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As Trump Pushes for Historic $54B Military Spending Hike, Which Programs Will He Cut to Pay for War?

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President Trump is heading to Capitol Hill tonight and is expected to outline part of his budget plan before a joint session of Congress. On Monday, Trump proposed increasing the military budget to just over $600 billion—a 10 percent increase—while deeply slashing the budgets of other agencies, likely including the Environmental Protection Agency and the State Department. Trump said he wanted a historic increase in military spending. Democratic Congressmember Barbara Lee of California responded on Twitter by writing, "[President] Trump’s morally bankrupt budget will funnel more money to the Pentagon at the expense of the poor [and] our planet. This is an awful idea." We speak to Neta Crawford, co-director of the Costs of War Project and a professor of political science at Boston University. In September, she released a report that found the United States has spent nearly $5 trillion since the September 11, 2001, attacks on homeland security and the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria and Pakistan.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: President Trump is heading to Capitol Hill tonight and is expected to outline part of his budget plan before a joint session of Congress. On Monday, Trump proposed increasing the military budget to just over $600 billion—a nearly 10 percent increase—while deeply slashing the budgets of other agencies, likely including the Environmental Protection Agency and the State Department. Trump said he wanted a historic increase in military spending.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: This budget will be a public safety and national security budget, very much based on those two, with plenty of other things, but very strong. And it will include a historic increase in defense spending to rebuild the depleted military of the United States of America at a time we most need it. ... This is a landmark event, a message to the world, in these dangerous times, of American strength, security and resolve. We must ensure that our courageous servicemen and women have the tools they need to deter war and, when called upon to fight in our name, only do one thing: win. We have to win. We have to start winning wars again.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Democratic Congresswoman Barbara Lee of California responded on Twitter by writing, quote, "Pres. Trump’s morally bankrupt budget will funnel more money to the Pentagon at the expense of the poor & our planet. This is an awful idea." The United States already has by far the largest military budget in the world. According to the National Priorities Project, the Pentagon’s annual budget is roughly the size of the world’s next seven largest military budgets combined.

AMY GOODMAN: Meanwhile, some Republicans in Congress, including Senator John McCain, are criticizing Trump for not seeking even more money for the military.

We go now to Boston, where we’re joined by Neta Crawford, co-director of the Costs of War Project, professor of political science at Boston University. In September, she released a report that found the United States has spent nearly $5 trillion since the September 11, 2001, attacks on homeland security and the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria and Pakistan.

Professor Crawford, welcome to Democracy Now! Can you talk about what President Trump himself is calling this historic increase that he’s asking for, for the military, a 10 percent increase?

NETA CRAWFORD: Well, it is historic. There has been no increase of this magnitude in peacetime or, in fact, since 2002, when the United States was running up for the Iraq War, so in recent war memory. This is unprecedented, in a sense.

AMY GOODMAN: And your response to it?

NETA CRAWFORD: Well, look, there is no grand strategy here. It’s unclear to what purpose all this money will be put. And anyone who calls for even more spending, I think, is missing the point. The United States has this year a military budget of $583 billion. Adding $54 billion will take us well into the $600 billion a year. Absent a grand strategy for this increase, what is it to be spent on? It will just, in fact, hurt the United States domestically and abroad, I think, make us more insecure.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Professor Crawford, the way that Trump has explained it, he’s looking for increases in all the branches of the military and, in addition, in missile capacity. So we’re talking about this is not a strategic, planned increase in what we think may be a critical portion of the United States military, just is an overall increase, isn’t it?

NETA CRAWFORD: Right. He’s going to increase the nuclear arsenal, increase the capacity of it to make more flexible nuclear wars, if that were possible. He’s going to increase the size of the Army, increase the size of the Marines and increase the surface and submarine force of the United States Navy. The United States already has more than a dozen aircraft carriers, many submarines. We don’t really need to increase the size of the Navy. It can do what it needs to do, as if—but it’s unclear what it needs to do. There is no larger picture here, other than more is better. That isn’t, to me, a plan. And in fact, the United States could decrease its military spending by 10 percent, 20 percent, in fact, and be just as safe, probably more safe.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Isn’t this, in effect, an increased militarization of the society? Because the president is also proposing a 10,000 increase in Border Patrol agents. It almost seems he’s basically redirecting much of the budget into militarizing American society.

NETA CRAWFORD: Well, it’s already the case that more than half of all discretionary spending is spent on the military. Right? So this will increase the proportion of all discretionary spending that goes toward armed forces. Then, when you add the increased budget to Homeland Security, to Border Patrol, it is, in fact—you’re right—a militarization of the United States domestically, as well. And you see this when you go out to places on the border or, for instance, most recently, where I was, in Standing Rock, that surplus military equipment is deployed at home. Now, what—we will have more surplus military equipment, because what will happen is that the United States military will buy new things, and they’ll have a desire to get rid of that surplus so they don’t have to store it and maintain it. They’ll give it to the police and Border Patrol and to other countries, which will—in fact, we’ll see those—that military equipment again abroad. And we’ve also seen how devastating using military equipment—designed for war—at home can be.

