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 United States 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.
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.