Military Budget, via Wikimedia Commons

While we can applaud many of President Biden’s domestic efforts—from repealing the Muslim ban to tackling broken infrastructure to pushing for swift COVID relief and an American Families Plan, his foreign policies keep us up at night as “The Return of the Neocons” plays in our head like a bad B movie.


To Biden’s credit, during the first 100 days of his term we rejoined the Paris Climate Accord, extended the START arms control treaty with Russia another five years, restored aid to the dispossessed Palestinians, reversed Trump’s Executive Order criminalizing cooperation with the International Criminal Court, and appointed experienced negotiator Robert Malley special envoy to Iran.


Those decisions, however, are not indicative of the President or his Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s overarching approach to foreign affairs: failed maximum pressure campaigns (starvation by sanctions); escalation of the arms race and love and kisses to the Blob, the foreign policy establishment that feeds the weapons industry. This is the special interest group that counted on Blinken to bring home the bacon when he headed up WestExec Advisors, a “strategic consultancy” with a client list peppered with military contractors seeking Pentagon weapons and surveillance contracts.


Our fear is that too many of us will sleepwalk through Biden’s marriage to militarism—to a dangerous pivot to Asia where US warships stream into the South China Sea to conduct mock nuclear strikes that provoke China and North Korea.


Then there’s the continued US arms sales to Saudi Arabia while it imposes a lethal blockade on Yemen, as almost half the population faces starvation; the February, 2021, bombing of Syria, killing 22 people, in retaliation for a militia bombing of much-despised US military bases in Iraq; the US-NATO troop build-up on Russia’s border and the choice of Ukraine coup-plotter “Fuck the EU”neo-Nazi befriender Victoria Nulandfor #3 in the State Department.


Oh, and let’s not overlook the anemic return to JCPOA talks with Iran; the failure to appoint a special envoy to oversee release and resettlement of the tortured Guantanamo Bay Detention Center prisoners; the Bobbsey Twins Blinken and Jake Sullivan, National Security Advisor, lecturing the Chinese minutes into the first “diplomatic” talks in Alaska, telling the Chinese in the most condescending cringe-worthy tone that the U.S. knows best how to “strengthen the rules based international order.”


Someone, please, remind the Bobbsey’s the US has a history of interfering with elections, launching homicidal interventions to destabilize the Middle East, and engineering coups to empower right wing death squads in Central America, only to cage and deport victims of those US-armed militias.


Finally, there’s the refusal to issue a temporary general worldwide license to suspend sanctions long enough for countries like Iran and Venezuela to receive vaccines and medical supplies during a global pandemic. Heck, even George W. Bush, Ellen’s favorite water-coloring mass murderer, lifted sanctionslong enough for earthquake-hit Iran to receive desperately needed medicine in 2003.


So thrilled to be rid of the orange MAGA menace, so relieved the Q-Anon fanatics didn’t shoot up the Capitol, peace-loving people may relax, tell themselves, “It’s okay now, Trump is gone, our nightmare is over, pass the popcorn,” and look the other way as their savior, the smiling straight talker from Delaware, proposes a record high $753-billion military budget, 1.6% or $13 billion increase over Trump’s military package, with billions for new nuclear weapons, a US Space Force and 800 overseas bases in 80 countries, including a new base in Henoko, Okinawa, where 70% of the locals oppose the base, outraged at the dredging of their pristine bay to cement a runway for US F-35 fighter jets.


Defenders of Biden’s foreign policy might point to his announcement to withdraw from Afghanistan as a hopeful sign that finally a President wants to end the “forever” wars. We’d like to think so, too.


On April 14, 2021, Biden announced we are withdrawing our 2500 troops from Afghanistan after a 20 year failed mission and God only knows (because the Pentagon doesn’t keep track) how many civilians we killed; the next day, April 15, 2021, in response to Republican grumbling about capitulation, the Pentagon said not to worry we can still conduct killer drone strikesand establish new military bases in the neighborhood just in case we have not shed enough blood.


Biden wants to spend upwards of $30 billion for the Department of Energy to produce new nuclear missiles and submarines in a euphemistically titled “nuclear modernization program” that is anything but modern in its dismissal of the new Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons signed by 50 countries, (not the U.S.), declaring nuclear weapons illegal. Producing a new nuclear arsenal that requires tremendous uranium extraction not only further pollutes the environment and makes a mockery of US pledges to band together with the rest of the world to thwart the climate crisis, but also escalates the arms race, risks a catastrophic accident, and violates our obligations to pursue disarmament under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.


