The foreign and defense policy of President Donald Trump defined itself by "America first" nationalism, the alienation of our country from traditional alliances, and high defense spending.
The foreign and defense policies of President Joe Biden seem to be more traditional. However, the levels of defense spending pick up where Trump left off. Biden's latest defense budget is bigger than Trump's last one! The proposed $715-billion-dollar budget is a modest increase over the Trump administration's final budget. For the last decade, the Pentagon's budget has been governed by the Budget Control Act, which placed some caps on defense and non-defense agencies. Unlike many government agencies, the Pentagon's budget was never really constrained, and Congress continued to raise the limits on the Pentagon's budget, as stated by Mandy Smithberger in her story "Why the Pentagon Budget Keeps Rising." In addition, defense spending has a release valve that allows large sums of money to flow without serious accounting into an off-budget fund meant especially for its wars and labelled "the overseas contingency operations account".
The public should have learned that high defense spending doesn't make us safer against terrorists of various stripes, pandemics, and climate change. Much has been made of Biden's accomplishments in the first 100 days, but little has changed when it comes to defense spending. Ending the war in Afghanistan represents a start in the new president's promise to end forever wars. However, it's only a start. He should commit to not entering any more wars without congressional authorization, added by the forefathers to limit the power of the president to use force.
Taking a hard look at the weapons our country spends money on will be another task for Biden. Smithberger discussed Lockheed Martin's F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, which is being reviewed. The cost of the creation and maintenance of this alone has already ensured that it will be the most expensive weapons program in history: an expected $1.7 trillion over its lifetime. The total costs of the program doubled since its inception. The late Colonel Everest Riccioni called it the modern Pentagon's version of "unilateral disarmament." There should be no more money spent on the F-35 at least until its successfully tested, as stated by Smithberger.
The future of the Pentagon, and our views of defense, will come from appointees to the agency, and they usually come from the defense contractors that benefit from lavish military spending. In the Trump administration, retired general James Mattis served on the board of General Dynamics before being named defense secretary and Mark Esper, also defense secretary, came from Raytheon. The Biden administration doesn't seem to be that different, as Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin came from Raytheon and Secretary of the Air Force Frank Kendell came from Leidos. Appointments need to come from outside the network of defense contractors.
The practice of "political engineering," or spreading contracts across congressional districts, also needs to end. The F-35 program created jobs in 45 states. The geopolitical struggle with China is often cited as a reason for high defense budgets, even though we already outspend China several times over. To change our defense posture, we really must change the way we look at defense and make our voice known to our leaders!
Jason Sibert is the executive director of the Peace Economy Project
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