by Ivan Eland
The recent North Korean missile tests raise questions about contradictions in President Donald Trump’s national security policies. During his campaign Trump implied that the United States should fight fewer wars overseas and demanded that US dependents, Japan and South Korea, do more for their own defense, perhaps even getting nuclear weapons. Yet a recent article written by David Sanger, a national security reporter for the New York Times, noted that Trump had tweeted that North Korean acquisition of a long-range missile "won’t happen" and that his administration was considering preemptive military strikes on North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs or reintroducing US tactical (short-range) nuclear missiles into South Korea, which were removed twenty-five years ago. So which is it – demanding US allies do more or ramping up America’s efforts to make them even more reliant on American power? And this is not the only Trump policy contradiction.
If Trump is demanding that wealthy allies – both East Asian and European – put out more of an effort for their own security and if Trump wants to fight fewer wars overseas, then why does the defense budget need to be increased by a whopping 10 percent? That proposed increase is roughly equivalent to the entire Russian annual defense budget. In fact, couldn’t U.S. defense spending be cut to help ameliorate the already humongous $20-trillion-dollar national debt?
Moreover, the Department of Defense is the worst run agency in the federal government, as demonstrated by its being the only department to repeatedly fail to pass an audit – thus not being able to pinpoint where many trillions of dollars over many years have been spent. In 2001, the departments comptroller admitted to me that the department’s broken accounting system would not be able to pass such an audit for a long time to come. Sixteen years later it still can’t.
How does the American taxpayer know that the already almost $600 billion defense budget each year is spent wisely or even not stolen outright? Despite this niggling elephant in the room, the Congress regularly gives the department, and the military services with in it, almost a free pass, because of "patriotism," political pressure from defense industries, and the aura of secrecy surrounding this bureaucracy. Yet the nation’s founders were almost universally suspicious of large standing militaries – in the late 1770s, European monarchs used them for external conquest and plunder and internal repression of their own. Similarly, militarism covered by the veneer of "patriotism" is as inauthentic and vile as it is prevalent in twenty-first century America. Also, much of the shroud of secrecy surrounding the military is overdone; many employees of the security bureaucracies admit that much information is overclassified. That includes threat information, which the department has a conflict of interest in hyping, because it justifies more spending on research, weapons, operations, maintenance, and all other things military.
Trump is also hyping terrorist threats to justify stanching foreign travel and immigration to the United States, as well as indirectly his higher defense budgets. Yet leaked documents from his own Department of Homeland Security say that discrimination by national background is a poor way of identifying potential terrorists and that most people who have committed recent terrorist acts in the United States were radicalized long after coming here. Despite all the media hype, terrorism is still a rare phenomenon, and North America has always had fewer foreign terrorists than most other places, because it is a long way away from the world’s centers of conflict – for example, the Middle East. So much for the value of "extreme vetting" of arriving individuals from selected Muslim countries and increasing defense spending to combat terrorism.
Pressure by the military-industrial-complex (MIC) is another major driver of excessive defense spending. MIC lobbying has led to monumental wasting of taxpayer dollars over the years. For example, according to David Sanger, efforts to develop and field a limited national missile defense system to protect against the likes of relatively primitive North Korean missiles has cost taxpayers about $300 billion since the days of Eisenhower but has given them a system that, even under perfect conditions, can only hit an incoming missile 44 percent of the time. And most analysts say real world conditions will rarely be perfect. This effort should have been abandoned long ago, but the MIC uses "the legacy of Ronald Reagan" to win conservative support in seeming perpetuity, no matter the poor results of the program.
There are countless other weapons programs in the Department of Defense that are underperforming, vastly exceeding original cost estimates, and way behind schedule. Thus, taxpayers and their members of Congress need to cast a jaundiced eye on Trump’s desired military spending increase.