The Left Doubles Down on Defense Cuts

On May 23, a coalition of left-wing groups sent an open letter to all the announced Democratic candidates for president calling for major cuts in U.S. defense spending. Under the banner of “Put People Over the Pentagon,” the 22 groups said that “it’s time to stop misdirecting hundreds of billions of dollars away from domestic and human needs to pad unnecessary budget lines for endless wars, failed weapons and the Pentagon’s corporate handouts. Doing so will make our country stronger and more just.” The amount to be cut should be "at least $200 billion annually, freeing up $2 trillion or more over the next decade for domestic and human needs priorities." The total 2019 defense budget is $686 billion, of which $89 billion is to pay for overseas contingency operations, leaving $597 billion to fund the base force structure of the armed services. This is out of a total federal budget of $4.5 trillion; meaning defense is only 15% of total spending.

The leftist demand would not only end all foreign military operations (which they oppose on principle) but cut standing military strength by one-fifth. And they emphasis this would only be "a start" of the unilateral disarmament process.

The timing of the letter could not be worse. It was sent just before Memorial Day when the nation pays tribute to those who have given their lives for their country. The 2019 Defense Budget Overview put out by the Defense Department contains a relevant quote from retired Defense Secretary Gen. James Mattis "If you don't get the resources... then your strategy is nothing more than a hallucination, because, without the resources, there's just so much brave young men and women can do." Tragically, too many serving in uniform have died needlessly because they were up against better armed opponents who had built up their forces while America allowed its capabilities to stagnate and decline. We don't need another Bataan Death March.

As a share of GDP, defense spending hit 5.7% in 1985 at the height of the Reagan buildup that brought victory in the Cold War. It dropped steadily in the post-Cold War period to around 3.0% of GDP which put it on a par with the isolationist 1930s. The 9/11 terrorist attacks reawakened Americans to the fact that it is still a dangerous world, and not just because of insurgents. A rising China and a revanchist Russia have rekindled another era of Great Power rivalry which also includes their allies like Iran and North Korea. All are working hard to acquire new military capabilities. Yet, the revival of U.S. spending to meet these challenges has been slow and incomplete.

The military budget peaked in 2010 at 4.5% of GDP even with Americans engaged in combat; and then started to drop again. It stabilized at 3.1% in 2015 and has remained there even in the 2019 budget. In dollars, the amount has increased, allowing some minor expansion in force levels because there has been an uptick in economic growth. The effort being made to protect U.S. security, interests, and allies remains near historical lows despite "Donald Trump’s continued march toward militarism" as alleged by Sean Vitka, whose group Demand Progress was on the letter.

The coalition offers an alternative strategy for dealing with the world's problems "By adhering to our values and promoting international cooperation, we can prevent war, address the underlying causes of conflict and meet humanitarian imperatives." But what are their values? Code Pink's latest project is the "Embassy Protection Collective" whose members have moved into the Venezuela Embassy in Washington DC to support the minions of socialist dictator Nicholas Maduro. He is fending off a popular uprising with troops backed by Cuba and Russia. So much for the left's supposed values of democracy, peace and non-intervention. They support the military, just not ours.

Another signer is Just Foreign Policy. It lists support for the Maduro regime as a major campaign, but also claims that the U.S. is on "the wrong side" in Yemen by backing the Saudi-led coalition allied with the internationally recognized government against Iranian-backed insurgents. It also wants the U.S. to withdraw from Syria so that its Iran-backed regime can survive. With the common theme of aligning with Tehran, signing a letter against the U.S. military as forces where being deployed to counter rising Iranian threats was perfect timing. The group's co-director Hassan El-Tayyab cut his teeth with another signer, Peace Action, which claims to be the largest of the "peace and disarmament" crowd. This group also leans towards Tehran, and not just in Yemen. It claims that "Iran's reduced compliance with nuclear accord should be met with good faith diplomacy, not retaliation" and blames Trump's "belligerency" for the crisis. There is, of course, no mention of Iran as a state-sponsor of terrorism whose militias and special ops units have laid waste to the region, or that Iran is developing advanced weapons to cover its aggression. 

The National Priorities Project of the Institute for Policy Studies signed the letter, keeping in step with the anti-American message it has hawked for over half a century. The IPS was founded by Marcus Raskin and Richard Barnet, who left the Kennedy administration in protest over its hard-line posture towards the Soviet Union. They and their group have supported every enemy of the U.S. since. They have now widened their scope to argue that "the Green New Deal must have anti-militarism at its core." This puts them in line with Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace, who also signed the letter. The name Greenpeace is an oxymoron. The group's plan for economic stagnation if not outright regression means that the only way for any person or group to get more is to take it from others. A zero-sum world of shortages guarantees strife. A green world would not be a peaceful world, unless a ruthless dictatorship kept the peace by force.

This is the proposal of another signer World Beyond War. The plan of this group is to "outlaw" war. But it concedes that as a matter of practicality "Armed peacekeepers will have to be ready to stop war wherever and whenever it appears." Perpetual war for perpetual peace. It doesn't occur to them that if they are willing to fight for a cause they believe in, others will do the same to advance their ambitions. They always have and they always will.

It is a contentious world and the U.S. must be ready to deal with it as it is. That readiness cannot, however, be conjured up overnight. For example, In January 2019 the Navy contracted for the construction of two new aircraft carriers. The first will return the hallowed name Enterprise to the fleet, but not until 2028. The second will not be delivered until 2032. Who knows what world these ships will face with this kind of lead time? If the left-wing coalition of "peace" groups get their way, the next president will likely cancel both carriers, and much more besides. The stakes of the 2020 election are thus not trivial. Every week, the left is upping the stakes to where national survival itself will be on the ballot.

William R. Hawkins is a consultant specializing in international economic and national security issues. He is a former Republican staff member on the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee.