Democrats in the US Senate showed themselves to be just another war party this week, with 40 of their number out of 47 voting to pass a record $717-billion military budget for FY 2019. Only seven Democrats (Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey, D-MA, Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley, D-OR, Kamala Harris, D-CA, Dick Durbin, D-IL, and Kirstin Gillibrand, D-NY) and independent Bernie Sanders, who caucuses with the Democratic Party, voted against the bill (Sen. Angus King, an independent from Maine who also caucuses with the Democrats, neutralized Sanders’ vote by voting for the measure).
For those who may have hoped that perhaps the growing number of self-described “democratic socialist” candidartes running for seats in Congress might call out this war-mongering by the Democratic Party establishment, there was just silence.
Sen. Sanders, to be sure, said he would vote against the bill, but he didn’t say he was doing that because he thought it was an outrageous amount of money to spend on war and preparations for war. In fact, he prefaced his opposition by saying, “I support a strong US military.” Rather, as he always does, Sanders decried the “waste, fraud and mismanagement” in the Pentagon budget, instead of the reality that virtually the entire budget, representing two-thirds of all federal discretionary spending, is a waste.
The sad truth is that when it comes to Democratic candidates running openly wearing a “democratic socialist” label, including Sanders, the standard-bearer for this newly popular identity, there is a sort of fraud being perpetrated on the public. Most such candidates, including Sanders, simply won’t talk about US imperialism, hegemonism and about the need to slash the grossly outsized US military budget, which surpasses the budgets of nations with the next ten largest militaries.
Why does this matter? Because when progressive Democrats, and especially those who call themselves “democratic socialists” (implying that somehow straight-up “socialists” might not be sufficiently democratic!), espouse popular socialist programs like Medicare for All, expanded and enhanced Social Security benefits, free public college for anyone who wants to get a higher degree beyond high school, a guaranteed job for all, paid maternity/paternity leave, etc. — all worthy and popular ideas — they open themselves up immediately to charges by Republicans and by conservative and establishment liberal Democrats that they won’t be able to pay for those programs, or that they’d have to rise taxes to pay for them.
And those charges are justified, because most of those so-called progressive, and even “democratic socialist” candidates, tacitly or, in Sen. Sanders’ case even overtly support, fundamentally, the US military and most of America’s militaristic foreign policies and actions abroad — the majority of which are in flagrant violation of international law and have nothing to do with national defense.
Sanders, in fact, supports the F-35, an epic turkey of a jet fighter-bomber that at a program cost of $1.5 trillion and counting and a unit-price that already exceeds $100 million per plane even before it is operational, is the most expensive weapon in the history of mankind. Sanders supports this wet kiss for the US arms industry because the Pentagon was thoughtful enough to base a wing of the planes at an airbase in Vermont, Sen. Sanders’ home state.
If democratic socialist Sanders cannot stand up to that kind of blatant Pentagon manipulation, how can any elected representative?
$1.5 trillion would be enough money to guarantee Social Security benefits into the indefinite future as far as anyone can see, and could even allow for an increase in benefits from the current starvation level of a program that is the sole source of retirement income for half of all retired Americans and the major source of support for 90% of them.
According to Brown University’s recent Watson Institute Study on the ‘Costs of War’, the US has spent some $5.6 trillion on its policy of endless war launched in the wake of the 9-11 attacks in 2001. Those wars have done nothing to reduce the threat of terrorism. In fact they’ve caused terrorism attacks to spread and to multiply dramatically over the intervening years. Iraq is a disaster zone, with millions of its middle class population gone to other lands, and millions more internally displaced, while terror bombs are practically daily events in the shattered society that remains. Afghanistan is, perhaps, even worse. One of the poorest countries in the world, its people have been bombed and shot by US troops, its cities destroyed, opium production has soared under US protection, and the Taliban have only grown stronger over 17 years of US invasion, war and occupation. Libya was destroyed completely as a country by US and NATO bombing, and now the US is in Syria backing the very terrorists it supposedly went into Afghanistan to destroy: Al Qaeda. It’s doing this to try and overthrow the internationally recognized government of Syria. Again and again the US engages in SUCH “regime change” efforts at great cost in money and blood, usually only making things worse while spending a fortune on arms and manpower. The only beneficiaries of these wars are the nation’s arms industry, the professional military brass who get paid to plan them, and the politicians, Republican and Democrat, who are lavished with the arms peddlers’ campaign contributions (bribes).
Think what that $5.6 trillion could do in the US! New schools, rebuilt cities, repaired infrastructure, modern high-speed trains, a well-funded and secure retirement program, a national health care program and a massive R&D program to develop alternative non-carbon-based energy systems to seriously tackle climate change (how about subsidized solar panels on every home’s roof in America?). It would all be possible if we weren’t locked into a hyper-expensive war economy.
