President Donald Trump has sparked considerable controversy by threatening to veto the 2021 National Defense Authorization Act – a behemoth bill authorizing $740 billion in U.S. military expenditures – for the first time in its nearly 60-year history. However, one peace group on Friday warned against making the NDAA all about Trump, reminding Americans of some of the grave consequences of spending more on militarism than the 10 next countries combined.
The US Senate on Friday voted 84-13 in favor of the latest NDAA and sent the bill the desk of the president, who said he might not sign it into law because it does not repeal liability protections for the social media companies that have policed his false, misleading, and inflammatory posts. Specifically, Trump objects to Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which shields companies like Twitter from being held liable for content created by their users.
Trump also wants Congress to strike from the bill a provision permitting the renaming of US military bases named after Confederate leaders, presumably a nod to his considerable white supremacist base.
“In the past few weeks, Donald Trump has managed, through his own intransigence, to turn the debate about the FY21 National Defense Authorization Act into a story about himself – first in support of white supremacy, and later his own pet issues,” Erica Fein, advocacy director at the peace advocacy group Win Without War, said in a statement. “While we commend Congress for not ceding to Trump’s demands, particularly on the question of Confederate base names, we must not lose sight of the fact that the FY21 NDAA is about much more than that.”
First and foremost, the FY21 NDAA authorizes nearly three-quarters of a trillion dollars in Pentagon spending. As people across the world reel from a devastating pandemic, as families struggle to pay their bills, as communities of color go starved for resources, funneling billions more into an overpowered war machine is an act of utter inhumanity.
The FY21 NDAA also extends the influence of the Pentagon in determining the Energy Department’s nuclear budget, places obstacles in the way of the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan, provides one of the largest historical provisions of no-strings-attached military aid to Israel, and heightens the United States’ aggressive posture toward China.
“Lets be clear: the FY21 NDAA does include a number of hard-fought and commendable policies, from requiring the long-overdue renaming of military bases honoring the Confederacy, to cracking down on the use of shell corporations, to tightening restrictions on the provision of military equipment to domestic law enforcement,” said Fein. “But we must not allow the goalposts to be defined by the low bar of the status quo or Trump’s personal obstinance. Our movement will not stop fighting until we slash the Pentagon budget, end endless war, and transform US foreign policy for good.”
While some Democratic lawmakers have praised portions of the latest NDAA for the provisions mentioned by Fein and others, including granting troops a pay raise and providing paid parental leave and anti-discrimination protections, other peace activists echoed Fein’s objection to what the bill actually represents – a diversion of desperately needed funding for social programs during multiple national crises.
Calling the military budget “out of control,” the women-led antiwar group CodePink asserted that “the Pentagon is asking for a whopping $740.5 billion – more than half of the country’s discretionary spending, [and] the majority of this money goes directly to perpetuating violence, destruction, and endless war.”
“The Pentagon’s absurd budget harms Americans at home as well, by diverting funds that should be used to benefit the American people such as universal healthcare and welfare programs, and by fueling violence on our streets,” the group said. “Even the modest 10% budget cut many congresspeople are calling for could vastly improve the lives of millions of Americans and lessen our country’s damage abroad.”
Congress just voted for a $740,000,000,000 Pentagon budget. That’s bigger than anytime since the height of the “war on terror”–all while they argue that extending UI benefits is “too expensive”
Tell your reps to vote NO on the NDAA now!
— CODEPINK (@codepink) July 24, 2020
Some of the lawmakers who voted against the NDAA made the connection between excessive military spending and excessive civilian suffering.
Endless money for wars? No problem. Endless money for tax breaks for the rich? No problem. Endless money for corporate welfare? No problem. But when it comes to providing a $1,200 direct payment to the working class during a pandemic, somehow we can’t afford it. Not acceptable.
— Bernie Sanders (@BernieSanders) December 10, 2020
“As we fight back a catastrophic pandemic and public health crisis, Congress should not be rewarding the Pentagon with a massive spending increase,” said Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), who holds the distinction of being the only member of either chamber of Congress to vote against authorizing the so-called War on Terror in 2001. “I cannot support a bill that funds the Pentagon at a level far beyond what is necessary for our national defense, turning our backs on the serious human need we face today.”