We know that weapons contractors aren’t sitting back quietly as the debate over automatic spending cuts and next year’s budget unfolds. They’re making sure their voices are heard. They can’t be met with silence.
That’s why our phone staff works so hard to connect people who care about where their money goes with members of Congress who make these decisions. Right now they are focusing on getting folks in Illinois ringing phones off the hook in Sen. Dick Durbin’s (D-IL) office.
Sen. Durbin is the new chair of the Senate Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, which will soon start work on next year’s Pentagon budget. As Politico points out, Durbin may bring a fresh approach to this committee, and we need to make sure he knows he has support from people in his state to rein in wasteful Pentagon and nuclear weapons spending.
I always enjoy sitting in the waiting area of a member of Congress’s office and hearing them take constituent phone calls. You can see how it really interrupts the flow of the day and gets an issue on their radar. Raising these issues is so important right now as the House appropriators are trying to give the Pentagon a free pass.
A big thank you to our phoners for making sure the public is informed and engaged!
The automatic spending cuts passed by Congress and signed by the president were designed as leverage to bring both parties to the table to negotiate a deal. Republicans wouldn’t be able to stomach reductions in the Pentagon budget, and Democrats would want to protect spending on domestic programs. More than two months after the cuts went into effect, it’s clear that strategy was a failure.
It hasn’t helped that many Democrats (including the administration) have joined the hyperbolic chorus lamenting how devastating sequestration would be for our national security. After more than a decade of war and outrageous increases in spending, reshaping the Pentagon budget should be a priority regardless of sequestration. Across the board cuts aren’t the most strategic way to go about it, but the administration and Congress have thus far failed to step up to the plate and propose smart savings in the Pentagon.
Democrats on the House Appropriations Committee did that cause a disservice by releasing a report exaggerating the impact of the sequester on national security. While acknowledging the impact of domestic cuts, it follows the distressing pattern of putting concerns about the Pentagon at the top.
Pentagon spending reductions are hurting the US economy more than other spending cuts mandated under sequestration, say House Democrats, who appear poised to inject such effects into the 2014 midterm election narrative.
Citing Congressional Budget Office data, the House Appropriations Committee Democrats’ report projects the first year of the defense and domestic sequestration cuts are on pace to “reduce economic growth at an annual rate of 0.6 [percent] and cost about 750,000 jobs in 2013.”
“Using sequestration to reduce the deficit is counterproductive because it requires 20 [percent] of its spending cuts before the economy is expected to recover, costing jobs and thereby weakening deficit reduction efforts,” states the Democratic report.
And there is no bigger driver than sequestration’s national defense cuts, according to the report, which examines the economic effects of the decade-spanning defense and domestic spending reductions.
The reductions mandated by the sequester would bring Pentagon spending down to 2006 levels. Remember back in 2006 when we were all hiding in our basements fearing an invasion, and politicians were wringing their hands about the US’s declining military power? Yeah, me neither.
Many experts from across the political spectrum have offered plans to go to sequester-level numbers and below without harming national security. A new report by Robert Barro and Veronique de Rugy shows that claims of the impact of defense cuts are “grossly overblown,” and that every $1 in defense cuts over the next five years would actually generate $1.30 in private spending.
Some have pointed out that the Department of Defense is making decisions designed to exaggerate the potential impact of reductions:
Asked by Defense News whether the generals and admirals went too far, Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., revealed that in private conversations “some of — not all, OK — the national security guys who have come to see me say, ‘Corker, after the next seven months it’s not that hard to manage,’ because then they can work with the appropriators. It goes back to the normal process.”
And Sessions took umbrage with the Pentagon’s furlough threats.
“They claim 90,000 people would be furloughed. That is a very serious problem,” Sessions said. “But it’s one day. They’re not 90,000 laid off. They’re reducing their work from five days to four, which is unwise and not a smart way to manage at all, but … .”
Among the first lawmakers to speak up about the Pentagon’s warnings was Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., an Iraq and Afghanistan veteran and a House Armed Services Committee member.
In a Feb. 12 letter to Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter, Hunter charged military brass with “adding drama” to the sequestration process by making moves guaranteed to get headlines, but otherwise unnecessary. Hunter told Carter there are “other programs that are worthy of cost cuts or even elimination” than some of the steps military leaders warned Congress they would take.
The politicians who claim that Pentagon cuts are the most damaging should tell that to kids who are getting kicked out of Head Start early education programs. To low income students who can’t afford college because their work study jobs were cut. To victims of domestic violence who can’t access services. To unemployed Americans whose benefits are running out. Tell them that money is better spent on underperforming fighter jets and thousands of nuclear weapons.
Thankfully, there are members of Congress from both parties who recognize that we need to rein in Pentagon spending. With the Pentagon budget coming to the floor in a few weeks, all of them need to feel the pressure. Click here to tell your representative to vote for amendments to cut wasteful Pentagon and nuclear weapons spending.
