Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) forces seized the British oil tanker Stena Impero on July 19, an outrage that follows Iran’s June 13 attacks on two oil tankers and the June 20 downing of an American drone. Yet rather than focusing on an increasingly volatile Iran, congressional Democrats are more interested in political gamesmanship than national security when dealing with the defense budget.
Cornered by international sanctions, Iran is lashing out with escalating viciousness, as ongoing economic turmoil has truly made both people and government desperate. This has culminated in the regime’s most recent proclamation of capturing 17 “U.S. spies.” Likely untrue, this claim illustrates how Iran’s hunger for conflict threatens American national security.
Accordingly, President Donald Trump correctly announced July 22 that the United States is bracing for the “absolute worst” with Iran. He already came to the brink of an airstrike against Iran following Iran’s destruction of the American drone in international airspace. Concern over Iranian casualties caused him to abort the mission at the very last minute.
While Trump’s administration is wisely taking seriously the magnitude of Iran’s dangers, on July 12 House Democrats passed the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), the Department of Defense’s (DoD) annual budget, by strict party-line vote, with not one Republican among 220 congressional supporters. Unsurprisingly, the legislation is a transparently partisan piece of political theater.
The House NDAA amalgamates progressive political amendments that have little, if anything, to do with protecting America from serious national security threats like those posed by Iran. Various provisions regard renewable energy mandates, LGBT defense hiring practices, and other defense-unrelated line items. Where the bill does address national security, the proposal seems more apt to spite Trump than actually keep Americans safe. Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), for example, sponsored an amendment that would block Trump from striking Iran military.
While international perils escalate, the House NDAA also hamstrings DoD programs with slashing budget cuts to multiple national security initiatives. The United States Air Force’s (USAF) Next Generation Air Dominance program lost $500 million, a whopping 50-percent budget reduction. Cuts of this magnitude would devastate the program, leading to the cancellation of critical new aerospace technology and substantial production timeline delays.
And the damage does not end there. The bill would also slice $413 million from the Missile Defense Agency and thus limit the agency’s ability to combat potential threats to the homeland. Overall, the NDAA provides $17 billion less than requested by the Trump administration.
Even worse, crony capitalism litters the NDAA. Perhaps most controversially, House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith squeezed into the bill his very own $500 million “SpaceX earmark.” This notorious giveaway to an aerospace company rewards an all-too-frequent Smith political donor.
In addition to cutting an enormous check to a partisan ally, Smith’s provision also restructures USAF’s National Security Space Launch program to SpaceX’s clear advantage. The bill would force USAF to reopen the program’s government contracts contest, allowing private companies more opportunities to compete. USAF considers this boon for SpaceX, a loser in initial competitions, a national security disaster, as Smith’s political interests would disrupt meticulous USAF planning, throwing the entire program’s structure into chaos.
Democrats have instigated this politically frustrating situation while Iran’s increased aggression against the West warns that the American military needs sufficient resources to combat any and all potential threats. House Democrats are more interested in playing domestic politics with Trump, irrespective of strategic consequences beyond the water’s edge, rather than assuring America’s security on the world stage. Such congressional leaders might prefer to follow the late Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill in thinking that “all politics is local. Iran’s theocratic ayatollahs have other plans, unconstrained by lobbying constituencies.”
The House NDAA is dead on arrival in the Republican-controlled Senate, and, for good measure, the White House has threatened to veto the legislation if brought to the president’s desk. This overwhelmingly partisan legislation delivers ample political pork but fails to secure America’s common defense. Now, Senate Republicans face the vital responsibility of crafting an NDAA worthy of America’s defense.
Andrew E. Harrod holds a Ph.D. from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy and a J.D. from George Washington University Law School. He is a fellow with the Lawfare Project, an organization combating the misuse of human rights law against Western societies, and has written over 450 articles in print and online at outlets like the Algemeiner, The American Spectator, American Thinker, Breitbart, the Investigative Project on Terrorism, Jihad Watch, and the Washington Times.