Trump's Wasteful Defense Plan Can't Defend America

F-35 Lightning II completes a flyover of USS Zumwalt. Wikimedia Commons/U.S. Navy

The Trump administration’s defense budget honors campaign goals but hinders U.S. interests.

Since the Trump administration released its fiscal year 2018 “skinny budget” proposal it has become increasingly clear that the Republican establishment in both branches of government are increasingly divided on how U.S. taxpayer money should be spent. Trump advocates for massive cuts to many social programs (but not Social Security or Medicare) and has vowed to make America’s military great again, proposing a $54 billion increase in defense spending above the Budget Control Act caps. Fiscal conservatives within the party are concerned that the defense increase is wasteful and that many of the social programs that will be cut to fund the increase are necessary for their constituents. The opposite end of the Republican spectrum has defense hawks, such as Arizona Sen. John McCain, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, who wants to see an even bigger increase in defense spending. Both groups generally favor massive reforms—and often cuts—to entitlement programs such as Social Security and Medicare.

Given this lack of consensus it is unlikely the budget that Congress eventually sends to Trump for approval will come anywhere close to matching the one he has put forward. It will, however, probably still include an increase in defense spending and cuts for some domestic programs and the diplomacy and development agencies. But before Trump and the Republican Congress enact a complete budget for FY 2018, they should consider the impact it will have on their four main foreign-policy and national-security goals, as the current proposal currently undermines most of them.

First, Trump has made clear by signing his memorandum calling for a new plan to defeat ISIS that eliminating the terrorist organization is his top priority and he seeks to prevent it from posing any future threat to the United States. Trump’s budget proposal would increase military spending overall and the number of Army and Marine ground forces from 660,000 to 730,000 and would cut $8 billion in potential reconstruction aid for Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. Given that Trump has claimed he intends to cut back on the number of troops stationed in allied nations, he has not signaled his intention to increase troops in Iraq or Afghanistan. He previously said that he would not send large numbers of ground troops to foreign countries; this ground troop increase would be an unnecessary expenditure.

Trump should reconsider his decision to cut the reconstruction aid that is essential for establishing governance systems post conflict. Active duty and retired flag officials, including the current secretary of defense, a retired Marine Corps general, have all stated that economic and diplomatic resources are a necessary component of fighting terrorism, and most analysts agree that failing to establish a successful governance system in Iraq after ISIS is driven out could result in a power vacuum that Iran and other terrorist organizations would most likely fill. The United States has heavily invested American lives and taxpayer money in Iraq over the past decade; failing to successfully help Iraq transition out of conflict would waste those sacrifices and leave the United States less secure in the long run.