Four years ago, Donald Trump promised to spend more money on military planes and boats to boost America’s ability to wage war:
Trump said in a speech to the Union League of Philadelphia that he will ask Congress to reverse cuts to defense spending enacted under the 2013 budget sequester once he takes office and submit a new budget to rebuild the US military, which Trump described as unprepared to confront the threats the US faces.
…”History shows that when America is not prepared is when the danger is greatest. We want to deter, avoid and prevent conflict through our unquestioned military dominance,” Trump said as he lamented the cuts to defense spending, which he said is “on track to fall to its lowest level as a share of the economy.” The US spent more than $600 billion in defense spending in 2015.
…The Republican nominee also called for increasing the number of ships and submarines and increasing the Air Force’s fighter aircraft to 1,200 from 1,113.
Trump also stressed the need to bolster the US’s missile defense systems, including modernizing Navy cruiser ships.”The Obama-Clinton administration tried repeatedly to remove our cruisers from service, then refused to modernize these very old, aging, aging ships. They’re old, they’re tired,” Trump said [Jeremy Diamond, “Trump Calls for Military Spending Increase,” CNN, 2016.09.07].
Four years later, facing consequences for calling America’s war fighters losers and suckers, Trump is saying that the military leaders who supported his push for more spending on war machines are reckless warmongering profiteers:
“I’m not saying the military’s in love with me — the soldiers are, the top people in the Pentagon probably aren’t because they want to do nothing but fight wars so that all of those wonderful companies that make the bombs and make the planes and make everything else stay happy,” Trump told reporters at a White House news conference.
Trump’s extraordinary comments come as several defense officials tell CNN relations between the President and Pentagon leadership are becoming increasingly strained [Barbara Starr and Ryan Browne, “Trump Launches Unprecedented Attach on Military Leadership He Appointed,” CNN, 2020.09.08].
If Trump were opening a reasoned critique and concerted effort to finally rein in the military-industrial complex, we could all celebrate. But President Eisenhower is rolling, not rocking, in his grave:
Trump is not a threat to the Pentagon budget. He has lavished as much money on defense as he can get from Congress, and boasts constantly that he “rebuilt” it after Barack Obama supposedly exhausted its entire supply of ammunition. If Trump is concerned about the influence of defense lobbyists on the Pentagon’s decision-making, it’s odd that he picked a top corporate lobbyist for Raytheon to serve as his current Defense secretary.
Trump has frequently cited the profits from arms sales as the main reason for the United States to continue supporting Saudi Arabia. Asked in 2018 about cutting off sales to the kingdom after its brutal murder of Jamal Khashoggi, he replied, “Well, I think that would be hurting us. We have jobs, we have a lot of things happening in this country. We have a country that’s doing probably better economically than it’s ever done before. Part of that is what we’re doing with our defense systems, and everybody’s wanting ’em, and frankly I think that that would be a very, very tough pill to swallow for our country.”
Later that day he reiterated, “I don’t like stopping massive amounts of money that’s being poured into our country … they are spending $110 billion on military equipment and on things that create jobs for this country.”
Last year, Trump again explained that Saudi Arabia is a valuable ally because it buys so many American weapons: “They spent $400 billion in our country over the last number of years. Four hundred billion dollars. That’s a million and a half jobs.”
…Trump probably assumed that having bought off the military brass with lavish spending, he could count on them to stay discreet about his occasional sociopathic remark. It is very believable that he would be unable to imagine a motive for their unease with his leadership other than venality. But nobody else needs to cooperate with the preposterous ruse that Trump poses a threat to the income stream of American military leaders [Jonathan Chait, “No, Trump Is Not Threatening the Military-Industrial Complex’s Profits,” New York Magazine: Intelligencer, 2020.09.08].
Army Chief of Staff General James McConville reminds us that he and his fellow military leaders recommend sending American soldiers to war only as a last resort to protect national security, not profits:
Gen. James McConville, chief of staff of the Army, was asked at an event hosted by Defense One on Tuesday about Trump’s comments from the day before.
McConville declined to directly comment on Trump’s remarks, saying the military should avoid politics, particularly close to an election.
But pressed more generally on private industry’s influence on the decision to go to war, McConville said military officers take very seriously their recommendations on whether to send troops into combat.
“Many of these leaders have sons and daughters that serve in the military. Many of these leaders have sons and daughters who have gone to combat or may be in combat right now,” McConville said.
“I can assure the American people that the senior leaders would only recommend sending our troops to combat when it is required in national security, or as a last resort,” he continued. “We take this very, very seriously in how we make our recommendations” [Rebecca Kheel, “Army Chief Says Military Leaders Only Recommend Combat as ‘Last Resort’ After Trump’s Comments,” The Hill, 2020.09.08].
We all understand that Donald Trump does not mean and has never meant a word he bleats. But Republicans can’t use that as a defense of their Dear Leader’s latest contradictions. Republicans used to lambaste Democrats who proposed spending less on war machines as unpatriotic hippies who were undermining America’s security. Now Donald Trump himself has offered his own argument for cutting military spending. Have fun, Republicans.