The mammoth law of the Pentagon budget 2021 has overcome most of the constitutional hurdles in recent weeks: 740.5 billion US dollars are to be spent next year on the US military, which corresponds to the value of the next ten countries added together. However, a closer look at the history of the law and a few selected additional articles also reveals a great deal about the US political establishment: if Democrats and Republicans could hardly be further apart on other issues, War and militarism are the glue of the US party system. Aggressive imperialism serves as a unifying, system-stabilizing Moment.
The US government is known to command the largest military machine in human history. According to the latest figures from the Stockholm Peace Institute SIPRI, more than 1.9 trillion US dollars were spent on the military worldwide in 2019. The United States accounted for 732 billion dollars of this, which adds up to as much spending as the next ten countries: China, India, Russia, Saudi Arabia, France, Germany, Great Britain, Japan, South Korea and Brazil. We all know these numbers and comparisons.
And in a sprawling bureaucracy like the American one, such large sums of money want to be developed and well documented in a complex process. In recent weeks, most constitutional hurdles have been overcome in this process of Pentagon budget planning in 2021. We want to take a closer look at one of them, since it knows how to teach us so much more about the USA and its nonpartisan pathological and obsessively belligerent political caste. But first on the beginning.
The Pentagon Budget
The National Defense Authorization Act, or NDAA for short, is a comprehensive, annual US federal law that superficially sets the annual budget of the US Department of Defense, the Pentagon, and in addition now also contains strategic, operational, or even marginally defense-relevant requirements. The NDAA has been approved every single time since its introduction in 1961, which is why members of parliament quickly realized that they can also cheat all sorts of other statutes into the Text, which are then approved in one go. For example, the first NDAA in 1961 had a volume of not even one page, that of 1979 barely 18, while that of fiscal year 2020 comprises a staggering 1,119 pages and contains, for example, Nord Stream 2-related sanctions against Russia in paragraph 7503 as an appendage to the budget. In the previous year, industrial sanctions against China were cheated into, in this year’s draft, the Chinese App TikTok on government devices is to be banned. In the NDAA of 2012, on the other hand, Section 1021 granted the executive the right to put behind bars, without charge and indefinitely, without Habeas Corpus, without trial, every Person in the world who the US government claims is a Terrorist or a terrorist supporter: an incomprehensible violation of international law, hidden in the thousand-page depths of a seemingly banal budget law signed by constitutional lawyer Obama.
The process of creating the NDAA is highly complex. In the spring, the president first presents his draft. This will then be worked on and supplemented by countless committees and subcommittees of both chambers of the US Congress, accompanied by countless votes, expert hearings and expert opinions. After votes in the Senate and the House of Representatives, the text finally ends up on the president’s desk for signature. A whole network of offices on Capitol Hill is working all year round on nothing but this mammoth law. An important milestone in the progress of this process are the hearings and especially the additional articles, the Amendments, in the two defense committees of the two chambers, the House of Representatives and the Senate, which, given the amounts of money they manage, are among the most powerful committees in the U.S. System ever.
The relationship of authority and power between the two US Chambers is extremely complex and characterized by various Checks and Balances. On the subject that interests us here, the Pentagon Budget, however, the House of Representatives, simply called the “House,” has more power. The House also traditionally has more responsibilities in matters of war and peace than the Senate, which is why I refer to this later in the text and not to the Senate.
The Pentagon Budget 2021
At the beginning of February, President Trump’s office presented the draft for 2021, which envisages a military budget of 740.5 billion US dollars, a slight increase compared to the previous year (738 billion). In mid-June, the Senate Defense Committee voted 25-2 in favor of the bill, and in early July, the House Defense Committee voted 56-0. Last week, the House also voted 295 to 125 and the Senate 86 to 14 in favor of their respective NDAA draft, so that it will eventually end up on Trump’s desk after merging both drafts.
So far, so unspectacular. In each of these places a multitude of non-partisan Amendments were added; often only minor details, formalities, nuances, hundreds in number. However, I would like to pick out four extremely important Amendments from the 14-hour debate in the House Committee on defense, which ultimately lead us to the core thesis of this text.
