PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay in Washington. Tuesday night in Washington, President Obama delivered his State of the Union address, and perhaps this was the key couple of paragraphs.
BARACK OBAMA, US PRESIDENT: Now that the worst of the recession is over, we have to confront the fact that our government spends more than it takes in. So tonight, I am proposing that starting this year, we freeze annual domestic spending for the next five years. Now, this would reduce the deficit by more than $400 billion over the next decade. This freeze will require painful cuts. I’ve proposed cuts to things I care deeply about, like community action programs. The Secretary of Defense has also agreed to cut tens of billions of dollars in spending that he and his generals believe our military can do without.
JAY: Well, before the president’s address, a statement was issued by a group of people titled we will oppose Obama as long as he supports war. Now joining us, one of the drafters of that statement, is David Swanson. Thanks for joining us, David.
DAVID SWANSON, BLOGGER, POLITICAL ACTIVIST: Thanks for having me.
JAY: So, David, you’re the author of the book War Is a Lie. And if people want to know more about this statement I’m about to quote, they can go to WarIsaCrime.org. But here’s what you say in this statement. "We the undersigned share with nearly two-thirds of our fellow Americans the conviction that our wars in Afghanistan and Iraq should be ended and that overall military spending should be dramatically reduced. . . . We vow not to support President Barack Obama for renomination for another term in office, and to actively seek to impede his war policies unless and until he reverses them. He has continued as well to try to hide the true costs of the wars by funding them with off-the-books supplemental spending bills, despite the fact that he campaigned against this very practice. . . . The president has escalated a war on Afghanistan in which rising civilian deaths and atrocities become routine." So, David, the president said in the State of the Union speech there is going to be some cutting of military spending. This came after you issued your statement. Does that change anything about the position you took there?
SWANSON: No, there was nothing new in the speech that the signers of that statement didn’t already know, and there was nothing to satisfy our demands. We actually would like the military to be cut in places where the public wants it cut, not just places the military approves of. And to my knowledge, all discussion that the secretary of so-called defense has had about cuts has been for future years, for cutting some $78 billion out over five years, all of those being future years. That is to say, we can expect next month a proposal from the president and the secretary of defense for a larger military budget this year than last year. This will be three out of three for President Obama–three chances to reduce the military budget, and three times he’s increased it. He has talked also about decreasing after having increased the war budget, that being something much smaller than the so-called military budget, which is separate from the wars. And he’s talked about cutting that by 25 percent. It ought to be eliminated. We ought to be ending these wars. And as you mentioned, he has in the past proposed and passed supplemental off-the-books spending bills to add money in for the wars. And so the money that gets budgeted for the wars is not necessarily the whole picture until we find out whether they are going to continue to do supplemental spending bills.
JAY: So then, just to be clear for people that may not follow this as closely as you do, when he says that there’s going to be a five-year spending freeze for non-domestic spending, that means non-war spending or non-military spending. Military spending’s not considered domestic spending, I assume.
SWANSON: Yes, that is exactly my understanding. Even spending on a military base in Ohio is not going to be considered domestic spending, or "non-security spending" as they sometimes call it. What the president means by that is non-war spending, non-military spending, which if we were going to cut, then why would we have this exception for it in the freeze? Why are we freezing everything useful, everything good, you know, that minority of our public budget that goes to non-military expenses, and making an exception for the military, unless we’re going to continue increasing it or keep open that possibility, just as Congress does with Congress’s, you know, rules on pay as you go for anything other than wars and the military (you don’t have to pay as you go; that can be borrowed)? There always seems to be that exception, which is disastrous.
JAY: You have about 200 signatures on this statement now. Who are some of the names that people might recognize?
SWANSON: Well, we have many hundreds if not thousands of signatures. People can go to WarIsaCrime.org and sign it. But we started with close to 200 more prominent signatures, people like Daniel Ellsberg, who released the Pentagon Papers; or Ray McGovern, former CIA officer; David Michael, a former CIA agent and former commander at Quantico who’s now complaining about Bradley Manning’s treatment there at Quantico; lots of authors, Chris Hedges; lots of whistleblowers–Coleen Rowley, Sibel Edmonds; and the leaders of just about every organization in the peace movement, from Veterans for Peace to Medea Benjamin at Code Pink.
JAY: So the position of the statement essentially is that if there is a primary challenger to President Obama, you won’t support President Obama. People signing this statement more or less are saying they’ll support someone else in a presidential primary.
SWANSON: Well, depending. It looks like he may have presidential primary challengers from the right. What we’re saying is that we won’t support President Obama’s renomination for another term or anyone else’s who continues down this path, who continues to put all of our money into wars, who escalates wars, who refuses to end wars, who embraces the war powers and abuses of George W. Bush and expands upon them, expands the drone wars, expands the powers of assassination and the use of special forces in countries in secret wars and so forth, and we won’t support the president unless we see a major reversal, that is to say, taking serious money out of the military and ending the wars.
JAY: In the context of the State of the Union address, one was left with the impression that these military cuts would help pay for [a] clean energy program, a educational reform program. But if I understand it correctly, what you’re saying is that these cuts are over several years out. In the short-term, there are actually not going to going to be cuts, which means at least in this next two years of the Obama presidency, military spending isn’t going to be a source, cuts in military spending, for some of the programs he’s talking about. So in other words we really are just looking at mostly a freeze rather than expansion of any kind of other spending.
SWANSON: Primarily, yes. And bear in mind that by clean energy this president intends nuclear and coal among other things. But taking tens of billions of dollars out of the military budget in future years while we’ve been expanding it by tens and hundreds of billions of dollars doesn’t solve the problem that between the Department of Defense and other departments that have military spending channeled through them we are spending around $1 trillion a year on the military. You know, more than $0.50 out of every income tax dollar is going to military expenses. So to say that we’re going to take a little pinch out of that in future years just doesn’t cut it. And I applaud Congresswoman Barbara Lee for already having put out a statement exactly to that effect.
JAY: Thanks for joining us, David.
SWANSON: Thank you.
JAY: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.
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