Never mind that, according to the Poor People’s Campaign, 87 million Americans lack any or adequate health insurance; 11 million may be houseless on a given night; 40 million struggle as low wage workers, and “one in five Americans risk not being able to afford water in the next five years.”


Nevertheless, war and war preparedness must go on, despite the fact that the Cold War ended in the 1990s.


Enter Congress, the body charged with executive oversight, and its key players who could, with a tidal wave of grassroots support, put the brakes on Biden’s militarism, and reduce his military budget by a third to deep six plans to build new nuclear weapons, establish a US Space Force and maintain a plethora of overseas bases.


Starring in this movie is Senator Bernie Sanders (D-VT), Chair, Senate Budget Committee, with supervision over the tax purse and most entitlement programs, but also over committee budget allotments, the amount the Senate Armed Services Committee, Chaired by Jack Reed (D-RI) has to budget for new inventive ways to kill people.


Another star is Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Chair, Senate Appropriations Committee, a senior lawmaker who campaigns for a global ban on land mines while voting for every military budget and bringing defeaning F-35 fighter jets, potentially capable of carrying nuclear warheads, to the airport in Burlington, much to the outrage of local protesters. Leahy could (operative word), if he wanted, write a skinnier and saner base military spending bill before even presenting it to his full appropriations committee for a vote.


We want Vermonters to march up, masked of course, to Leahy’s office and demand he knock off his rubber stamps for fat military budgets but progressives in Vermont may be reluctant to again take on Leahy, now 81, when a popular Republican governor might easily be elected to replace him and upset the skinny Democratic majority in a Senate dependent on the Vice President’s vote to break a tie.


Another central cast member is Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Chair, Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy, who must compose a budget for a department that oversees nuclear weapons development. Feinstein, who in 2014 wrote a Washington Post Opinion column: “America’s nuclear arsenal is unnecessarily and unsustainably large,”could with a flick of her wrist write a base budget for the DOE that did not include billions to upgrade U.S. underground nuclear weapons, including the Ground Based Strategic Deterrent or what Peace Action terms the “money pit missile” and Sea-Launched cruise missiles (SLCM’s) once put out to pasture during the Obama administration.


While Feinstein could be over-ruled by a committee of madmen and madwomen, her opposition to “nuclear modernization” would surely send a chill down the spine of the Blob’s Dr. Strangeloves intent on squandering nearly two trillion dollars on unnecessary weapons to blow up the world that much faster.


Dianne, we need you to be our shero.


Another key player is Senator Jon Tester (D-MT), Chair, Senate Appropriations Defense Subcommittee, charged with outlining the overall military budget. Should Feinstein flex her no-new-nuclear weapons muscle, she could face serious opposition from the angelic-faced dimpled Tester, whose home state of Montana is slated to make a mintoff new nuclear weapons production. Hopeful signs—always looking for those signs—is that Tester is not listed as a member of the missile caucusin Congress and has questioned whether we need new land based nuclear missiles.


Senator Jack Reed (D-RI), Chair, Senate Armed Services Committee could  prove to be a formidable foe for progressives clamoring for a lower military budget. According to CODEPINK, a women-led peace organization, Reed in 2018 took a less than distinguished position as the top Democratic Party lawmaker receiving the most campaign contributions, nearly $700-thousand, from the war industry.


House counterparts to the budget heavyweights in the Senate include: John Yarmuth (D-KY), Chair, House Budget Committee; Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), Chair, House Appropriations Committee; Marcy Kaptur (D-OH), Chair, House Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy; Betty McCollum (D-MN), Chair, House Appropriations Defense Subcommittee; Adam Smith (D-WA), Chair, House Armed Services Committee.


While McCollum has a progressive record on Palestine, having just introduced a billto make US aid to Israel conditioned on ending child detentions, home demolitions and settlement expansions—her habit of voting for every military budget raises red flags for people who want to divest from Pentagon overreach to invest in urgent community needs for housing, health care, clean water and healthy food.


Kaptur, described as an “economic populist,” boosts unions and farmers but also the military industrial complex. According to Peace Action’s most recent scorecard, she voted for the National Defense Authorization Action in 2019 and 2018, voted against defunding the long-range nuclear cruise missile and voted to allow the U.S to continue sharing information with the Saudi-led coalition to target civilians in Yemen.