Anastasia Ocasio-Cortez, the dynamic young Puerto Rican woman who stunned the supposed experts by trouncing a 10-term Democratic House leader, Joseph Crowley, in a Bronx/Queens congressional district primary, is one of the few such avowed socialist Democrats to actually say she wants the US to have a “peace budget,” which one has to assume would mean one with a much smaller military. Yet when asked how she would pay for the programs she advocates, instead of saying, “by drastically cutting military spending,” even she instead talked about fairer tax policies, as though just ending corporate welfare and taxing the rich more would do the trick. She had the opportunity to attack the Pentagon budget, which she knows is where the real money is, but she whiffed.
When Bernie Sanders is asked how he can expect the US to pay for Medicare for All and free college tuition for anyone who wants to attend public college, he typically points to the Nordic countries which all have both such programs, and also much more lucrative versions of social security that let people retire without taking a hit in their standard of living. But he doesn’t ever point out that the reason those countries can have such progressive socialist-style programs is that unlike the US, they spend only a pittance of their budgets and taxes on their military forces.
If so-called socialists in the Democratic Party cannot openly and with righteous self-assurance make the case for shifting the US away from a permanent war economy to a peace economy and for slashing military spending by, oh let’s say 75% (which would still leave it the biggest spender on arms in the world!) how can we call them socialist? Or democratic? How can we call them progressive for that matter? Just check out the featured article in the current issue of In These Times, a journal founded by a group of Democratic Socialists of America activists. It talks about DSA candidates now running for office, like Ocasio-Cortez, about how the organization has suddenly seen a surge in membership jumping from 6000 in 2015 to almost 50,000 now. But in describing what democratic socialism stands for there’s not a word about opposing the US war economy and a decades long imperialist policy of permanent war on a global scale, much less a call for slashing military spending. The silence on that huge issue is staggering and indefensible.
Full disclosure: I was a writer for ITT since its founding, and in the ’90s was listed on the masthead as a contributing editor and Asia correspondent. But I quit back in 2005 in disgust when the editor, Joel Bleifus, ran a fact-challenged letter ITT had received objecting to my piece on the US military’s use of depleted uranium weapons in Iraq. That letter (that today we’d call the work of a troll) was run by Bleifus without my knowledge or my being given a chance to respond in the same edition, which was the standard practice for such letters at ITT. And when, even after I did successfully insist on getting a chance to respond, I found my letter run only in part, selectively edited, and with a comment by Bleifus saying they he agreed with the troll that my article had not proven the case that the military was using DU weapons — a claim that was clearly ludicrous and has been proven false over and over again — I demanded that my name be removed from the masthead. I have not contributed to the publication since. In fact I wrote an obit for the publication that ran in Counterpunch.
After all, it’s not rocket science: A country that spends two-thirds of all the taxes it collects on war and arms will rot from the inside. Just check out the fate of the Roman Empire.
I just returned from “socialist” Europe. In Italy, a taxi driver told me of his desire to visit America and of his plan to tour our beautiful land on a motor scooter. I had to warn him not to rent a Vespa, but rather to rent big motorcycle with large wheels. “If you try to tour America’s highways on a scooter, you’re likely to hit a deep pothole with those small wheels and end up dead or in a hospital,” I told him.
He looked at me incredulously. “How can America allow its highways to be so bad?” he asked.
“Nobody wants to pay taxes in America,” I said. “And all the taxes they do pay end up paying for war, not for highway maintenance or anything else useful.”
And it’s true. Italy, often called the “sick man” of Europe, has much better roads than the US I discovered (better coffee too!). In fact its roads — both highways and urban streets — make the US look like a third-world country…which increasingly, particularly in its cities and its rural regions, it really is.
Polls show that Americans are sick of all the wars, and that they want programs like Medicare for All, guaranteed jobs, paid maternity leave, and affordable college for their kids, but Congress won’t vote for these things that the public wants. Clutching their corporate campaign lucre, they say America “can’t afford it,” and then turn around and pass a record $717-billion Pentagon funding bill for 2019, while warning that Social Security and Medicare may need to be cut.
It’s time for real progressive Democrats, and especially the ones calling themselves “democratic socialists,” to speak out against this scandal, and to openly call for slashing Pentagon spending — not to “eliminate waste,” but because the entire Pentagon budget is a murderous, society-destroying, freedom-undermining, budget-sucking, politics-corrupting waste.
We need them to act on this, because the Democratic Party’s elected officials in Washington are almost as pro-war as are the Republicans (the Republicans voted 46 for passage, two against, with three abstentions vs. Democrats who, counting their two independent allies, voted 41 for and 8 against). Consider the below list of shame of those 40 Democratic Senators who just voted in favor of the latest Pentagon funding bill (they were joined by Sen. King, the Maine independent who caucuses with Democrats).
That’s no “revolution,” and it’s not even an “opposition” worthy of the name. It’s craven collusion and gutlessness, and by not speaking out against it, those calling themselves democratic socialists are perpetrating a fraud on the voters.