WASHINGTON -- In one of his final speeches on the House floor, Massachusetts Congressman Barney Frank on Thursday argued passionately for cutting the defense budget, something he has said he will crusade for through his final weeks in office.
He opposed the $633 billion defense spending bill on multiple grounds, peppering his 10-plus minute address with punchlines relished by his Democratic colleagues.
On America’s nuclear arsenal: “I have a proposal, sometimes I’m kidding, this time I’m not . . . Russia does not have anything like the capacity it had at the height of the Cold War. We still have the capacity to destroy them. Can we not say to the Pentagon, ‘You know, those three ways you have of destroying the Soviet Union, please pick two?’ Would we not be very secure against a Soviet nuclear attack if we had two instead of three, and could save billions of dollars?”
On foreign humanitarian aid: “Now, I wish we were doing more in Haiti. I wish we were doing more to stop children from dying of illness in Africa. But we have to give humanitarian aid anywhere in the world to our wealthy allies and others? Frankly, I wish we were better able to deliver humanitarian aide to New Jersey than to rich countries elsewhere.”
On the military’s European presence: “We no longer have weak nations in central and western Europe. We no longer have a belligerent threat to them. One thing hasn’t changed. We’re still there. With tens of billions of dollars of American money protecting the strong nations against a nonexistent threat.”
On US strength in the world: “I want us to be the strongest nation in the world. Some of my liberal friends say that sounds xenophobic. It’s very simple. Somebody has to be the strongest nation in the world. Process of elimination. I look at the candidates and I’m for us. I will be honest with you. If Denmark had the possibility of being the strongest nation in the world, I’d be pretty relaxed about it. But they can’t handle it. It’s either going to be us or some country I’m not that crazy about. But we can be the strongest nation in the world much less expensively than we are.”
On protecting the nation’s allies: “You’re supposed to have troops where your allies are. Then how come I never saw any Belgian troops at the border in the United States? It’s a one-way street.”
On drawing down troops in Afghanistan: “I noted that during that memorable moment when Clint Eastwood lost a debate to a chair, one of the things he said that got enormous applause in the Republican convention was let’s get out of Afghanistan right away.”
Frank argued that the US military is simply not equipped to “make good things happen,” in foreign lands struggling with the “deepest human problems of religious and cultural disagreements” such as Iraq and Afghanistan.
“The best trained and armed 30-year-old Americans can’t resolve the problems that rack those societies,” Frank said. “They can repel enemies, but they cannot create good societies.”
The money, he said, should instead go towards domestic needs such as funding health research, making sure cities have adequate police and fire protection, preserving the future of Social Security.
The current amount of defense spending “far exceeds any rational definition of national security and it’s zero sum,” Frank said. “It comes at the expense of every other program we try to maintain to promote the quality of life in the United States. I hope the bill is defeated.”
As per his usual style, Frank spoke without notes.Tracy Jan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @GlobeTracyJan.