Then there’s hawkish Rep. Adam Smith, representing Washington’s 9th congressional district—from Tacoma to Bellevue and slices of Seattle—not geographically far but politically light years from Congressional Progressive Caucus Chair Rep. Pramila Jayapal in Washington’s 7th congressional district (heart of Seattle).  Smith—who as Chair of the House Armed Services Committee--acceptedover $120,000 from military contractors in 2019—beat back an electoral challengein 2018 from Justice Democrat Sarah Smith, whose campaign may have pushed Smith to become a vocal opponent of the Saudi-US war on Yemen, a country now in the grips of a humanitarian crisis.


Before Sarah Smith challenged Adam Smith, before he co-authored a war resolution to end US complicity in the war on Yemen, he voted to keep sending arms to Saudi Arabia to pound Yemen into the Stone Age, as well as for almost every military budget. Now Adam Smith faces another electoral challenge from the left, this time from history teacher and labor organizer Stephanie Gallardo, an anti-imperialist, who says she objects to the government spending ten times more on the military than on education.


The point is the left has leverage here and should back Gallardo’s platform of base closures, cuts to the military budget and no new nuclear weapons production.


The left should also take advantage of the President’s desire to establish his legacy, for we know Biden desperately wants that budget resolution to pass so Congress can get on with the business of reconciliation for infrastructure repair and higher taxes on the rich to pay for his American Families Plan.


Consequently, we look to the ever-expanding Squad, who make up a good chunk of the House Defense Spending Reduction Caucus to threaten—and mean it—to vote against any budget resolution, which only needs a majority to pass, that fails to reduce military spending and budgets for new nuclear weapons.


With 22 members and co-chairs Mark Pocan (WI), Chair, House Labor Caucus, and Rep Barbara Lee (CA), the only congress person to vote against the 2001 US invasion of Afghanistan, the caucus could send letters to the chairs of the House and Senate appropriations committees and subcommittee voicing objections to the proposed $753 billion military budget, introduce a Sense of the House resolution calling for deep reductions in military spending and add a liberal National Defense Authorization Act amendment guaranteed to force every Republican in Congress to vote against the military spending budget.


More importantly, the caucus members could shout to the hills, “We are not voting for a budget resolution with a record high military budget that includes billions for new weapons of mass destruction, for a Space Force to trash the heavens and escalate the arms race, and for $50 billion to continue occupying 80 countries with our 800 overseas bases.”


If all the Republicans put up their silly dukes to say they will not vote, on principal, for a budget resolution that does x., y and z for children’s education, then President Biden would need every Democrat in the Senate and at least 218 in the House to pass a budget resolution that would then allow his infrastructure plan to work its way through the reconciliation process. Both the budget resolution and reconciliation are filibuster proof.


Senator Elizabeth Warren, are you listening? You alone could sink Biden’s nuclear modernization plan by vowing to vote against any budget resolution that Includes the nukes.


AOC, are you listening? Ilhan Omar? Rashida Tlaib? Ayanna Presley? The four of you and a few other members of the House could disrupt plans to prepare for nuclear annihilation by saying you will vote NO on any bloated budget resolution that includes new nuclear weapons, a Space Force and 800 overseas bases


If the Squad and co. fail us, it may be up to Senator Bernie Sanders to chip away at Biden’s record high military budget by requesting (can’t require) all budget and appropriations committees to submit budgets that reduce military spending by 10-30%, nix all appropriations for new nuclear weapons, defund an unnecessary US Space Force and budget to close many of our overseas bases occupying and polluting foreign lands. If the committees balk, let us cheer on Bernie Sanders as he uses his bully pulpit to excoriate budgets from committees that ignore his instructions.


Of course, we can’t expect the Squad and the Bernie’s in Congress to take bold steps without a coalition cheering from the back benches, without deep congressional district organizing that raises awareness among constituents spurred to action with phone calls, emails, car caravans and rallies in front of the offices of lawmakers overseeing appropriations.


So let this be a call to action to join with CODEPINK, Progressive Democrats of America, World Beyond War, RootsAction, Peace Action, Our Revolution, Greenpeace U.S.A.,, Veterans For Peace, Physicians for Social Responsibility and others to say reduce the military budget now!


Marcy Winograd, a 2020 DNC delegate for Bernie Sanders, is Co-Chair, Progressive Democrats of America’s foreign policy team, and Coordinator, CODEPINK Congress.