By Robin Edward Poulton, Ph. D.*
6 March 2017 – TRANSCEND Media Service – Donald Trump’s speech to the U.S. Congress on Wednesday February 28th certainly had a different tone from his usual, irascible midnight tweets.
Some of the speech sounded quite similar to speeches given by previous presidents. Some of it was even boring (which is rare for Trump: he may be a horrible misogynist, but he is seldom boring).
For the first time since the November 2016 election, President Trump sounded quite “presidential” – “surprisingly presidential” said the Washington Post, which is a truly backhanded compliment. Are presidents not supposed to be “presidential” ?
The quiet tone of the speech astonished most observers, including most members of Congress. Its contents also contradicted much of what Trump and his political advisors have been saying for weeks.
One of his most astonishing remarks was his firm and warm support for NATO, an organization upon which he has been pouring scorn for the past two years.
But whether you believe that NATO is a force for peace and stability, or a malevolent and militaristic alliance of bully-states, what Trump said about defense is hardly reassuring. He signaled his intention to increase military spending by $54 billion: meaning the Pentagon will get an increase of 10% over its current regular budget.
These $54 billion will be siphoned off from other federal programs (presumably education, social and poverty programs), “a budget proposal that is already half-dead on arrival, judging from its lukewarm reception on Capitol Hill this week,” according to the New York Times after the speech.
Whatever is the Pentagon going to spend all this money on, one asks? The USA already spends more on defense than the next seven countries taken together. Hands up all those who believe that the Pentagon is under-funded? No one? Well, you are all correct.
There is already plenty of spare cash in the Pentagon. According to the Washington Post (Dec 5th 2016): “The Pentagon has buried an internal study that exposed $125 billion in administrative waste in its business operations amid fears Congress would use the findings as an excuse to slash the defense budget, according to interviews and confidential memos obtained by The Washington Post.
Pentagon leaders had requested the study to help make their enormous back-office bureaucracy more efficient and reinvest any savings in combat power.
But after the project documented far more wasteful spending than expected, senior defense officials moved swiftly to kill it by discrediting and suppressing the results. … it would have streamlined the bureaucracy through attrition and early retirements, curtailed high-priced contractors and made better use of information technology.” https://www.washingtonpost.com/investigations/pentagon-buries-evidence-of-125-billion-in-bureaucratic-waste/2016/12/05/e0668c76-9af6-11e6-a0ed-ab0774c1eaa5_story.html?utm_term=.7c3170359376
If 25% of the Pentagon’s official budget of between $526 and $580 billion in 2016 is wasted, how can President Trump justify adding another 10%? (It is never possible to know exactly what the Pentagon spends, because of covert funds, special extra budgets for overseas operations, and defense expenses hidden in other department budgets.)
If the military can afford to waste 25% of their regular budget, that hardly suggests that the Pentagon needs more money.
Naturally, President Trump wants not only to make America “great” but also to promote peace – or “reduce conflict” or so he claims. Having said in his speech that “We strongly support NATO, an alliance forged through the bonds of two World Wars that dethroned fascism, and a Cold War that defeated communism,” Trump added:
“”Free nations are the best vehicle for expressing the will of the people — and America respects the right of all nations to chart their own path. My job is not to represent the world. My job is to represent the United States of America. But we know that America is better off, when there is less conflict — not more.” http://www.defensenews.com/articles/trump-we-strongly-support-nato-but-partners-must-meet-their-financial-obligations
But how does spending more money on more weapons reduce conflict? And even if it did, does America not have sufficient weapons and enough money to replace the ones they have used? “World military spending totaled more than $1.6 trillion in 2015.
The U.S. accounted for 37 percent of the total. U.S. military expenditures are roughly the size of the next seven largest military budgets.” https://www.nationalpriorities.org/campaigns/us-military-spending-vs-world/
What benefit, one wonders, does the USA receive for all this military expenditure? US army officer Danny Sjursen analyses the results of America’s wars in a brilliant article: “Why America’s Middle East Wars Have Been Utter Failures.”
He explains that the military hierarchy repeatedly asks the wrong questions, and then draws the wrong conclusions from America’s military adventures in the Middle East and elsewhere. Meanwhile their political masters never challenge the choices of military options, or the failures of their generals. Sjursen explains why the Iraq war has been a disaster.
The Afghan war is America’s longest war, is still being lost. Sjursen asks: “Has it worked? Is anybody, including Americans, safer? Few in power even bother to ask such questions. But the data is there. The Department of State counted just 348 terrorist attacks worldwide in 2001 compared with 11,774 attacks in 2015.
That’s right: At best, America’s 15-year “war on terror” failed to significantly reduce international terrorism; at worst, its actions helped make matters 30 times worse.” https://www.thenation.com/article/a-us-military-officer-explains-why-americas-wars-in-the-middle-east-have-been-utter-failures/
Danny Sjursen’s article in The Nation carries a jocular sub-title: “HINT – The foundational narrative is the problem.” Meaning: what the Americans assume is wrong, their strategies are wrong, and the conclusions they draw from their actions are wrong.
Many Americans wonder why their leaders cannot see that the wards have been lost; that tens of thousands of dead Iraqis and hundreds of thousands of Iraqi and Syrian refugees have been victims of American military action.
How much worse will it get, if the US military have even more money to throw at the world’s problems? Many of which the soldiers themselves have caused.
President Trump has surrounded himself with generals. People whose careers have been built on the failures of Iraq and Afghanistan. They are unlikely to help Trump develop new thinking, new directions for a non-military foreign policy.
More money for the Pentagon is likely to produce more wasted money, more wasted lives and more war. Buying more weapons has never, ever been a recipe for peace.
*AUTHOR: Robin Edward Poulton, Ph.D., member of the TRANSCEND Network for Peace, Development and Environment, is President of V-Peace, the Virginia Institute for Peace and Islamic Studies, and an Affiliate Professor at Virginia Commonwealth University.
He co-Chaired a peace conference at VCU in September2013 https://sites.google.com/a/vcu.edu/2013-peace-conference-site/. Dr Poulton wrote his PhD thesis on village economic systems in Afghanistan.
This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 6 March 2017: TMS: Will Trump’s America Make the World Safer or More Dangerous
**Photo: Official portrait of President Donald Trump. | Author and source: White House | public domain | Wikimedia Commons: “This file has been identified as being free of known restrictions under copyright law, including all related and neighboring rights.”