President Obama's comments on Wednesday that U.S. military spending is under threat of "draconian" cuts were met with immediate rebuke from analysts, who say the poor are bearing the brunt of austerity while the war budget remains largely untouched. That the president's comments came in the midst of the expansion of the costly U.S.-led war against Iraq and Syria sparked concern that the president could be signaling further escalation to come.
"The fact that President Obama is talking about military cuts right now, just as he is escalating the war in Syria and Iraq, is a very dangerous sign that he might be anticipating escalations that would be even more costly than the current round of bombings, drone strikes, special operations, and relatively small numbers of boots on the ground," said Phyllis Bennis, director of the New Internationalism Project at the Institute for Policy Studies, in an interview with Common Dreams.
Addressing the Pentagon leadership Wednesday, Obama stated, "We have done some enormous work, and I want to thank everybody sitting around this table to continue to make our forces leaner, meaner, more effective, more tailored to the particular challenges that we’re going to face in the 21st century. But we also have to make sure that Congress is working with us to avoid, for example, some of the draconian cuts that are called for in sequestration."
His statements echo those of Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, who argued in March that that military sequestration jeopardizes "America's traditional role as a guarantor of global security, and ultimately our own security."
Hawkish lawmakers from both sides of the aisle have been using the expanding U.S. war on Iraq and Syria to argue against U.S. military spending cuts. "If we don’t replace the cuts in sequestration, we’re going to compromise our ability to be successful against ISIL and other emerging threats," said Sen. Lindsey Graham.
"The supposed slashing leaves the military budget higher than all but a couple of years of the budget since World War II."—Miriam Pemberton, Institute for Policy StudiesRaed Jarrar, policy impact coordinator for the American Friends Service Committee, told Common Dreams, "The crisis within Iraq and Syria is being used to promote the vision that the world is a scary place, we need more weapons to protect ourselves, and the military is facing these crazy cuts. But the premise that we have military cuts is not accurate. Obama's remarks signal there will not be any push-back from the White House."
Mattea Kramer, research director at National Priorities Project, argues in a March article that the Pentagon, in fact, is "crying wolf." When it went into effect in March 2013, sequestration was supposed to cut $54.6 billion from the $550 billion Pentagon budget. But thanks to intervention from Congress, as well as the Pentagon's manipulation of budgeting rules, the Pentagon only ended up cutting $31 billion from its 2013 budget, explains Kramer.
The 2014 budget tells a similar story. Sequestration was supposed to slash $54.6 billion from the military budget in 2014, but thanks to a deal between lawmakers, and war funding from other stashes—including extra congressional funds and the "Overseas Contingency Operations" budget—the 2014 budget was only cut by $3.4 billion, less than one percent. "After two years of uproar over mostly phantom cuts, 2015 isn’t likely to bring austerity to the Pentagon either," Kramer writes.
Miriam Pemberton, research fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies, told Common Dreams that the "the supposed slashing leaves the military budget higher than all but a couple of years of the budget since World War II."
The U.S. continues to spend more on the military than the next 11 countries combined, and for the year 2015, 45 percent of U.S. income tax money is slated to go to current and past military spending. Meanwhile, domestic public services—from cancer research to the Head Start program to domestic violence shelters—face real austerity. Furthermore, as Pemberton and Ellen Powell point out in an Institute for Policy Studies report released last month, U.S. spending to address the climate crisis lags far behind military spending: between 2008 to 2013, climate change spending grew from 1 percent of military spending to 4 percent.
"The Pentagon's budget remains bloated, and it gets much too big a chunk out of our tax dollars," said Bennis. "The really draconian impact of sequestration cuts have been felt by working people and poor people across the United States far more than it has by the Pentagon."