Former Massachusetts congressman Barney Frank said the United States should greatly reduce its military budget in order to improve funding Social Security and other social programs in a speech Wednesday night at International House.
Frank retired from Congress in 2013 after 32 years, during which he served as the chair of the House Financial Services Committee. In his speech, titled “Reducing the Military Budget: Necessary to Improve Our Quality of Life,” Frank criticized President Barack Obama’s assurances that the U.S. would maintain its role as leader of the world, instead arguing that it should cede this responsibility.
“Why? Where are we leading people? Why does there need to be a leader?” he said at the event.
Frank maintained that he was not an isolationist, citing his support for sending arms to Ukraine, but rather argued that the U.S. could remain the strongest military power in the world while still reducing its military budget. He said the U.S. has “greatly exaggerated what we need for national security,” and should redefine the military’s mission.
Frank was introduced by Henry Brady, dean of UC Berkeley’s Goldman School of Public Policy, which hosted the speech.
“I think liberals and conservatives can agree with his position,” said Brady, who said he has known Frank since the 1970s. “You have people on the Republican side, such as Rand Paul, who are asking ‘What are we doing all of this for?’ And then you have people on the Democratic side who would really like to have room in the budget to do other things.”
Weapons of war, such as intercontinental ballistic missiles or nuclear submarines, are inadequate for fighting terrorism, according to Frank. He said the military is not suited for complex nation-building.
“They can stop bad things from happening. But our mistake is thinking that the military can make good things happen,” he said.
Frank’s speech, however, was criticized by Claire Chiara, Berkeley College Republicans president and former staff writer for The Daily Californian.
“We need military protection now more so than in many recent years,” said Chiara, who did not attend the event. “It is short-sighted to think that the solution to the American federal debt crisis is simply reallocating the money we are currently spending, rather than overhauling the entire system.”
In addition to reducing the military budget, Frank proposed encouraging European allies to share the burden of military intervention. This would allow more funds for social programs such as Social Security and Medicare, which Frank described as “two of the most successful anti-poverty programs in the history of this country.”
As it stands, Frank said, “the military budget eats everyone else’s lunch.”