nations,” Vladimir Lenin wrote in his 1917 essay, Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism, “… all these have given birth to those distinctive characteristics of imperialism which compel us to define it as parasitic or decaying capitalism.”
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