Supporters of the administration’s targeted killing policy often point out that armed drones are far more precise than other means of air warfare. In a particularly weak defense of the policy, Amitai Etzioni writes:
Most important, critics often conflate two distinct issues: Should we kill terrorists that cannot be captured and — should drones be employed? I contend that once one agrees that kill we must, critics should acknowledge that drones are the much-preferred tool of warfare.
The critics of the expanding drone wars that I know and read are not objecting to the technology itself, happy to target alleged terrorists anywhere and everywhere as long as we do it with fighter jets. We have not in fact agreed that “kill we must,” and defenders of the policy who focus on the superiority of the technology are ignoring the real issues.
As with most American wars, alternatives to the policy, and questioning its underpinnings, are too often ignored. It’s difficult to know for sure because of the extreme secrecy surrounding targeted killing policy, but the little we do know indicates that the US is killing people who do not pose an immediate danger to the United States. The New America Foundation estimates that only 2% of those killed in drone strikes have been “high-level targets.” The leaked Justice Department white paper on targeting American citizens (and we can only assume that the rules targeted non-citizens are less stringent) uses a definition of imminence that defies common sense and international law. As Georgetown law professor Rosa Brooks testified in a recent hearing:
For this reason, it concludes, anyone deemed to be an operational leader of al Qaeda or its “associated forces” presents, by definition, an imminent threat even in the absence of any evidence whatsoever relating to immediate or future attack plans. In effect, the concept of “imminent threat” (part of international law relating to self-defense) becomes conflated with identity or status (a familiar part of the law of armed conflict).
That concept of imminence has been called Orwellian, and although that is an overused epithet, in this context it seems fairly appropriate. According to the Obama administration, “imminent” no longer means “immediate,” and in fact the very absence of clear evidence indicating specific present or future attack plans becomes, paradoxically, the basis for assuming that attack may perpetually be imminent.
Aside from stretching the definition of imminence beyond recognition, the administration has also broadly applied the label “associated forces” of Al Qaeda, the targets they claim the right to pursue under Congress’s Authorization for the Use of Military Force fro 2001. As Brooks notes:
As drone strikes expand beyond Al Qaeda targets (to go after, for instance, suspected members of Somalia’s al Shabaab), it grows increasingly difficult to justify such strikes under the AUMF. Do we believe al Shabaab was in any way culpable for the 9/11 attacks? Do we believe al Shabaab, an organization with primarily local and regional ambitions, has the desire or capability to engage in acts of international terrorism against the United States?
One of the most well-known drone targets, American citizen Anwar al-Awlaki, is generally portrayed as posing a serious threat. While many members of Congress and pundits cheered the strike, experts on the region pointed out that he was in fact not an operational leader of AQAP.
It seems safe to assume that the universe of people killed in drone strikes goes well beyond people who were about to do harm to the United States. What of the people who are? Most other countries facing terror attacks have dealt with the problem as a law enforcement and intelligence issue. The CIA has put so much attention on the escalating drone war that it pulls resources from actual on the ground intelligence that could address this problem in a more effective way.
Farea al-Muslimi, a young Yemeni activist whose village was hit a by a drone strike, testified in the same hearing about the target of the strike:
My understanding is that Hameed Meftah, who is also known as Hameed Al-Radmi, was the target of the drone strike. Many people in Wessab know Al-Radmi. Earlier on the night he was killed, he was reportedly in the village meeting with the General Secretary of Local Councilors, the head of the local government. A person in the village told me that Al-Radmi had also met with security and government officials at the security headquarters just three days prior to the drone strike. Yemeni officials easily could have found and arrested Al-Radmi.
After the strike, the farmers in Wessab were afraid and angry. They were upset because they know Al-Radmi but they did not know that he was a target, so they could have potentially been with him during the missile strike. Some of the people that were with Al-Radmi when he was killed were never affiliated with AQAP and only knew Al-Radmi socially.
Is the US investing as much time and energy in building networks on the ground, communicating with people who have contact with targets and building relationships as it is in vetting and taking out suspected terrorists? There does not seem to be much evidence pointing in that direction, and the drone strikes are alienating the potential allies that could aid the US intelligence efforts.
It’s well past time for Congress and the administration to have a full debate on this policy, including alternatives. This is especially true given that there seems to be no clear overarching strategy governing the strikes. When will the “war on terror” be over? For how long will the US continue to target suspected terrorists outside of any recognized battlefield? When will we know if we’ve “won”? To quote Brooks again:
At the moment, there is little evidence that US drone policy—or individual drone strikes—result from a comprehensive assessment of strategic costs and benefits, as opposed to a shortsighted determination to strike targets of opportunity, regardless of long-term impact. As a military acquaintance of mine memorably put it, strikes remain “a tactic in search of a strategy.”
Even the NRA can’t win all the time.
Last month, the UN General Assembly voted to pass the Arms Trade Treaty, a goal Peace Action West and groups around the world have shared for years. The NRA tried to derail the treaty, but they were drowned out by the voices of activists around the globe.
We need to keep the momentum going. Tell President Obama to sign the treaty when it opens for signatures in June.
