Here’s Why the Defense Industry Is Ecstatic About a President Trump – Mother Jones
Popping the champagne corks.
This story first appeared on the TomDispatch website.
As with so much of what Donald Trump has said in recent months, his positions on Pentagon spending are, to be polite, a bundle of contradictions. Early signs suggest, however, that those contradictions are likely to resolve themselves in favor of the usual suspects: the arms industry and its various supporters and hangers-on in the government, as well as Washington’s labyrinthine world of think-tank policymakers and lobbyists. Of course, to quote a voice of sanity at this strange moment: It ain’t over till it’s over. Eager as The Donald may be to pump vast sums into a Pentagon already spending your tax dollars at a near-record pace, there will be significant real-world obstacles to any such plans.
Let’s start with a baseline look at the Pentagon’s finances at this moment. At $600 billion-plus per year, the government is already spending more money on the Pentagon than it did at the peak of the massive military buildup President Ronald Reagan initiated in the 1980s. In fact, despite what you might imagine, the Obama administration has pumped more tax dollars into the military in its two terms than did George W. Bush. According to the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies, the US currently spends four times what China does and 10 times what the Russians sink into their military.
So pay no attention to those cries of poverty emanating from the Pentagon. There’s already plenty of money available for “defense.” Instead, the problems lie in Washington’s overly ambitious, thoroughly counterproductive global military strategy and in the Pentagon’s penchant for squandering tax dollars as if they were in endless supply. Supposedly, the job of the president and Congress is to rein in that department’s notoriously voracious appetite. Instead, they regularly end up as a team of enablers for its obvious spending addiction.
The prospects are clear: A new Pentagon spending binge is on the horizon
Which brings us back to Donald Trump. He’s on the record against regime-change-style wars like Bush’s intervention in Iraq and Obama’s in Libya. He also wants our allies to pay more for their own defense. And he swears that, once in office, he’ll eliminate waste and drive down the costs of weapons systems. Taken at face value, such a set of policies would certainly set the stage for reductions in Pentagon spending, not massive increases. But those are just the views of one Donald Trump.
Don’t forget the other one, the presidential candidate who termed our military a “disaster” and insisted that huge spending increases were needed to bring it back up to par. A window into this Trump’s thinking can be found in a speech he gave in Philadelphia in early September. Drawing heavily on a military spending blueprint created by Washington’s right-wing Heritage Foundation, Trump called for tens of thousands of additional troops; a Navy of 350 ships (the current goal is 308); a significantly larger Air Force; an anti-missile, space-based Star Wars-style program of Reaganesque proportions; and an acceleration of the Pentagon’s $1 trillion “modernization” program for the nuclear arsenal (now considered a three-decade-long project).
Todd Harrison of the Center for Strategic and International Studies estimates that, if Trump faithfully follows the Heritage Foundation’s proposal, he could add more than $900 billion to the Pentagon’s budget over the next decade. Trump asserts that he would counterbalance this spending splurge with corresponding cuts in government waste but has as yet offered no credible plan for doing so (because, of course, there isn’t one).
You won’t be surprised to learn, then, that the defense industry, always sensitive to the vibes of presidential candidates, has been popping the champagne corks in the wake of Trump’s victory. The prospects are clear: A new Pentagon spending binge is on the horizon.
Veteran defense analyst David Isenberg has convincingly argued that the “military-industrial-congressional-complex,” not the white working class, will be the real winner of the 2016 presidential election. The Forbes headline for a column Loren Thompson, an industry consultant (whose think tank is heavily funded by weapons contractors), recently wrote says it all: “For the Defense Industry, Trump’s Win Means Happy Days are Here Again.” The stocks of industry giants Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, and Northrop Grumman rose sharply upon news of his election and the biggest winner of all may be Huntington Ingalls, a Virginia-based manufacturer of aircraft carriers and nuclear attack submarines that would be a primary beneficiary of Trump’s proposed naval buildup.
Of course, the market’s not always right. What other evidence do we have that Trump will follow through on his promises to dramatically increase Pentagon spending? Some clues are his potential appointees to national security positions.
Let’s start with his transition team. Mira Ricardel, a former executive at Boeing’s Strategic Missiles and Defense unit, has been running the day-to-day operations of the defense part of the transition apparatus. She also served a lengthy stint in the Pentagon under George W. Bush. As Marcus Weisgerber of Defense One has noted, she has advocated for the development of space laser weapons and more military satellites, and is likely to press for appointees who will go all in on the Pentagon’s plan to spend hundreds of billions of dollars on a new nuclear bomber and a new generation of intercontinental ballistic missiles. So much for “draining the swamp” of special-interest advocates, as Trump had promised to do. Vice President-elect Mike Pence, recently named to head the Trump transition team in place of former New Jersey governor Chris Christie, has promised to cleanse the transition team of lobbyists. But government watchdog groups like Public Citizen are skeptical of this pledge, noting that corporate executives like Ricardel who have not been registered lobbyists are likely to survive any changes Pence may make.
The scariest potential Trump appointees are not necessarily the ones with preexisting economic stakes in high levels of Pentagon spending. They are the ideologues.
The person currently rumored to be the frontrunner for the defense job is General James “Mad Dog” Mattis, a 44-year Marine and former head of the US Central Command who left the military in 2013 amid disagreements with the Obama administration over how many troops to deploy in Iraq and how hard a line to take on Iran. According to a Washington Post profile of Mattis, he “consistently pushed the military to punish Iran and its allies, including calling for more covert actions to capture and kill Iranian operatives and interdictions of Iranian warships.” These proposals were non-starters at a time when the Obama administration was negotiating a deal to curb Iran’s nuclear weapons program, but may receive a warmer reception in a Trump White House.
Another candidate for the Pentagon post is Jim Talent, a former senator from Missouri who is now based at the conservative American Enterprise Institute after a seven-year stint at the Heritage Foundation. Talent is a long-time advocate of spending an arbitrary 4 percent of gross domestic product on defense, an ill-advised policy that would catapult the Pentagon budget to over $800 billion per year by 2020, one-third above current levels. The conservative National Taxpayers Union has derided the idea as a gimmick that is “neither fiscally responsible nor strategically coherent.”
Another person allegedly in the mix for Pentagon chief is Kelly Ayotte, who just lost her Senate seat in New Hampshire. She was a rising star in the ranks of the Capitol Hill hawks who roamed the country with Senators Lindsey Graham and John McCain advocating an end to caps on Pentagon spending. Ayotte’s name may have been mentioned primarily to show that Trump was casting a wide net (the whole spectrum from hawks to extreme hawks). Conservative Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas—a fierce opponent of the Iran nuclear deal and an avid booster of increasing Pentagon spending beyond what even the Pentagon has asked for—is reputedly another contender.
Congressman Randy Forbes, a Republican from Virginia, is looking for a job after losing his seat in a primary earlier this year. He has been mentioned as a possible secretary of the Navy. The outgoing chairman of the House Armed Services Committee’s Seapower and Projection Forces Subcommittee, he has been the most vocal advocate in Congress for a larger Navy. Not coincidentally, Virginia is also home to Huntington Ingalls Shipbuilding.