We Need to Cut the Military Budget, But Don’t Trust the Far Right to Do It

There’s an urgent need to stop funding wars and human rights abuses abroad and to free up funding for human needs at home. The Freedom Caucus can’t be counted on for either.

Phyllis Bennis

Rep. Matt Gaetz, (R-Fla.) speaks with Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) on January 5, 2023, at the U.S. Capitol. (Photo by Matt McClain/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

Since Republicans took control of the House of Representatives earlier this year, the so-called Freedom Caucus” — the badly misnamed right-fringe of the congressional GOP — has been flexing its influence.

Caucus members are deeply invested in an agenda that would increase inequality and enrich corporations and billionaires, strip hard-won rights from people of color, immigrants, women, and the LGBTQ community, destroy the environment to enrich fossil fuel companies and slash social investment for the poor.

And yet surprisingly, some of these extremists are also—sort of—calling for cutting the military budget. Does that provide an opening for anti-war progressives looking to cross the aisle? Unfortunately, no.

Of course cutting the military budget is an urgent necessity — both to halt the destruction that military spending enables and to free up the funding needed for social investment at home. But this group of right-wing lawmakers can’t be trusted to do either.

Cutting military spending is an urgent moral need

Some Democrats have criticized the GOP for even considering military cuts. But no progressive — inside or outside of Congress — should defend our bloated military budget.

This year, Congress is giving the Pentagon and the nuclear weapons arsenal $858 billion—which accounts for more than half of all U.S. discretionary spending. The United States continues to spend more on the military than the next nine countries combined, including big military spenders like China, Russia, India and Saudi Arabia.

In fact, you could cut that budget in half and Washington would still be spending about $70 billion more than Russia and China together. 

That $858 billion is about $100 billion higher than former President Trump’s last military budget. The increase from 2022 alone could pay for almost all the abandoned social program commitments left unfunded from President Biden’s Build Back Better plan. Or it could help fund lapsed priorities like the expanded Child Tax Credit, which lifted millions of kids out of poverty for one year — only to let them slide back into abject hardship when conservative lawmakers refused to extend it.

Instead, that money is going to the military, fueling war and rights abuses around the world. 

Despite bipartisan votes in both houses of Congress to stop supporting Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen, for example, U.S. backing for the bombing campaign and blockade of Yemeni ports continues. Because of the U.S.-backed Saudi war, 1.3 million pregnant or breastfeeding women and 2.2 million children under 5 need treatment for acute malnutrition, 17 million more are food insecure, and around 400,000 Yemenis have already died in the war. 

Meanwhile, the almost forgotten, smaller-scale wars of the Global War on Terror continue. U.S. airstrikes, drone attacks, Special Forces deployments, and other military engagements persist from Somalia to Syria, Iraq to Pakistan, Mali to Niger and beyond. The Pentagon always has plenty of money for those missions. 

More broadly, about half of the Pentagon budget every year goes directly to arms manufacturers who produce bombs, warplanes, armed drones, nuclear submarines, and more — including new ships and weapons designed to challenge China, significantly escalating the threat of military conflict. The budget includes about $19 billion per year to modernize” the U.S. nuclear arsenal, increasing the danger that any accidental escalation between nuclear weapons powers — like in Ukraine — could result in a nuclear exchange. 

This renewed military build-up in preparation for great power confrontation with China and Russia is extremely dangerous. And there’s no shortage of funds in the Pentagon budget for increasing it.

We can’t trust the far Right

Military spending doesn’t keep us safe from the real enemies we face — like climate change, pandemics, inequality, gun violence, the rise of white supremacy and authoritarianism. Instead, it does enormous harm. 

There is a consensus among U.S. residents that we need to cut military spending. The hard part is convincing Congress to actually do it. So should progressives see these claims by the extremist Republicans as an opportunity to work with them when they say they might be on board with cutting some fraction of military spending?

No — at least not on their terms. These members have said very little about ending actual wars or reducing suffering at home or abroad. Instead, they’ve called for ending so-called woke” policies in the military, like challenging white supremacy in the ranks , protecting trans troops from discrimination and considering climate change in U.S. military policy.

And they would do it while adding to the suffering of people in this country. The $75 billion military cut they’ve suggested would come as part of a broader package — cutting $130 billion from social investments — which would mean big cuts to nutrition assistance, healthcare subsidies, climate protection, and other programs that create jobs and keep people and the planet safe.

We have plenty of good reasons to cut the military budget. Such cuts are popular with voters and other people across this country too — so we need to convince Congress of that and push hard for a real plan to cut military spending. But we can’t trust the extremist caucus with either ending wars abroad or funding urgent human needs at home. We can only trust these white supremacist, transphobic, and classist legislators to do exactly the opposite. They’re not our allies.

This article was produced in partnership with Foreign Policy In Focus.

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Phyllis Bennis is a fellow of the Institute for Policy Studies and serves as international adviser for Jewish Voice for Peace. Her most recent book is the 7th updated edition of Understanding the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict: A Primer.

Democratic Rep. Summer Lee, who at the time was a candidate for the state House, at a demonstration in Pittsburgh for Antwon Rose, who was killed by police, in 2018. Lee recently defeated her 2024 primary challenger.
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