The Arms Trade Treaty will help stop the flow of deadly weapons that are responsible for millions of deaths and injuries every year. The treaty had overwhelming support, passing the general assembly 154-3.
If President Obama signs the treaty as soon as it opens, it will send a powerful signal. It will show the world that the treaty has the support of the United States. It will show the gun-conspiracy-peddling groups that the administration is not backing off.
The opponents of this treaty won’t go away quietly. So we can’t go silent either. Drown them out again by telling President Obama to add his signature to the Arms Trade Treaty next month.
We still have a long road to getting the treaty ratified by the US Senate. But a strong commitment out of the gate is an important step in the right direction. Take action today.
Thank you for helping to bring a little more peace to the world.
Today, the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights held a hearing entitled “Drone Wars: The Constitutional and Counterterrorism Implications of Targeted Killing.”
It’s crucial that the Senate is raising important questions about targeted killings, and disappointing (though unfortunately not all that surprising) that the administration declined to send a witness to discuss the policy. Chairman Dick Durbin (D-IL) and his colleagues on the subcommittee deserve credit for making sure this issue stays in the spotlight.
While there was a lot of testimony examining important issues like the limitations of the authorization for use of military force passed in 2001 and the definition of associated groups and imminent threats, the most remarkable thing about the hearing was the testimony of Farea Al-Muslimi, a Yemeni youth activist. In his moving testimony, he contrasts his deep connection with and love for the United States with the terror and devastation wrought by drone strikes in his village that he has seen first hand. I highly recommend watching the video of his testimony below.
What will it take for politicians to get the message that Pentagon spending is out of control?
Yesterday, President Obama released a budget that ignores automatic spending cuts and proposes more than $600 billion for war and weapons.
They won’t get the message unless we deliver it to them, loudly and often. Take action now to push for cuts to wasteful Pentagon spending.
Unfortunately, the president’s budget priorities are out of whack. It funds wasteful weapons systems, but it cuts Social Security benefits. It increases money for nuclear weapons, but decreases funding to secure loose nuclear material.
Now Congress has to step up and make some cuts. We’ll be on Capitol Hill next week bringing your message to Congress, and we need your voices behind us. We can’t expect action unless we demand it. Send a message to your representative and senators now.
Thank you for raising your voice.
President Obama finally submitted his two-months-late budget request to Congress today, and unfortunately it shows that the administration is not grappling with the need to make serious reforms to the Pentagon budget.
If you ever thought the budget process was confusing, this year will make your head spin. Congress has been so dysfunctional that most budgets have not gone through the normal process in recent years, and the automatic spending cuts add another layer of confusion. Wading through the budget morass is even making budget wonks shake their heads.
Here are the main things to know for those of you who are concerned with Pentagon and nuclear weapons spending:
- The administration is asking for $526.6 billion for the Department of Defense. Even though Congress and the administration haven’t settled on a deal to undo the automatic cuts, this budget request optimistically ignores them. As our colleague Charles Knight at the Project on Defense Alternatives notes, “It’s a very irresponsible thing. Both Congress and the White House are in denial about the law of the land, which is the Budget Control Act. It’s now in effect and they’re acting as though it doesn’t exist.”
- If Congress doesn’t come up with a deal to undo the cuts, the Pentagon budget will get reduced to $475 billion. This is more than a reasonable amount to protect the country, and Congress should start paring down the budget now.
- They could start with some of the wasteful weapons systems the budget funds, including the overpriced and underperforming F-35 fighter jet, which gets $8.4 billion in the proposed budget, or missile defense, which comes in at $9.2 billion.
- The request includes $88 billion as a “placeholder” for the war in Afghanistan. That number assumes 34,000 troops through September of 2014, but the administration is planning to submit a revised request once they make troop level decisions in the coming weeks.
- In a stunning flip of rational priorities, the administration is bumping up nuclear weapons activities by $500 million from 2012 levels to $7.9 billion, while reducing nonproliferation funds by $460 million. Some of the nonproliferation cuts are good, cutting a dangerous facility masquerading as a viable nonproliferation initiative. But a lot of the cuts fall under programs that secure loose nuclear material around the world, the kind of no-brainer programs to support and a major part of the president’s nuclear nonproliferation agenda. The good news is that there is no money in the budget to build a new bomb plant in New Mexico, a facility Peace Action West supporters have been working to stop.
This means that we will need to ramp up the pressure on Congress to make the responsible decisions that the administration didn’t. We’ll contact you when key decisions are being made, but you can start now by calling the congressional switchboard at 202-224-3121 and urging your representative and senators to support strategic reductions in the Pentagon and nuclear weapons budgets.
We’ll be on Capitol Hill next week bringing your message on the budget to Congress and strategizing with allies on how to move our agenda.
In the meantime, you can read a rolling analysis of the budget from our friends at Taxpayers for Common Sense here, and tune in to Letters and Politics Thursday morning at 10am Pacific Time to hear me talk more about the budget request.