Let's think about the logic of it all for a moment. The 2016 Pentagon budget came in at just over $600 billion and that royal sum, larger than the combined military investments of the next seven countries, was hardly the full measure of the money U.S. taxpayers spent on what we like to call "national security." Add everything in -- including funding for the Department of Homeland Security and for veterans affairs -- and you're approaching a trillion dollars annually, according to the Project on Government Oversight. No other country spends anything faintly like it, which means the United States has a military that, by any normal measure, is unmatched on planet Earth.
For the last 15 years, that military has been engaged in a series of wars and conflicts across the Greater Middle East and parts of Africa that have been both unending and by anyone's standards remarkably unsuccessful, if not disastrous. Or put another way, the greatest military around, sent into action for a decade and a half and funded in a way that no other military comes close to, hasn't notched a victory to its name in its twenty-first-century era of permanent war.
Now for that matter of logic. In response to such over-the-top outlays of taxpayer dollars and such a record of unsuccessful wars, the Trump administration is moving fast to improve the situation by... yes, of course... working to massively increase spending on the U.S. military and national security, while slashing the budgets of outfits ranging from the State Department (goodbye, diplomacy!) to the Environmental Protection Agency (goodbye, relatively unpolluted surroundings!) to education and "social safety net programs" (don't be young and poor!). Trump will reportedly call for adding a "supplemental" $30 billion to the 2017 defense budget and a whopping $54 billion in 2018, an increase of close to 10%. To put that sum into perspective, ask yourself where the U.S. military would rank internationally if that were its entire military budget. The answer: 7th in the world (according to 2015 figures). It would come just after Great Britain at $55.5 billion and would outrank India ($51.3 billion), France ($50.9 billion), and Japan ($40.9 billion). Put another way, despite recent rising fears about Russia, that $54 billion alone would be more than 80% of the total Russian military budget of 2015.
In other words, there will be more planes, ships, troops, and weaponry of every sort -- armaments industry stocks naturally rose on the news -- to fight America's disastrous wars, while domestically the "security" of the American people will be slashed in just about every imaginable way. (And to add a touch of humor to the mix, Republican Senator John McCain promptly attacked President Trump for his miserly approach to the needs of the U.S. military.) As TomDispatch regular William Hartung, author of Prophets of War: Lockheed Martin and the Making of the Military-Industrial Complex, points out today, if you add into all this Trump's bevy of generals (and his ideologues), you have a fabulous formula for permanent war into the (un)foreseeable future. Tom
The President Who Loved Generals
Could War With Iran Be on Washington's Agenda?
By William D. Hartung
In the splurge of "news," media-bashing, and Bannonism that's been Donald Trump's domestic version of a shock-and-awe campaign, it's easy to forget just how much of what the new president and his administration have done so far is simply an intensification of trends long underway. Those who already pine for the age of Obama -- a president who was smart, well read, and not a global embarrassment -- need to acknowledge the ways in which, particularly in the military arena, Obama's years helped set the stage for our current predicament.
As a start, Nobel Prize or not, President Obama sustained, and in some cases accelerated, the militarization of American foreign policy that has been steadily increasing for the past three decades. In significant parts of the world, the U.S. military has become Washington's first and often only tool -- and the result has been disastrous wars, failing states, and spreading terror movements (as well as staggering arms sales) across the Greater Middle East and significant parts of Africa. Indicators of how militarily dependent Obama's foreign policy became include the launching of a record number of drone strikes (10 times as many as in the Bush years), undeclared wars in at least six countries, the annual deployment of Special Operations forces to well over half of the countries on the planet, record arms sales to the Middle East, and a plethora of new Pentagon arms and training programs.
Nonetheless, from the New START treaty (which Trump has called "another bad deal," as he does any deal the Obama administration concluded) to the Iran nuclear deal to the opening with Cuba, Obama had genuine successes of a sort that our present narcissist-in-chief, with his emphasis on looking "tough" or tweeting at the drop of a hat, is unlikely to achieve. In addition, Obama did try to build on the nuclear arms control agreements and institutions created over the previous five decades, while Trump seems intent on dismantling them.
Still, no one can doubt that our last president did not behave like a Nobel Peace Prize winner, not even in the nuclear arena where he oversaw the launching of a trillion dollar "modernization" of the U.S. nuclear arsenal (including the development of new weapons and new delivery systems). And one thing is already clear enough: President Trump will prove no non-interventionist. He is going to build on Obama's militarization of foreign policy and most likely dramatically accelerate it.
A Military First Administration
It's no secret that our new president loves generals. He's certainly assembled the most military-heavy foreign policy team in memory, if not in American history, including retired General James Mattis at the Pentagon; retired General John Kelly at Homeland Security; Lieutenant General H.R. McMaster as national security adviser (a replacement for Lieutenant General Michael Flynn who left that post after 24 days); and as chief of staff of the National Security Council, retired Lieutenant General Keith Kellogg.
In addition, CIA Director Mike Pompeo is a West Point graduate and former Cold War-era Army tank officer. Even White House adviser Steve Bannon has done military service of a sort. The military background of Trump's ideologue-in-chief was emphasized by White House spokesman Sean Spicer in his defense of seating him on the National Security Council (NSC). Bannon's near-brush with fame as a naval officer came when he piloted a destroyer in the Gulf of Oman trailing the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz that carried the helicopters used in the Carter administration's botched 1980 attempt to rescue U.S. hostages held by Iran's revolutionary government. As it happened, Bannon's ship was ordered back to Pearl Harbor before the raid was launched, so he learned of its failure from thousands of miles away.
When it comes to national security posts of any sort, it's clear that choosing a general is now Trump's default mode. Three of the four candidates he considered for Flynn's spot were current or retired generals. And that's not even counting retired Vice Admiral Robert Harward, who declined an offer to take Flynn's post, in part evidently because he wasn't prepared to battle Bannon over the staffing and running of the NSC. The only civilian considered for that role was one of the more bellicose guys in town, that ideologue, Iranophobe, former U.N. ambassador, and neocon extraordinaire John Bolton. The bad news: Trump was evidently impressed by Bolton, who may still get a slot alongside Bannon and his motley crew of extremists in the White House.
Another early indicator of the military drift of future administration actions is the marginalization of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and the State Department, which appears to be completely out of the policy-making loop at the moment. It is understaffed, underutilized, slated to have its funding slashed by as much as 30% to 40%, and rarely even asked to provide Trump with basic knowledge about the countries and leaders he's dealing with. (As a result, White House statements have, on several occasions, misspelled the names of foreign heads of state and the president mistakenly addressed the Japanese Prime Minister as "Shinzo," his first name, not "Abe.") The State Department isn't even giving regular press briefings, a practice routinely followed in prior administrations. Tillerson's main job so far has been traveling the planet to reassure foreign leaders that the new president isn't as crazy as he seems to be.
Although Secretaries of State Hillary Clinton and John Kerry were far more involved in the crafting of foreign policy than Tillerson is likely to be, the State Department has long been the junior partner to its ever better resourced counterpart. The Pentagon's budget is currently 12 times larger than the State Department's (and that's before the impending Trump military build-up even begins). As former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates once noted, there are more personnel in a single aircraft carrier task force than there are trained diplomats in the U.S. Foreign Service.