In the month following his surprise victory in the early morning hours of November 9, President-elect Donald J. Trump has appointed a retired three-star Army general as his national security adviser, a retired four-star Marine Corps general as his defense secretary and another retired Marine Corps four-star general to run the Department of Homeland Security. There remains the distinct possibility that a four-star admiral (James Stavridis) or a four-star Army general (David Petraeus) will be tapped to run the State Department.
At this rate, it isn’t much of an exaggeration to say that Trump’s government is shaping up to be one of the generals, by the generals, and for the generals.
These appointments are taking place just prior to the adjournment of the 114th Congress, during which time the House and Senate have passed numerous pieces of legislation with the ostensible purpose of strengthening US national security.
Over the past month, the House has passed the Orwellian-sounding Caesar Civilian Protection Act, which would lay the groundwork for further US military operations in Syria; both houses of Congress have passed legislation mandating the extension of sanctions against Iran by 10 years; and on Thursday the Senate passed the National Defense Authorization Act for 2017, which increases defense spending by $3.2 billion (the House passed the bill last week by a veto-proof majority of 375 to 34).
Embedded within the $619 billion defense bill is, among many other things, a prohibition “against transferring detainees from the detention facility at Guantánamo Bay to the United States and building or modifying facilities in the United States for housing detainees.”
The bill also provides funding for “the President’s request to train and equip appropriately-vetted, moderate [sic] Syrian forces,” and, more alarmingly, does not include a prohibition on the transfer of man-portable air-defense system (MANPADS) to the Syrian jihadi-rebels, which had been sponsored by House Democrat John Conyers.
As a congressional source familiar with the fight over MANPADS told The Nation in October, “The House has repeatedly voted unanimously to block MANPADS from being sent to Syria. But when the defense-spending bill goes to conference, someone anonymously removes the provision, overturning the will of the House without explanation.”
Still worse, the bill will provide “$150 million for the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative to help train, equip, and assist the Ukrainian military, National Guard, and security services.” These are the very same ‘security services’ that have been accused by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights of operating extrajudicial detention and torture facilities in Ukraine.
In addition to thwarting the president’s 2008 campaign promise to close the detention center at GTMO, while providing for the prolongation of the conflicts in Syria and Ukraine, the new defense bill also provides for $95.6 million for the “research, development, test and evaluation” of the long range standoff weapon (LRSO), which is a new nuclear-armed cruise missile that has been described by House Armed Services Committee member, Democrat John Garamendi, and others as “unnecessary” and “inherently destabilizing.”
At the same time, the bill also explicitly limits the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) from spending “not more than $56,000,000” to carry out “the nuclear weapons dismantlement and disposition activities of the Administration.”
In other words: The defense bill allocates almost double the amount for the development of a new, unnecessary nuclear weapon as it does for the NNSA to carry out nuclear disarmament.
The passage of the $619 billion bill coincides with the publication of a Washington Post report that alleges that the Pentagon buried “an internal study that exposed $125 billion in administrative waste in its business operations.” To put this amount in perspective, $125 billion is roughly two and half times the amount Russia spent on national defense in 2016. Overall, more than half of federal discretionary sending goes toward defense spending which, by one estimate is the second-largest budget item after Social Security.
And so, Trump’s appointment of a triumvirate of generals to run the US national-security apparatus against the backdrop of this expensive and destabilize defense budget may mean that, far from “draining the swap,” Trump and Speaker Paul Ryan’s Washington will be back to business as usual.