Bernie Sanders Mentioned the Military Budget

If U.S. President were not a mythical position but a serious job, the job interview would include asking the candidates their basic plans of action. This would start with, “What will you encourage Congress to spend a couple of trillion dollars on each year?”

At the moment, about half of federal discretionary spending is spent on one thing, militarism. A basic budget proposal from each candidate would tell us whether they think military spending should go up or down. Some of the Republicans have blurted out that they want it increased. Marco Rubio has lamented a failure to spend $100 billion more, suggesting that he would push for that increase. Rand Paul has denounced that idea, suggesting that he’d maintain or reduce military spending. But none of them has actually laid out a proposed budget in even the roughest terms.

The Democrats have avoided the subject even more. When forced to talk about the military, Senator Bernie Sanders has talked about waste and audits but left us completely in the dark as to what level he thinks spending should be. This is odd, because he talks about creating significant new spending all the time, for things like free college. But he never proposes to pay for such projects by pinching a bit from the military; he always proposes to tax billionaires — which is always criticized by the media as severely and nonsensically as a proposal to cut the military would be.

CBS hosted a debate this weekend, and I thank them for actually posting a full transcript and a full video that can be fast-forwarded. This allows an interested person to not actually watch the god-awful thing, but to read it and watch the bits that the transcriber marked “unintelligible” or the bits that require particular attention.

Here are a few segments worth paying attention to:

SANDERS: “I think we have a disagreement. And– the disagreement is that not only did I vote against the war in Iraq, if you look at history, John, you will find that regime change– whether it was in the early ’50s in Iran, whether it was toppling Salvador Allende in Chile or whether it was overthrowing the government [of] Guatemala way back when– these invasions, these– these toppling of governments, regime changes have unintended consequences. I would say that on this issue I’m a little bit more conservative than the secretary.”

That’s new and useful. If the U.S. were to stop overthrowing governments, most of the U.S. military could be dismantled. Here’s where Sanders finally mentions the military budget:

SANDERS: “Let me pick up an issue that– a very important issue that we have not yet discussed. This nation is the most powerful military in the world. We’re spending over $600 billion a year on the military. [He means just in the Department of so-called Defense alone, not counting Homeland Security, State, Energy, etc.] And yet significantly less than 10% of that money is used to be fighting international terrorism. We are spending hundreds of billions of dollars maintaining 5,000 nuclear weapons. I think we need major reform in the military making it more cost effective but also focusing on the real crisis that faces us. The Cold War is over and our focus has got to be on intelligence, increased manpower, fighting international terrorism.”

The upside here is that Sanders pointed out the military price-tag — and perhaps the idea of reducing or eliminating the nukes. The downside is that he didn’t suggest cutting militarism. He didn’t suggest moving money away from militarism. He only proposed to move money, from place to place, within the field of militarism. When asked later about taxing people to pay for college, Sanders failed to mention cutting military spending.

Wanting “cost-effective” military spending, of course, means getting good killing power for your buck. Sanders wants to kill; he just wants to spend as little on it as possible. Whether he ultimately wants military spending reduced, increased, or kept at its current level we just don’t know. He talks up foreign evils and the need to fight them enough that one could as reasonably guess he wants an increase as a decrease. But one way in which Sanders wants to be “cost-effective” is by getting other nations to fight wars. Since most of these other nations are armed largely with U.S. weapons, he may also think this is good for business:

“The– the secretary’s obviously right. It is enormously complicated. But here’s something that I believe we have to do is we put together an international coalition. And that is we have to understand that the Muslim nations in the region, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Turkey, Jordan, all of these nations, they’re gonna just have to get their hands dirty, their boots on the ground. They are gonna have to take on ISIS. This is a war for the soul of Islam. And those countries who are opposed to Islam, they are gonna have to get deeply involved in a way that is not the case today. We should be supportive of that effort. So should the UK, so should France. But those Muslim countries are gonna have to lead the efforts. They are not doing it now.”

Elsewhere in the debate he said the U.S. should “lead.” Here he wants the “Muslim nations” that “are opposed to Islam” to “get their hands dirty.” Saudi Arabia is slaughtering children in Yemen with U.S. weapons, beheading children at home, funding the terrorists Bernie wants it to take the lead in destroying, and shipping poison to the world in the form of oil that will render Saudi Arabia uninhabitable this century. That’s not “dirty” enough?

The potential plus side of Sanders always saying he wants someone else to fight wars, even if he doesn’t understand who would fight on which side, is that it suggests he might not want the U.S. to fight as many wars. If you contrast that with Hillary Clinton’s eagerness to be the toughest militarist on the planet, Bernie wins. If you contrast it with a sane sustainable foreign policy, he loses. If you try to figure out what he actually wants to do in any sort of detail, you clearly have not understood what the point of these horrible debates is.

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  • race_to_the_bottom

    It was a really big deal when Bernie Sanders said: “I
    think we need major reform in the military making it more cost-effective, but
    also focusing on the real crisis that faces us. The Cold War is over and our
    focus has got to be on intelligence, increased manpower, fighting international

    Keep in mind that “combating waste” is a good opening move to start the ball rolling to cut the military budget. It is politically safe to talk about being “cost-effective”.
    The most significant thing he said that “the Cold War is over” which implies we don’t need that particular war machine anymore. The context for this is Ashton Carter’s speech on November 7 at the Reagan Center to a who’s-who of the Pentagon establishment. Carter was on his way back to Washington after a trip to the South China Sea area which included a landing on a carrier and a provocative sailing of a navy ship near one of the islands where China is engaged in land recovery. Carter’s Cold War fantasy for SE Asia is the creation of a string of nations to somehow “contain” China. They claim its not their plan, but everyone knows its true. Anyone who knows anything can see that such notions completely ignore the real situation of the nations of the SCS area. There is absolutely chance that this could or should work. It is real money and real opportunities being thrown down the drain.
    Where Carter’s remarks regarding the SCS area were generally of a geo-political nature, his remarks regarding Russia, Eastern and Southern Europe were highly militarized. His Cold War scenario for the area is that part of the world is to try to isolate Europe from Russia. The old US allies, Germany, France, and Italy, are not too interested in this plan. They have nothing to gain and they are the ones with the economic clout and influence on the continent. The US plan is to mobilize the small weak states let by Poland which are sandwiched between Russia and the German bloc. There are even fantasies in Poland creating an empire of sorts. Of course, all these countries are also making big deals with China, which the US is also waging Cold War, of course. This Cold War is a delusion too.

  • George King

    I will give David the possibility of not being current on military spending and Bernie’s actions regarding the military budget issue. See Bernie calls for war tax to clear up some information on his stance on the military budget issue.

  • teri

    [Here he wants the “Muslim nations” that “are opposed to Islam” to “get their hands dirty.”]

    Huh? Did he mean that are ‘opposed to ISIS’? Or maybe ‘opposed to fundamentalist Islam’? Just asking, because I don’t think there are any Muslim nations that oppose Islam.