Militarism always wins
As you know, US President Trump has no ideology at all in foreign and security policy; he is neither a classical Militarist nor an Antimilitarist; he is at the same time an Interventionist and Non-Interventionist; here he relies on diplomatic hooliganism, there on negotiation. He makes foreign and security policy decisions solely on the basis of how they could be of benefit to him personally on a daily basis. The four Amendments mentioned reflect this: in two of them Trump represents the Empire Position, the militarist Position, in the other two at least formally the anti-imperialist, de-escalative Position. The four Amendments concern a partial withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan and Germany, the Yemeni war and a disarmament agreement with Russia.
Since 2001, the level of US troops in Afghanistan has averaged between a few thousand and 30,000, or between 60,000 and 110,000 in the first four years of Obama. A key election promise of Trump was to withdraw from the wars in the Greater Middle East, and so he has already brought back at least a few hundred people from Afghanistan, so that according to the Pentagon the figure is currently 8,600, while Trump last year sent more than 14,000 men to other countries in the Region. Under the peace agreement reached with the Taliban in February, all U.S. troops are expected to leave Afghanistan by spring 2021, but Trump even insists on a full withdrawal later this year-ideally as a homemade election gift before the November elections. Congressman Jason Crow of the Democrats now introduced an Amendment that contains all sorts of imperialist-militaristic myths and links various basically unfulfillable requirements to a troop reduction even below 8,000. Among many other statutes, it must be ensured, for example, that a corresponding partial withdrawal “will not endanger or otherwise negatively influence the ongoing Anti-Terror Mission of the United States against the Islamic State, Al-Qaida and forces associated with them.” This requirement – like some others – is so vaguely formulated that it cannot possibly be fulfilled by semantics alone: how can we guarantee that any action X does not negatively affect a situation Y in any way? The Amendment was approved by 45 votes to 11, and the endless war in Afghanistan will celebrate its 20th birthday next year.
Analogous to the scenario in the context of Germany. After Japan (55,000), Germany with 34,500 is by far the most US troops stationed outside the USA. Trump announced several times that he would reduce these by 9,500 and send about half of them home or move them to other European countries. A broad alliance of both parties submitted an Amendment to sabotage this planned partial withdrawal from Germany. The troop strength should not be reduced until nonsensical reports were written again, which assured that a partial withdrawal would not endanger the interests of the USA or its allies. And as if the last 30 years of world history had never happened, the reason is that they suspect it: Russia. Republican Congresswoman Liz Cheney-who holds hardly less warmongering positions than her father and Iraq 2003 war criminal Dick Cheney-explains: “the withdrawal of US troops from Germany is in the interest of Russia, not in the interest of the US. Russia welcomes the prospect of a withdrawal”. Just as if Moscow would invade the Baltic states if “only” 25,000 US soldiers were stationed in Germany. The Amendment was approved by 49 votes to 7: Not a single US soldier will be removed from Germany in the next six months. Even Trump’s announcement on Thursday that he wants to withdraw 12,000 troops quickly does not change this: as commander – in-chief of the armed forces, he can order what he wants, but he needs money from Congress for a withdrawal-and the Congress will refuse these funds.
And so both matters in which Trump holds the anti-imperialist Position, i.e. the troop withdrawals from Afghanistan and Germany, were crushed by a militarist alliance of the centrist Establishments of both parties. However, both amendments were not adopted unanimously, but there were some opposing votes: from the left, progressive wing of the Democrats and the non-interventionist right-wing of the pro-Trump Republicans. “But,” says US Journalist Glenn Greenwald,“this left-right anti-war coalition sees no sting against the war machine of the Establishment wings of both parties and the military and intelligence community.”
