An election that puts former Vice President Joseph Biden in the White House and solidifies Democratic control over Congress could mean the start of internal clashes within the party over military spending, the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee said Thursday.
While Democrats across the political spectrum broadly agree on the need for more alliances, partnerships and international agreements, House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith, Washington state Democrat, predicted progressive members in Congress will seek dramatic cuts in the Pentagon’s defense budget, currently $740 billion, once in full control of Capitol Hill.
“The tougher part is: How much do you spend on defense and what does your presence in the world look like?” Mr. Smith said Thursday in a discussion hosted by the Washington-based Center for a New American Security. “That’s where the Democratic Party is going to have some hard conversations.”
The surging progressive wing of the party in Congress, led by figures such as independent Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, wants to see military spending slashed “on general principle,” Mr. Smith said.
“They think that spending money on bombs and weapons of war is nowhere near as important as spending money on just about anything else,” he said. “They want to shift those priorities.”
Mr. Smith said he wants a U.S. nuclear arsenal that is sufficient to deter any aggressor nation, a stance that may clash with some in his caucus.
“I view our nuclear weapons as a deterrent to make sure nuclear war never happens,” he said. Progressive Democrats “are trying to get us to zero nuclear weapons. I can’t support that. You can’t unring the bell.”
While Mr. Biden has proclaimed his political independence on the campaign trail, Rep. Ilhan Omar, Minnesota Democrat and an ally of Ms. Ocasio-Cortez, told “Axios on HBO,” that members of “The Squad” will be able to push him to the left. She noted liberals had an outsized influence in the negotiations
Generally considered a centrist on Capitol Hill, Mr. Smith supports a measured withdrawal from Afghanistan but acknowledges it would not be without risk. But identifying a trap is the first step toward avoiding it, he said.
“We’ve been [in Afghanistan] for about 20 years now. It’s pretty clear that our military is not going to solve that problem,” he said. “We have over 4,000 troops in Afghanistan. There’s a cost to that — risks to U.S. service members, costs in terms of money and the rest of the way the world looks at us.”
Mr.. Smith said he was remains concerned that Afghanistan may again become a host nation for terrorists, similar to how al Qaeda operated before 9/11.
“We need to have a better discussion if we have a Biden administration,” he said. “But we can contain the threat of a transnational attack without having that many boots on the ground - or any boots on the ground.”