This week, Barney Frank said something that is nothing new coming from the left, and certainly not from this lion that retired from being a Representative this past January: that the U.S. military budget is too big. It is less what he said than the way he said it that made me perk up in my seat. On Morning Joe, he said on the program that,
“European countries can only afford to spend money on the “social safety net” because they don’t have to spend much on defense due to the security provided by the United States military.”
He goes on to say that “One of things [the U.S. needs to] do is stop subsidizing Western Europe. After their empires crumbled, Europe decided to leave the task of maintaining global security to America so they could use their resources to build their social safety net.”
This comment has several implications, but what I find most fascinating is that it makes the argument for scaling back the military not only intelligible, but potentially persuasive to a conservative audience. What makes Frank’s comments refreshing is that it breaks from what is a now enduring and discouraging fact that neither pundits nor politicians seem interested or even capable of doing anything other than talk over or past one another. Frank has done what seems like a magic trick and played politics, and I say that in the most optimistic way possible. Rather than rattle off statistics that should be persuasive but aren’t—like the U.S. military budget is larger than that of the next 12 nations—he has made a conservative case for smaller military. In an almost scathing way, and one which if successful, the EU will be none too appreciative, has said that Europe is mooching off our military power, and our big budget enables them.
As smart conservatives–which these days I call ostensible liberals—like Andrew Sullivan will tell you, small government includes a small, but capable military, and that the plans to scale back our military as we withdraw from Iraq and Afghanistan will have a negligible effect on what is a firmly established military-industrial complex. He even rooted for the sequester, believing it to be the only way that Republicans would cave to cuts to the military.
Conservatives’ love for handing blank checks to the military has cooled somewhat, considering the poor returns on our roughly 3 trillion (or one-fifth of the federal deficit) spent in the Middle East, but still their answer to, ‘should we lower the budget for the military’ is a resounding ‘NO.’ The resident Republican economics wonk, Paul Ryan proposed significant cuts to education, healthcare, and while his budget does not plan to grow the military, he will spare it the cuts coming from sequestration.
The liberal agenda in Frank’s comments is certainly present, but hidden; the money saved due to cuts to the military, to a liberal, should be used to bolster our own safety net. The grammar of the remark seems most interested however, in channeling the ‘welfare queen’ brand of conservative resentment toward Western Europe. Now I won’t say that getting a conservative to hate the socialist-Gomorrah EU is much of a challenge; it isn’t, but if in doing so, he can convince them to soften on a military budget that has nearly doubled since 2001, he has earned the applause of either party.
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