54 Billion Reasons Why Trump's No Isolationist
Lindsey German: 'Trump’s extra spending will increase the emphasis on militarism and war rather than on any alternative solutions to military conflict'
Donald Trump’s reputation as an opponent of wars was always more apparent than real. His rally speeches which castigated successive US interventions in the Middle East were popular and allowed him to pose as a real alternative to Hillary Clinton’s aggressive hawkish approach, and to portray himself as sympathiser of US veterans who have increasingly turned against these wars.
This week he made his reasoning more explicit. Trump only likes the US being involved in wars that it can win, and if that outcome can’t be guaranteed, then better to stay out. Or that seems to be the theory. It’s not particularly sound, given that modern US history is littered with wars that the US did not win, but it appeals to those for whom accurate history really isn’t the main thing.
The defeat of the US army by the Vietnamese in the 1960s and 70s is therefore brushed over, and the nothing short of catastrophe that is the Middle East is blamed on previous Presidents. At root, however, Trump the businessman thinks there just isn’t enough money going into the project of US war making.
That’s why this week he announced that he wanted an extra $54 billion to go on tanks, ships and weapons systems. It’s not as if this isn’t already happening – no one comes close to US arms spending. In fact, it spends more than the next 8 countries combined (bear that in mind when you hear constant refrains about the military threat from Russia or China). Trump wants to spend on increasing the military and nuclear capabilities.
Trump’s extra spending will be at the expense of foreign aid and various domestic commitments, which may well be popular with some of his supporters, but will only increase the emphasis on militarism and war rather than on any alternative solutions to military conflict.
In his speech to Congress he also took pains to praise Nato – his problem with the military body is that other countries don’t pay a ‘fair’ contribution, and he is demanding that all Nato countries pay at least 2% of their GDP in military spending. This is an alternative to spending it on health or education, and will result in more strongly armed states but less money to benefit working people.
Trump’s solutions are no solutions to the problems people in the US face. But he is using racism and scapegoating to justify this increase in arms spending, and he already has his sights set on targets. A spokesman talked of ‘a more robust presence in key international waterways and chokepoints’ such as the Strait of Hormuz and South China Sea. So, there will be greater military presence in the seas round Iran and China, just as Trump ramps up his rhetoric about them.
The aim of the budget is in Trump’s words to ‘put America first’. This rhetoric belies the fact that the US has always put its military interests first, rather than those of its people. Trump has a different set of military priorities from Obama or Clinton, but we should make no mistake. Those priorities are central to him, and he will be as much a war president as he predecessors.