Donald Trump is right about defense spending – and that should scare you

March 2, 2016
U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks on the USS Iowa in San Pedro, Los Angeles, California, United States September 15, 2015. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson - RTS1ASJ

Donald Trump speaks on the USS Iowa in San Pedro, Los Angeles, California, September 15, 2015. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

Donald Trump could be the only presidential candidate talking sense about for the American military’s budget. That should scare everyone.

“I’m gonna build a military that’s gonna be much stronger than it is right now,” the real- estate-mogul-turned-tautological-demagogue said on Meet the Press. “It’s gonna be so strong, nobody’s gonna mess with us. But you know what? We can do it for a lot less.”

He’s right.

U.S. military spending is out of control. The Defense Department budget for 2016 is $573 billion. President Barack Obama’s 2017 proposal ups it to $582 billion. By comparison, China spent around $145 billion and Russia around $40 billion in 2015. Moscow would have spent more, but the falling price of oil, sanctions and the ensuing economic crisis stayed its hand.

The engine and tail section of a Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II fighter jet is seen in its hanger at Patuxent River Naval Air Station in Maryland October 28, 2015.     REUTERS/Gary Cameron     - RTX1TOPJ

The engine and tail section of a Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II fighter jet in its hanger at Patuxent River Naval Air Station in Maryland, October 28, 2015. REUTERS/Gary Cameron

As Trump has pointed out many times, Washington can build and maintain an amazing military arsenal for a fraction of what it’s paying now. He’s also right about one of the causes of the bloated budget: expensive prestige weapons systems such as the Littoral Combat Ship and the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.

The much-maligned F-35 will cost at least $1.5 trillion during the 55 years that its manufacturer, Lockheed Martin, expects it to be flying. That number is up $500 billion from the original high estimate. But with a long list of problems plaguing the stealth fighter, that price will most likely grow.

“I hear stories,” Trump said in a speech before the New Hampshire primary, “like they’re ordering missiles they don’t want because of politics, because of special interests, because the company that makes the missiles is a contributor.”

America’s defense is crucial. But something is wrong when Washington is spending almost five times as much as its rivals and throwing away billions on untested weapon systems. Most of the other presidential hopefuls agree. “We can’t just pour vast sums back into the Pentagon,” Senator Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) said during a campaign stop in South Carolina.

Cruz promised to rein in the military, audit the Pentagon and figure out why it’s spending so much cash. Then he promised to add 125,000 troops to the Army, 177 ships to the Navy and expand the Air Force by 20 percent.

Cruz wouldn’t put a price tag on these additions. But his plan would likely up the annual defense budget by tens of billions of dollars – if not hundreds of billions. One military expert, Benjamin Friedman of the CATO Institute, estimated that the Cruz plan would cost roughly $2.6 trillion over the next eight years.

Ballistic-missile-launching submarines aren’t cheap, for example, and Cruz wants 12 of them. “If you think it’s too expensive to defend this nation,” Cruz said, “try not defending it.”

Republican U.S. presidential candidate Marco Rubio speaks during a campaign stop at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama February 27, 2016.   REUTERS/Harrison McClary

Senator Marco Rubio speaks during a campaign stop at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama, February 27, 2016. REUTERS/Harrison McClary

He’s not alone. Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) wants to revitalize the Navy, double down on the troubled F-35 and develop a new amphibious assault vehicle. Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, like Cruz, wanted to reform military spending while increasing the Pentagon budget by $1 trillion over the next 10 years.

Ohio Governor John Kasich might be expected to have a more reasonable stance. After all, he sat on the House Armed Services Committee for almost 18 years, where he slashed budgets and challenged wasteful Pentagon projects.

But that past is a liability for him. The Super PAC that backed Bush funded a string of attack ads accusing Kasich of going soft on defense. Not wanting to appear weak, the governor now talks about increasing defense spending by $102 billion a year.

Even the Democrats are in on the game. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has yet to propose a military budget, but she has long pledged strong support for the troops. Meanwhile, she is calling for an independent commissioner to audit the Pentagon for waste, fraud and abuse – the usual suspects.

Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) is one candidate who has a clear record in terms of the Pentagon budget. He wants to reduce the U.S. nuclear arsenal and has long supported a 50 percent cut in defense spending.

