Ignore the GOP’s Lies: The Pentagon is Not Broke

Fighter Jet

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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From Hope to Hopeless: Reflections on Obama’s Legacy of Corporatism and Militarism

barack-obama

Barack Obama’s farewell address last Tuesday highlighted, one last time, the conflicting disparity between the president’s rhetoric and the actual policies he has pursued throughout the last eight years.

It was, as always, a rousing speech–even if it was completely detached from the material reality working-class Americans endure. (Say what you will about the president, but the man remains an impressive orator. George W. Bush, on the other hand, struggled just to correctly pronounce the word “nuclear.”)

Obama assumed office just as the 2008 Great Recession, the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, was unfolding. He handily defeated Republican John McCain, on a marketing-savvy (if, ultimately, vacuous) platform of “hope” and “change.” And congressional Democrats rode Obama’s campaign coattails to victory, enlarging their already solid majority in the House and Senate.

The message from voters was clear: Americans were fed up with eight years of Bush’s unpopular wars, shredding of constitutional liberties, torture and spying programs, and the ever widening gap between the wealthy one percent and the working class. President Obama and the Democrats had a clear mandate to enact sweeping progressive changes on the level of FDR’s New Deal.

Eight years later, those unpopular wars have not only continued but been expanded. The NSA’s surveillance program is far more widespread than we originally imagined. The U.S. no longer tortures its enemies–it murders them, without charge, warrant or trial, via unmanned predator drones. The once discredited Republican Party has retaken control of Congress and the White House along with 67 state legislatures.

And the economy remains stagnant–the much lauded “economic recovery,” a cruel joke. Wall Street not only weathered the recession, but emerged richer and more influential than when taxpayers were forced to bail out the floundering Lehman Brothers and AIG at the height of the recession.

What the hell happened…?

For starters, Obama’s roughly $800 billion stimulus fell far short of the type of robust stimulus package many economists–including New York Times columnist, Paul Krugman–believed was necessary. (Krugman would later reveal the true limits to his supposed Keynesian economic populism in his intense opposition to democratic socialist, Bernie Sanders during the 2016 Democratic presidential primary.)

In fact, the stimulus contained limited money for job-creation and, according to the Socialist Worker‘s Lance Selfa, “explicitly ruled out direct government jobs programs modeled on the 1930s-era Works Progress Administration. It dedicated upwards of 40 percent of the stimulus bill to tax cuts and credits to individuals and business that were useless in creating jobs.”

But then, it seems that Obama–who described himself on the campaign trail as a “free-market guy,” and cited Ronald Reagan as a political inspiration–was always more committed to serving Wall Street than Main Street.

Investigative journalist, Ron Suskind, in his book, The Confidence Men, reported on a March 27, 2009 meeting between the president and a group of the most influential Wall Street CEOs. Despite Obama’s warning the billionaires that, “My administration is the only thing standing between you and the pitchforks,” he and then-Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner nonetheless assured them they would not interfere with business-as-usual in Wall Street.

Suskind quotes one of the attending CEOs:

The sense of everyone after the big meeting was relief… The president had as us at a moment of real vulnerability. At that point, he could have ordered us to do just about anything, and we would have rolled over. But he didn’t. He mostly wanted to help us out, to quell the mob.

The list of botched opportunities and unfulfilled promises goes on.

The health insurance giveaway known as the Affordable Care Act is based on a right-wing proposal and is a far cry from the single-payer, universal health care program left activists have long called for. The former community organizer who frequently invokes the language and rhetoric of nonviolent civil disobedience used the brute force of the NYPD to violently crush Occupy Wall Street.

Obama has deported more immigrants than any other president in history. (And you thought Trump’s xenophobia was bad!) He has, likewise, created a repressive, chilling atmosphere toward journalists, prosecuting more whistleblowers under the Espionage Act than all other previous administrations combined.

And, while the historic significance of a nation founded and built on slavery electing its first African American president should not be undermined, Obama did precious little to address the deeply-embedded, institutional racism that remains a pernicious presence in our supposedly “post-racial” country. Indeed, black Americans have lost ground in every economic category during the last eight years.

By the 2010 midterm elections, liberal voters were understandably underwhelmed and unimpressed. They stayed home on Election Day, allowing the conservative Tea Party “movement” to sweep Republicans back into the House of Representatives. The Democrats barely hung on to their majority in the Senate–a situation which would eventually by reversed after the GOP won big gains in the 2014 and 2016 elections.

As Selfa writes of Obama’s first two years in office, “This was a time when Obama and the Democrats held almost all the levers of political power in Washington. And they squandered it.”

He later adds,

“Obama’s penchant to reach for compromise and ‘bipartisanship’ was exactly the opposite of what the dire situation he inherited required–and what the American populace was ready for.”

But I think the biggest gap between President Obama’s rhetoric and his actions is demonstrated in the area of foreign policy, where the Nobel Peace Prize winner has proved himself to be a greater warmonger than Bush.

Obama ramped-up the nebulous war in Afghanistan, making it the longest war in U.S. history. He has dropped bombs on Pakistan, Yemen, Libya, Syria, and Somalia. In fact, according to anti-war activist and Code Pink co-founder, Medea Benjamin, the U.S. dropped 26,171 bombs in 2016 alone. And the U.S. maintains a military presence in Iraq, a nation both Bush and Obama have all but ravaged, paving the way for the massive refugee crisis and the creation of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

“What does the administration have to show for eight years of fighting on so many fronts?” writes Benjamin. “Terrorism has spread, no wars have been ‘won’ and the Middle East is consumed by more chaos and divisions than when candidate Barack Obama declared his opposition to the invasion of Iraq.”

Additionally, Obama has codified and normalized the use of unmanned predator drones. Contrary to his insistence, these robotic death machines do not allow for more selective, precisely targeted killings. Obama is also the first sitting president to claim for himself the right to assassinate, at will, any person based on the slightest suspicion of connections to terrorism. Targets are selected for assassination based on Obama’s secret “kill list”—a list which includes American citizens.

And on Jan. 20—five days from this writing—Donald Trump will inherit all of this awesome, unprecedented military power and extrajudicial authority. Yeah, I’m fucking scared, too.

To that end, perhaps Obama’s greatest achievement has been his ability to get progressives to passively go along with policies they never would have supported under a Republican president.

Glenn Greenwald observed this phenomenon during Congress’s debate in 2011 on raising the federal debt-ceiling in order to avoid a government shutdown. As part of Obama’s “Grand Bargain” with the Republicans he offered up deep cuts to Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security, the crown jewels of New Deal liberalism.

As Greenwald wrote in The Guardian at the time:

Therein lies one of the most enduring attributes of Obama’s legacy: in many crucial areas, he has done more to subvert and weaken the left’s political agenda than a GOP president could have dreamed of achieving. So potent, so overarching, are tribal loyalties in American politics that partisans will support, or at least tolerate, any and all policies their party’s leader endorses–even if those policies are ones they long claimed to loathe.

In the end, Obama’s true legacy may be that he was not the “lesser evil,” but in the words of Black Agenda Report’s Glen Ford, the more “effective evil.”

Going forward, as Obama exits the White House and we look down the barrel of Trump’s administration of swamp monsters, it is worth remembering a quote from left-wing historian, Howard Zinn.

“What matters most is not who is sitting in the White House,” Zinn wrote in A People’s History of the United States, “but who is ‘sitting in’–and who is marching outside the White House, pushing for change.”

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