When it came to war, this year's State of the Union Address, given by a president who had, at least in part, been voted into office for criticizing America's "endless wars" and the military high command that fought them, was eerie. Since we're talking about Donald Trump, it was, of course, also filled with braggadocio about his role in loosing, as well as supporting, the U.S. military: "To safeguard American liberty, we have invested a record-breaking $2.2 trillion in the United States military. We have purchased the finest planes, missiles, rockets, ships, and every other form of military equipment, and it's all made right here in the USA."
There was his glorying in the deaths of the leader of ISIS ("the bloodthirsty killer known as al-Baghdadi") and of Iranian Major General Qassem Suleimani ("the world's top terrorist"). "Last month," he crowed, "at my direction, the U.S. military executed a flawless precision strike that killed Suleimani and terminated his evil reign of terror forever."
There were the usual lies and exaggerated claims, including this howler (given the way the president has increased the American troop presence in the region): "As we defend American lives, we are working to end America's wars in the Middle East."
There was that subtle reminder that last year he had implicitly threatened to win the war in Afghanistan by using nuclear weapons there. As he put it in speaking to a wildly divided House of Representatives, "I am not looking to kill hundreds of thousands of people in Afghanistan, many of them totally innocent."
And the president who had promised to bring American troops home from those wars and the Greater Middle East more generally -- but has done the very opposite -- finally staged a genuine homecoming (of one) for his national TV audience, the surprise reuniting of a mother and her two children with her serviceman husband who had been in Afghanistan for the last seven months (his fourth tour of duty in America's war zones, by the way).
As TomDispatch regular William Hartung points out today, our "antiwar" president is now focusing on that very military and its funding (and on weapons sales abroad) as a potential key to victory next November. Think of him as our very own antiwar warmonger.
The question is: In November will Americans say "You're fired!" to him? Tom
Will Trump Ride Pentagon Spending to Reelection?
The President Bets on Arms Sales Big Time
By William D. Hartung
Donald Trump likes to posture as a tough guy and part of that tough-guy persona involves bragging about how much he's spent on the U.S. military. This tendency was on full display in a tweet he posted three days after an American drone killed Iranian Major General Qassem Suleimani in Baghdad:
"The United States just spent Two Trillion Dollars on Military Equipment. We are the biggest and by far the BEST in the World! If Iran attacks an American Base, or any American, we will be sending some of that brand new beautiful equipment their way... and without hesitation!"
That tweet was as much a message to the American public as to Iran's rulers. Its subtext: that Donald J. Trump (and he alone) has restored the U.S. military to greatness after two terms of neglect under the less-than-watchful eye of Barack Obama, that he's not afraid to use it, and that he deserves credit for everything he's done, which means, of course, widespread political support. Never mind that Washington has "only" spent about one-third of his claimed $2 trillion on military equipment since he took office and that Pentagon spending reached a post-World War II record high in the Obama years. No surprise there: Trump has never let the facts get in the way of a good story he's dying to tell.
He has, by the way, made similar claims to his most important audience of all: his donors. At a January 17th get-together with key supporters at Mar-a-Lago, his lavish Florida resort, he bragged that Pentagon spending had increased by $2.5 trillion on his watch. In fact, that figure is closer to total Pentagon spending in the Trump years. For his claim to be accurate, the Pentagon budget would have had to be $0 in January 2017 when he entered the Oval Office. Still, however outlandish what he says about the military may be, the underlying theme remains remarkably consistent: I'm the guy who's funding our military like never before, so you should keep supporting me big time.
Don't get me wrong. In collaboration with Congress, Donald Trump has indeed boosted the Pentagon budget to near-record levels. At $738 billion this year alone, it's already substantially higher than U.S. spending at the peaks of the Korean and Vietnam Wars or during the Reagan military buildup of the 1980s. It's more than the total amount spent by the next seven nations in the world combined (five of which are U.S. allies). Only Donald Trump could manage to distort, misstate, and exaggerate sums that are already beyond belief in the service of an inflated self-image and ambitious political objectives.
Political Manipulation and "Jobs, Jobs, Jobs"
President Trump's recent antics should come as no surprise. His use of Pentagon spending and military assistance for political gain has been hiding in plain sight since he entered the Oval Office. After all, that's what the impeachment charges against him were all about. He was manipulating U.S. military aid to Ukraine to strong-arm its government into generating dirt on Joe Biden whom Trump, obsessed by poll numbers, saw at the time as his most threatening rival.