A Lockheed Martin F-35B Lightning II joint strike fighter flies toward its new home at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida in this U.S. Air Force picture taken on January 11, 2011. South Korea has set a budget of around 7.34 trillion won ($6.79 billion) for 40 Lockheed Martin F-35 fighter jets, a source with direct knowledge of the deal said on March 24, 2014 in a purchase to be finalised in the third quarter.  REUTERS/U.S. Air Force/Staff Sgt. Joely Santiago/Handout  (UNITED STATES - Tags: MILITARY TRANSPORT) ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. IT IS DISTRIBUTED, EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS. FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - RTR3IL8C

A Lockheed Martin F-35B Lightning II joint strike fighter flies toward its new home at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida, January 11, 2011. REUTERS/U.S. Air Force/Staff Sgt. Joely Santiago/Handout

At the same time, however, Sanders seems to tolerate the $1.5-trillion albatross, the F-35. Which makes sense if you consider that Vermont could lose a lot of jobs if the F-35 disappeared. Sanders persuaded the jet’s manufacturer to put a research center in Vermont and bring 18 jets to the state National Guard.

Sanders has a history of protecting military contractors — if they bring jobs to his state. When he was mayor of Burlington in the 1980s, he pushed its police force to arrest nonviolent protesters at a local General Electric plant. The factory produced Gatling guns and also was one of the largest employers in the area.

Yet, Sanders ideological beliefs can sometimes color his views. He was chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee in 2014 as scandal swept the Department of Veterans Affairs. Even as many VA supporters called for reforms, Sanders defended the hospital system because he felt conservatives were attacking a major government social-welfare agency.

He still defends his stewardship of the committee. “When I was chairman, what we did is pass a $15-billion piece of legislation,” Sanders said during a recent debate with Clinton. “We went further than any time in recent history in improving the healthcare of the men and women in this country who put their lives on the line to defend us.”

In the age of terrorism and Islamic State bombers, the prevailing political wisdom holds that appearing soft on defense can lose a candidate the general election. For many of the 2016 presidential candidates, looking strong means spending a ton of cash. Even if you’re from the party that holds fiscal responsibility as its cornerstone.

But Trump doesn’t care about any of that. In speech after speech, he has called out politicians and defense contractors for colluding to build costly weapons systems at the price of national security.

During a radio program last October, for example, Trump called out the trouble-ridden F-35. “[Test pilots are] saying it doesn’t perform as well as our existing equipment, which is much less expensive,” Trump said. “So when I hear that, immediately I say we have to do something, because you know, they’re spending billions.”

Like so many Trump plans, the specifics are hazy. But on this issue, he’s got the right idea.

In a political climate full of fear of foreign threats and gung-ho about the military, it could take a populist strongman like Trump to deliver the harsh truth: When it comes to the military, the United States can do so much more with so much less.

37 comments

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This is not news. Trump is repeating the obvious. Trump’s military problem is that he also thinks they should be everywhere, doing all things, and policing the world. That’s a failed Bush recipe.

Posted by Solidar | Report as abusive

The F-35 is just a stealth version of the Russian Yak-141 which design was bought by LM for about 400 mil dollars.

Posted by Macedonian | Report as abusive

Actually Trumps views go further than just a big military that does everything, the other thing he has said publically is that he believes America’s allies should shoulder some of the costs/burden for defence.

Currently the rest of NATO are spending paltry sums and lack key defence assets without the US supplying them, look at the UK/French lack of maritime aircraft, air-to-air refuelling, and basic transport. If they want to have these assets under a Trump administration then they should contribute for their upkeep.

The consequence of this would be a much lower cost for the US, but also more influence for their allies who now pay for their defence. In that world the US will not be everywhere doing everything like they are today, but more constrained by their allies.

Posted by Murfalad | Report as abusive

Why are we even building a manned airplanes. Drones can do the same job at a fraction of the cost, and not endanger the life of a pilot. Same probably goes for ships. Submarines may be a special case, as communications below the sea is slow and difficult.

Posted by Ashdodi | Report as abusive

@solidar

actually the opposite is the case. Trump repeatedly spoke against wars and is for stopping to play the worlds policeman.

Posted by atze | Report as abusive

@Murfalad Good point about NATO and other allies not paying their fare share.
@Ashdodi You are correct about manned aircraft. Coddling a pilot is most of the cost of a fighter aircraft and a massive barrier to stealth. We do need manned aircraft like the unglamorous A-10 for ground support.

I kept seeing “audit” in the article. Audits will only increase costs as each audit adds a permanent defensive layer of bureaucracy and paper pushers to every project.

Posted by QuietThinker | Report as abusive

Of course in a department of that size, there will be waste, fraud, and abuse. It’s a good idea to have ongoing audits of the Defense department; however, that should not become an excuse for a Sanders-like pullback from the world. The main reason the U.S. military is so big is America is not just defending itself, as Britain does for example, but is basically on the leading edge of defending the entire free world. Ted Cruz is correct: the defense budget is expensive, but not having a large Defense budget would end up being far larger, as communist China and an aggressive Russia would choke off freedom in the world. That can’t be allowed, despite the impulse to pull back.