Senator Bernie Sanders wanted to introduce an Amendment to the Senate committee that would have completely ended US support for the Saudi-Emirates coalition in its bloody war in Yemen. According to the UN, the Yemeni war produced “the worst humanitarian catastrophe in the world” and would have ended tomorrow morning without comprehensive US Support. The Sanders Amendment was blocked in advance by Republican chairman James Inhofe, so it was not even allowed to vote. A similar Amendment was narrowly passed in the House committee by 31 votes to 25, but it only gives the US government a few reins and does not end the US war in Yemen. Nor does the Amendment address the fundamental fact that the entire US war in Yemen is unconstitutional, since there is no congressional approval to date. In the past, similar Amendments were deleted in the further process or finally buried by Donald Trump by Veto. So it is more than unlikely that even the softened form of the Yemen amendment will make it to the final NDAA. And so, under U.S. complicity, Yemen will continue to be murdered in 2021.
Last August, the Trump Administration finally pulled out of the INF treaty with Russia-an extremely important Soviet – era disarmament agreement. As expected, the Trump Administration’s accusation was that Russia had violated the agreement, while MIT professor emeritus Theodore Postol argued validly that both sides had broken the agreement. Here, Trump’s militaristic streak and obsession with confrontation once again came to light when he puts armament over disarmament and unilateralism over multilateralism. In an Amendment to the House Defense Committee, Democratic Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard did not want a return to the INF, but simply demanded that the government provide a detailed report on why tearing up the INF and the renewed confrontation with Russia would be in the national interest of the United States. But even this delicate demand for transparency and Checks and Balances was dashed in the committee – both parties are behind the president’s Russia confrontation.
Looking at these four Amendments reveals once again: there is no dissent in the US party system on issues of war and militarism, certainly on the margins, but the all-dominating establishment in the Centers of the Democratic and Republican parties stand united behind the aggressive behavior of US imperialism. Formally anti-militarist demands of the US president are buried by Congress, while his militaristic Empire positions are carried to success one after another. War and militarism are the glue of the US party system, an aggressive imperialism serves as a unifying, system-stabilizing Moment. Strife and supposed discord are staged on the surface as a mere smear comedy.
Mudslinging as a distraction
In this year’s negotiations on the Pentagon Budget, this tendency towards greasy comedy is again clearly evident. After all the militaristic Empire policies have been swept through all the bodies, one issue has been cooking up the US public for weeks. Here, Discord, distinctness and dissent can once again be feigned and a beautiful media war clouding the senses can be broken off the fence. At the request of Congressman Anthony Brown of the Democrats, an amendment was included in the NDAA 2021 to prohibit the affixing of the Confederate flag in all Pentagon facilities. Also, an Amendment by Democrat Elizabeth Warren ordering the renaming of ten military bases named after Confederate generals.
Trump has a long-standing feud with the refreshingly left-wing Warren and recently railed against her on Twitter while defending the racist generals. He threatened to Veto the entire Pentagon Budget if the Amendment to" Pocahontas " – Trump’s racist nickname for Warren, who claims to have indigenous roots – remained in place. Democrat Group Leader Chuck Schumer also retorts: “woe betide him!” Joe Biden is hypocritical and runs a pseudo-progressive campaign with the Confederate affair. Trump bleeds out one Tweet at a time on the subject. And the US press? From the liberal New York Times to the military magazine MilitaryTimes, the public – free NPR to the FOX News right-wingers-only the dispute over Confederate heritage is reported. No more words about the pathological militarism in which both parties collaborate with each other, no more words about the sabotaged withdrawal of troops from Germany and Afghanistan, about the everlasting Yemeni war or about broken disarmament treaties – no, flags of racists: this is the warm and comfortable arena for all the ideologues from the left as well as from the right. In these struggles we can all project exactly what we want to think about ourselves.
Don’t get me wrong, I think symbol politics is important. Symbols, language and images shape our thoughts and thus ultimately our actions. I think it is good and important when the subway station “Mohrenstraße” is renamed in Berlin, non-discriminatory language is used or Columbus statues are overturned and sunk in the lake. But unfortunately, far too many, according to self-perception, progressive people today confuse these struggles for symbols with the truly fundamental struggles of our time. Many feel-good leftists of this world can no longer do anything with concepts such as internationalism, class struggle and pacifism.
And while the US public bashes their skulls over Confederate flags, the military-industrial complex rubs its blood-soaked hands.