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Hal Brands

Progressives Should Learn to Love the Pentagon Budget

The military creates middle-class jobs, provides health care and spreads liberal values.

Job creator.

Job creator.

Photographer: Joshua Roberts/Bloomberg 

As the campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination intensifies, so will the pressure on the U.S. defense budget. The Pentagon recently submitted its budget request for fiscal year 2020, which comes in at an impressive $750 billion. Yet Democratic senators and presidential aspirants such as Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders had already been criticizing existing levels of defense spending, arguing that a $700 billion-plus defense budget undermines efforts to promote progressive change at home.

This argument is a staple of progressive rhetoric, and you’ll hear it often in primary season. It also happens to get things backward. Progressives should learn to love, or at least tolerate, high levels of military spending precisely because it tends to advance a key progressive goal: Improving the economic fortunes of the middle class.