Posted by Calfri | Report as abusive

“. . .throwing away billions on untested weapon systems. . .”

This comment describes any new weapon. So is the author suggesting that, with our potential global rivals ramping up their spending on new advanced weapons systems, we should cease to do so? Any new weapons system is, at one point in time, an “untested weapon system”.

Posted by maddog2 | Report as abusive

Good article.

“.. fear of foreign threats ..”

What foreign threats? Just contain the illegal and war-criminal actions of NATO headed by US’s Breedlove with Ashcroft by his side, fomenting unnecessary conflicts around the globe and ruining the relations with the two that matter – Russia/China – that can decimate the globe multiple times over, just like the way we can. US tax payers need to hold this overblown defense budget accountable to proper audit and compliance on existing inefficiency, fraud and corruption. Look at Russia and Israel on how with very low budgets, carry their arms and carry-out the operations with such levels of effectiveness delivering successful closure on wars in short time-frames.

Posted by Mottjr | Report as abusive

Love Trump!

Posted by Foxdrake_360 | Report as abusive

He’s no different than any other politician in which he says whatever to get the vote. You really think this one guy will stand up against the military industrial complex? Whatever.

Posted by Jerry-Houston | Report as abusive

Yes…. the candidate who proposes to make deeper military cuts than Jimmy Carter…. and then fight China and Russia at the same time.

Good plan. Take another bong hit, republicans.

Posted by Solidar | Report as abusive

Calfri: Where is this “free world” you speak of? I’d like to move there. Currently I’m stuck in the US, where you need government permission to do just about anything, and where people have less privacy from government spying than prison inmates had only a few decades ago.

Posted by Heretic50 | Report as abusive

I thought we had a huge nuclear arsenal. If that isn’t enough to deter an attack by a foreign military such as Russia or China, what possibly could be?

As for terrorism, that’s less of a threat to people on US soil than common criminals. In fact, more innocent Americans are killed by US police each year than by terrorists. But if you want to reduce the “terror threat,” here are some thoughts: STOP attacking or invading other countries; STOP supporting tyrannical regimes in the Mideast; STOP supporting atrocities by Israel and Saudi Arabia; and STOP using the CIA to meddle in other nations’ affairs. We might regain our moral authority in a few decades, and we could save a few bucks.

Posted by Heretic50 | Report as abusive

I thought we had a huge nuclear arsenal. If that isn’t enough to deter an attack by a foreign military such as Russia or China, what possibly could be?

US “defense” spending is intended to make the crony capitalist executives at Raytheon, Lockheed, etc., very wealthy at taxpayer expense. And of course some of that wealth is invested in the bribery of the next round of elected “representatives” to ensure continual war.

Posted by Heretic50 | Report as abusive

Solidar stated that “Trump’s military problem is that he also thinks they should be everywhere, doing all things, and policing the world.” That is total BS. I fact, Trump has advocated getting regional nations to fight their own battles.

Making up your own narrative is very transparent. You are fooling no one.

Posted by WayneVan | Report as abusive

But the U.S. military budget has to be really big so that obscene amounts of money can disappear into defense contractor black holes while still leaving enough to actually support the U.S. military.

Posted by Bob9999 | Report as abusive

@Waynevan: Here is Trump arguing for greater U.S. intervention in Ukraine. Your guy literally thinks Chernobyl is real estate worth getting Americans killed over. I rest my case.

http://www.politico.com/story/2015/09/do nald-trump-ukraine-foreign-policy-2016-2 13561

Posted by Solidar | Report as abusive

Trump brings up a lot of issues, and is spot on with them. That’s why he is leading the party, the sooner the elite snobs realize this and join him instead of fighting, maybe the country can get back on track.

Posted by cheeze | Report as abusive

Start with the concept of a defense department not an offense department. Start with closing the hundreds of military bases around the world. If others need our help they can provide the support for our assets. Start with realizing that our ludicrous military spending is what is bankrupting us, not social security and certainly not planned parenthood.

Posted by logicalSpartan | Report as abusive

The main reason the U.S. military (not “defense,” really) budget is so large is not that we are everywhere, not that we are shouldering more than our fair share of the cost of military operations around the world, but that defense contractors spend huge sums of money on political donations and lobbying so that Congress will order foolish, expensive war equipment and supplies. This spending is purely the result of greed. We have few if any enemies capable of taking on our military even if we reduced costs 2/3. The current climate of fear has been manufactured in order to sell munitions. I have read that the military has NEVER truly been audited. It’s well past time for an audit by the GAO.

