Much of the media attention this week on President Obama’s new military budget has put forward a false narrative wherein Obama is somehow taking his socialist/pacifist sledgehammer to the Pentagon’s war machine and blasting it to smithereens. Republicans have charged that Obama is endangering the country’s security, while the Democratic leadership has hailed it as the dawn of a new era in responsible spending priorities. Part of this narrative portrays Defense Secretary Robert Gates as standing up to the war industry, particularly military contractors.
The reality is that all of this is false.
Here is an undeniable fact: Obama is substantially increasing US military spending, by at least $21 billion from Bush-era levels, including a significant ratcheting up of Afghanistan war spending, as well as more money for unmanned attack drones, which are increasingly being used in attacks on Pakistan. (David Swanson over at AfterDowningStreet.org does a great job of breaking down some of the media coverage of this issue across the political spectrum).
Obama’s budget of $534 billion to the Department of Defense "represents roughly a 4-percent increase over the $513 billion allocated to the Pentagon in FY2009 under the Bush administration, and $6.7 billion more than the outgoing administration’s projections for FY 2010," bragged Lawrence Korb, author of the Center for American Progress‘ report supporting Obama’s escalation of the war in Afghanistan, in an article called, "Obama’s Defense Budget Is on Target."
Obama and his neoliberal think tankers clearly didn’t think much of Rep. Barney Frank’s call earlier this year to cut military spending by 25% to pay for urgently needed social programs and economic aid to struggling Americans. "To accomplish his goals of expanding health care and other important quality of life services without ballooning the deficit," Frank said, Obama needed to reduce military spending. "If we do not get military spending under control, we will not be able to respond to important domestic needs." Well, not only is overall military spending on the rise, but Obama is about to ask for billions more for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in a "supplemental" spending bill, the type which were staples in Bush’s campaign to mask the full military budget and total cost of the wars. Obama could seek the funding as early as Thursday.
Now, the Wall Street Journal is reporting that we may actually see some spine coming from Congress in standing up to Obama’s request for this additional $75.5 billion in war funds (UPDATE: Obama actually ended up asking for $83 billion). The WSJ characterized the situation as one of "raising tensions" between Obama and some lawmakers opposed to the wars. It should be noted off-the-bat that the Congresspeople speaking out are, predictably, members of the usual suspects club and the Democratic leadership is probably at this moment sharing cocktails in the backroom with McCain and McConnell, but, nonetheless, it is worth examining what is being said:
"I can’t imagine any way I’d vote for it," said Rep. Lynn Woolsey, a California Democrat and leader in the 77-member congressional Progressive Caucus. It would be her first major break with this White House.
Ms. Woolsey fears the president’s plan for Iraq would leave behind a big occupation force. She is also concerned about the planned escalation in Afghanistan. "I don’t think we should be going there," she said.
Similar sentiments echo across the House. Rep. Jim McGovern (D., Mass.) said he fears Afghanistan could become a quagmire. "I just have this sinking feeling that we’re getting deeper and deeper into a war that has no end," he said.
Rep. John Conyers (D., Mich.) dismissed Mr. Obama’s plans as "embarrassingly naive," and suggested that the president is being led astray by those around him. "He’s the smartest man in American politics today," Rep. Conyers said. "But he occasionally gets bad advice and makes mistakes. This is one of those instances."
Obama has vowed to break with the Bush-era tradition of seeking such supplementals to fund the war, saying that beginning in 2010 he will fund the wars as part of his overall budget. The antiwar caucus of Democrats is unlikely to have enough votes to block it given the increasingly overt pro-war nature of the Democratic leadership. And, as the WSJ notes, the funding bills are likely to pass "since many Republicans will support them."
An interesting point nestled halfway through the WSJ piece illustrates a point some antiwar activists have been making since Obama’s election — he is likely to win increased support from Democratic lawmakers for wars they may not have supported when Bush was in power:
The president argues that Afghanistan has been neglected, allowing al Qaeda to regroup and exposing the U.S. to new dangers.
Rep. John Larson (D., Conn.) suggests Democrats may be less inclined to joust with the current White House on the issue than they were with former President George W. Bush. "We have somebody that Democrats feel will level with them," said Mr. Larson, the House’s fourth-ranking Democrat.
This truly is one of the most important trends to watch with the Obama presidency, particularly as it relates to war policy. Obama is in a position to greatly advance the interests of empire, precisely because he is able to build much wider support for policies that are essentially a continuation of those implemented by Bush.