AMY GOODMAN: Speaking to the National Governors Association on Monday, President Trump criticized U.S. military spending in the Middle East.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I saw a chart the other day. As of about a month ago, $6 trillion we’ve spent in the Middle East. Six trillion dollars. And I want to tell you, that’s just unacceptable. And we’re nowhere. Actually, if you think about it, we’re less than nowhere. The Middle East is far worse than it was 16, 17 years ago. There’s not even a contest. So we’ve spent $6 trillion. We have a hornets’ nest. It’s a mess like you’ve never seen before. We’re nowhere. So we’re going to straighten it out.

AMY GOODMAN: So that’s President Trump citing your figures, Professor Crawford, from the Costs of War Project. Your response?

NETA CRAWFORD: Well, he doesn’t quite have it right, but, like, it would take too long to correct him. But the gist of it is, yes, we’ve spent a great deal of money in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and other parts of the world, including Yemen, making war. And what he does have right is we’re not much better off, and, in fact, in many ways, we’re worse off. In Afghanistan, the government controls less territory now than it did a year ago, and it controlled less territory a year ago than it did the year before that. The number of Taliban and other insurgents in Afghanistan has, in fact, grown since they diminished the number of those forces in the mid-2000s. So it’s about 40,000 people that are estimated to be in those movements. So you can’t kill everybody, in other words, and expect that to work, because people don’t like being pushed around and bullied.

So, his argument—well, it’s the assumption that we spend more money than we’ve already spent, and it’s going to get better—I think, is, on the face of it, illogical, without a plan. There’s no plan. It’s just throw money. And the worst part about this, if you think about it, is we’re committing ourselves then to not just spending an extra $54 billion this year, but, because of the way the budget works, we’re committing ourselves, if we buy big weapons and increase the number of people in the military, to spending year after year that amount. You just don’t spend it one year. You make commitments to buy weapons, and that takes time. And you make commitments to people to provide for their healthcare, and that doesn’t go away after a year. And so, we’re committing huge amounts of spending—for what? There’s no plan—for decades.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, Professor Crawford, the $54 billion increase also is going to be—create a $54 billion reduction in the expenditures for other agencies. The impact of such a large reduction on nonmilitary spending, discretionary spending, of the government?

NETA CRAWFORD: Well, just think of two domestically. The first, of course, is that we have urgent priorities at home. That each $1 million spent on the military, not to mention the billions, actually produces fewer jobs per dollar than nonmilitary spending. That’s been clear for decades. And it actually, again, is illogical to think that this is going to help the United States domestically. Secondly, I think it’s obvious that the militarization of the budget means that not just jobs are lost, but opportunities are lost in the future to do important work.

Then there are international consequences for such increases in spending and a corresponding decrease in, let’s say, environmental protection. As the climate gets worse, unrest grows. Then it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy that there’s great unrest in the world. As we decrease spending on diplomacy, the things where the United States could make a positive difference—through diplomacy, that is, not war—diminish, because it’s already been underemphasized. The last several secretaries of defense have asked the United States to increase money on climate and on diplomacy, the State Department. They’ve wanted just the opposite of what this government is proposing.

AMY GOODMAN: And, of course, President Trump has just said that they’re going to vastly decrease the budget for the State Department, as Reuters reports more than 120 retired U.S. generals and admirals urged Congress Monday to fully fund U.S. diplomacy and foreign aid, saying elevating and strengthening diplomacy and development alongside defense are critical to keeping America safe. I wanted to ask you, lastly, Professor Crawford, about President Trump calling for a new nuclear arms race.

NETA CRAWFORD: Again, what for? The United States already has several thousand nuclear weapons ready to be deployed, that is used against adversaries. These weapons are capable of destroying much of the planet. Right? There’s no reason, in fact, to develop more accurate or more easily used nuclear options, other than the quest to maintain superiority. But we are already superior. What it does, in fact, is increase the incentive for our adversaries to increase the quality and the quantity of their nuclear forces. It’s absurd.

AMY GOODMAN: We want to thank you so much for joining us, Professor Neta Crawford, co-director of the Costs of War Project, professor of political science at Boston University. And we will link to your study at Democracy Now!

When we come back, we have two segments. Later in the broadcast, we’ll be speaking with the son of Muhammad Ali. Muhammad Ali Jr., from the United States, went out of the country for Black History Month. When he came back, he was stopped at the airport, questioned about his religion, Muslim. But first, we’re going to look back in history at a time that many are deeply concerned might be a harbinger of what is to come. Stay with us.

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