Posted by imskeptical | Report as abusive

The main reason the U.S. military (not “defense,” really) budget is so large is not that we are everywhere, not that we are shouldering more than our fair share of the cost of military operations around the world, but that defense contractors spend huge sums of money on political donations and lobbying so that Congress will order foolish, expensive war equipment and supplies. This spending is purely the result of greed. We have few if any enemies capable of taking on our military even if we reduced costs 2/3. The current climate of fear has been manufactured in order to sell munitions. I have read that the military has NEVER truly been audited. It’s well past time for an audit by the GAO.

Posted by imskeptical | Report as abusive

Dump trump!

Posted by Whipsplash | Report as abusive

Sanders proposes deeper cuts to U.S. involvement abroad. Trump is a joke.

Posted by Solidar | Report as abusive

President Trump, I hope you will address Obama’s effort to leave us defenseless in a nuclear showdown! He has decimated our nuclear ballistic missle stockpiles and intends to take us to second or third place in the world standing of ICBM’s before he leaves office! God Bless America. God Bless President Trump 2016!

Posted by Lestino | Report as abusive

Excellent article.

Posted by AdamSmith | Report as abusive

It is so silly to compare American defense spending to Russia or China’s. Our military has worldwide responsibilities that those other nations do not. The US military must: defend the United States; defend western Europe; defend east Asia; protect the Persian Gulf; and, for added fun, keep all shipping lanes open, across the planet. Now you may disagree with these missions (I do – I think we should let the Europeans handle Putin on their own), but the fact is that every President since WWII has demanded the military accomplish these assignments. That takes a lot of money. The alternative? We back away from the world, and, in an age of nuclear weapons, risk a return to barbarity of the 1930’s.

Posted by DasVeed | Report as abusive

Lestino swooons: “President Trump, I hope you will address Obama’s effort to leave us defenseless in a nuclear showdown!”

Yeah, you did not read the article, did you. Trump is proposing to shrink the nuclear stockpile even further. That’s what “cuts” mean. Next time…. just read before you fall in love.

Posted by Solidar | Report as abusive

So, homosexuals are still spreading AIDS to each other and normal people. Mentally ill freaks. And Reuters supports them, is run by them.

Posted by UgoneHearMe | Report as abusive

Dump the Frump!! Vote Trump!!

Posted by RationalOne | Report as abusive

Heil Trump!!!

Posted by dixie1 | Report as abusive

President Regan was a kind of crazy guy who built up the military hugely. People just knew that if they messed with the United States, he would not hesitate to rain fire and brimstone down on them. As a result, he did not have to rain down much fire and brimstone on anyone.

By contrast, President Obama has been a weak and indecisive Commander-in-Chief and his weakness has been seized by the enemies of the United States. So the next president will probably have to fight the wars Obama created. A military that is by far the largest in the world is only as strong as its Commander-in-Chief. Let’s hope ours is a good one.

Posted by Bluhorizons | Report as abusive

Nazi Germany after the crash of 1929 ,based his economic recovery on the armament budget .Nothing more anti economics and surely lead to World War 2…..

Posted by LCLBotelho | Report as abusive

The American people are so ignorant of these facts and quiver in fear as a result of all the corporate propaganda that even Trump’s message here is lost in space. I’m a news junkie and I’ve never heard of this aspect of his campaign, only his divisive bigoted remarks that sell headlines. 95% of corporate media is junk food. Hot Pockets, anyone..?

Posted by Lavrentii | Report as abusive

Russia spent 40 billion on its military last year. Pull my finger. The US spent 50 billion last year on health care for its troops alone and Russia has considerably more troops than the US does. Russia’s self reported military budget isn’t even enough to pay the US minimum wage for its troops let alone their healthcare. Somebody cooked the books.

Posted by MikeFord | Report as abusive

F-35? 55 years? Technology get improved every 55 days, almost. 55 years? That’s like giving a 40 year old pitcher a 20 year guaranteed contract. What’s wrong with this picture?

Posted by commenter1223 | Report as abusive

A larger Army is justified; more ships and planes are not.
Wars are won by boots on the ground, not air or sea superiority.
We’ve had both since 9/11, yet the Taliban et al still persist.
Which is why we’re stuck in the sandbox called SW Asia.

Patton and 10 divisions could have won in 15 weeks, not 15 years, with WW II equipment. The F-35A,B,C will be an albatross that our allies can’t afford. Machines don’t win wars, men do.

Posted by alowl | Report as abusive