Two recent events — the first round of the Democratic presidential debates and the congressional proceedings on the fiscal 2020 defense authorization and appropriations bills — provided some clear insights into the radical positions that the Democrats take on the matters of national security and foreign policy.
In the June 26-27 debates, the candidates were barely bothered with national security or foreign policy matters because the moderators asked a scant few questions about them. On illegal immigration, a huge national security problem, the candidates made it clear that they are all for open borders. That is one of their most extreme positions.
On the first debate night, one moderator asked if the candidates would rejoin the 2015 nuclear weapons deal with Iran to which former President Obama agreed. Nine of the 10 — the exception being Sen. Cory Booker — said they would. Many said the deal was imperfect and they would try to renegotiate it, but none said that successful renegotiation was a predicate to rejoining. That is a radical position entirely contrary to our national security.
The 2015 Iran deal was worse than imperfect. As this column has pointed out repeatedly, because the Iranians bar U.N. inspectors from “military” sites, no one could determine what the Iranians are doing at any time. Mr. Obama’s deal was defective and dangerous.
Later, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard advocated withdrawing all our troops from Afghanistan. That would ensure that the Taliban would re-establish themselves in Kabul and re-create the pre-9/11 Afghan safe haven for terrorists. That, too, is an extremist position.
Before a congressional committee passes a bill, it debates and amends it in a process known as a “markup.” That process is frequently controlled by the committee chairman.
On June 10, House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith released his “chairman’s mark” of the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act.
In 1776, British economist-philosopher Adam Smith published his famous book, “The Wealth of Nations,” which best explains the basis of capitalism. In it, he wrote that the first duty of the sovereign is to protect society from the violence and invasion of other nations. His modern-day namesake has a very different idea.
The context for Mr. Smith’s markup is the more than $600 billion over 10 years in defense spending cuts made by Mr. Obama and his first defense secretary, Robert Gates. These cuts were made almost at random without the necessary analysis of what we need to fight and what we will have in the next two decades.
The problem was worsened by the 2011 Budget Control Act’s sequestration of defense funds. Those, too, were made in the worst possible way, cutting across the board again without any analysis of what we have and what we need.
Mr. Smith’s cut to the defense budget comes at the worst possible time. Republican Mac Thornberry, ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee, reportedly said that because the defense budget needs to grow by 3 percent to 5 percent per year to restore force readiness, Mr. Smith’s cuts would fail to provide the necessary funds to restore force readiness. Given the radical reduction in force readiness during the Obama years — from which all the armed services still haven’t recovered — this alone is an extreme position.
Mr. Smith’s markup does more than cut President Trump’s requested budget. Inter alia, it also eliminates funding for the low-yield nuclear weapons the Pentagon says it needs to undertake the president’s National Defense Strategy, bars the use of military funds to construct barriers at our southern border and prohibits sending more captured terrorists to the Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, detention facility.
Mr. Smith’s markup also cuts funds for updating the 50-year old Minuteman III missile system.
The three other cited parts of Mr. Smith’s markup are more than mere political differences. They undermine America’s ability to undertake our National Defense Strategy.
If that weren’t enough to prove the Democrats’ extremism, the House Appropriations Committee voted to sunset the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force passed after the 9/11 attacks. The 2001 AUMF would end eight months after the bill passed.
The 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force is clearly in need of revision because it is focused on the groups who conducted the 9/11 attacks and assisted those who were directly involved such as al Qaeda. (The 2002 AUMF covering Iraq is the target of separate repeal efforts.)
The problem with sunsetting the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force is that the Democrats will use the eight months allowed for debating and enacting a new one to attempt to limit the president’s constitutional power as commander in chief. They want to tinker with when, how and for how long military force can be used in the global war against terrorist networks and the nations that support them.
Those eight months will expire quickly without agreement on the terms of a new AUMF because Senate Republicans won’t accept the Democrats’ efforts to hamstring the president’s efforts to fight the wars we’re in.
The House Democrats will ensure that occurs because they want, in the 2020 election, to declare the president’s uses of military force illegal. That is political extremism at its worst.
The Democrats’ extremism on national security and foreign affairs won’t succeed this year. But if, by some mischance, Mr. Trump is not re-elected, we will see all of this and more anti-defense extremism from the next Democratic president.
• Jed Babbin, a deputy undersecretary of Defense in the George H.W. Bush administration, is the author of “In the Words of Our Enemies.”