The 2020 National Defense Authorization Act is a monster that could only have been birthed by a conference committee deep in the DC swamp. The 2020 version of the annual Department of Defense funding bill provides $738 billion to the Pentagon, a $30 billion increase over last year. Maybe worse than the giant pile of money to be wasted on failing weapons projects and growing bureaucracy, the 2020 NDAA exacerbates humanitarian crises and gives de facto authorization to endless wars.
While early versions of the 2020 NDAA still approved hundreds of billions of dollars for the
Pentagon, there were some positives to note. The House version of the bill included an act
introduced by Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA) which prohibited US military support for Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen. However, this measure was killed during the conference committee.
Another provision would have at least prevented American air-to-ground munitions from being sold to Saudi Arabia, whose war in Yemen has descended into a genocide as the populace is intentionally cut off from desperately needed food and medicine. The fact that the NDAA funds the war is a de facto green light from Congress for Trump to keep an American boot on the throat of the Yemeni people.
The conference committee ripped out other bills that might have exerted some congressional control over the White House and Pentagon’s endless wars. Two provisions in the earlier version of the bill forced Congress to reconsider the 2001 and 2002 AUMFs. Those Authorizations for Use of Military Force started the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and have been exploited to launch dozens of wars from Niger to Pakistan.
In a recent blog post by Chris Preble at CATO, he highlights a provision that would have
prevented Trump from starting an unauthorized war against Iran. While this provision should be unnecessary, Trump has waged economic war on the country and claims to have come within minutes of bombing Iran. The Republicans’ efforts to remove these provisions from the House version of the NDAA ensure Trump will have de facto war-making powers in the Middle East.
Another casualty of the conference committee was the ban on deploying low yield nuclear
weapons. Low-yield nuclear weapons are not as powerful as the city-killing hydrogen bombs. However, this could actually present more danger, as overconfident war planners could attempt to use them in a “strategic escalation.” This policy is based on the theory that low-yield “tactical” nuclear weapons can intimidate enemies into surrender. Maybe this would work, but the approach risks firing the first shot in a nuclear holocaust.
Along with ripping out policies that constrained Trump’s war-making powers, the conference committee decided to make the Space Force the 6th branch of the US Armed Forces. The further militarization of space by the US will likely cause other countries to make similar decisions. The budget for the Space Force – like the other branches – is liable to balloon over the coming year. For now, it will have $72.4 million to build its headquarters.
Aside from creating more war, the NDAA expands the Pentagon in other ways. A new
bureaucracy within the Department of Defense will regulate housing for their employees. The bureaucracy is tasked with creating a database of all landlords and provides a ranking system. The agreement between the tenant and the landlord will become heavily regulated.
The bill is expected to be passed by the Senate next week and includes a variety of other new programs. Trump celebrated getting a 3% raise for the troops and paid family leave. The bill starts a new civilian ROTC program that will offer college degrees and financial assistance.
One positive in the bill is a law that will require countries to agree to extensive inspections
before receiving nuclear technology from the US. The Trump administration is currently in
negotiations to sell Saudi Arabia nuclear technology. Saudi has refused limits and inspections on its future nuclear program, but the Trump admin has pushed forward with information transfers regardless. This law prevents Washington from moving forward with a sale without an agreement from Saudi to permit inspections.
“Caesar’s Bill” stands out as the most dangerous part of this year’s NDAA. The law sanctions Syria, Iran, and Russia for war crimes committed in Syria. While it is true all of these governments committed war crimes at one time or another, they were carried out in an effort to stop US-supported jihadists from overthrowing Assad. However, the most serious allegations against Assad, American claims of chemical weapons attacks, have gone largely unsubstantiated and have been undercut even by the UN’s own chemical watchdog.
Not to mention, the US also committed war crimes in Syria after the jihadists armed by the CIA turned into a Frankenstein’s monster the government then felt compelled to destroy.
The law is deadly ironic. While invoking the well-being of the Syrian people, the bill prevents Syria from being rebuilt, despite the fact that Assad has all but won the war. The law was written in the swamp’s unreality, where Assad’s control of Syria is still in question. His forces are now attacking the last holdout of al-Qaeda in the country and his allied Russian forces entered the former ISIS capital, Raqqa, this week. If the US sanctions Syria because Assad remains in power, it will be cut off from international funding, and the process of rebuilding Syria will be slowed to a snail’s pace. The people will suffer.
After the release of the Afghanistan Papers, a responsible Congress serving the interests of the American people would use the NDAA and its Constitutional powers to reign in the Executive Branch. Unfortunately, as in previous years, the latest NDAA is just another rubber stamp.