By Bonnie Kristian
The end of President Trump’s first 100 days in office looms with much of his agenda stuck in a state of flux. Health care is on hold. The second iteration of the travel and immigration ban remains suspended. The border wall is, in theory, in its planning stages, but how it will be funded is at best unclear.
In foreign policy, however, the fog of uncertainty fostered by the president’s divergent campaign trail statements and discordant selection of advisers has begun to clear. And if there is one word with which we may sum up the new administration’s approach to matters of war and peace, it is: more. In military spending and engagement alike, Trump has wasted no time in putting the United States on a path of across-the-board escalation.
On the fiscal front, he wants more money for the Pentagon—$54 billion more, to be precise. That 10 percent increase over the roughly $600 billion annual military budget for just one year, and the proposal’s main point of public controversy has been where those fresh billions should be acquired.
Less debated but surely a point of greater importance is a question of grand strategy, of whether the military needs these extra funds in the first place. “The administration still has not articulated a strategic rationale for its proposed buildup,” notes national security expert Benjamin H. Friedman at the Boston Review. Indeed, none of the budget bump’s supporters in Washington seem to have done due diligence in realistically assessing global threats to American national security in a post-Cold War world (not least of which is our $19 trillion national debt), the value of current U.S. military engagements after a decade and a half of reckless interventionism, or present Pentagon finances en masse.
The latter is particularly opaque, as the Department of Defense has managed to maintain a consistent record of profligacy, waste, and loss for decades while avoiding the full audit in which it is legally mandated to participate. The result? Over the past 20 years, an estimated $10 trillion in tax dollars (enough to pay off half the national debt) has gone unaccounted for in this single federal bureaucracy.
Trump’s foreign policy of more is about money, yet—true to title—it is also about more than money. As Friedman comments, this spending hike “underwrites aggressive ambitions, such as wars in seven countries and commitments around the world that carry needless risk.”
To be sure, these are not wars of Trump’s initiation. From former Presidents Bush and Obama he inherited U.S. military interventions of varying cost and quality in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Pakistan, Somalia, Syria, and Yemen. It would be unfair to expect resolution overnight.
But these fights are now unquestionably wars of Trump’s escalation, soon in Libya and Somalia and already in at least Syria and Yemen. Several hundred Marines and Army Rangers have been deployed to the battle for Raqqa, the first time the United States has placed ground troops—as opposed to Special Operations Forces (SOFs) ostensibly performing an advisory role—into outright combat in Syria. And as The New York Times reported, the Trump administration launched more airstrikes in Yemen in March alone than the Obama administration ordered in all of 2016.
While Washington hawks might argue this is simply evidence of Trump waging the war on terror with an energy Obama lacked, that suggestion cannot hold water. The Obama administration dropped more than 26,000 bombs in these seven countries in 2016, an increase of more than 3,000 over the prior year. He, too, was escalating U.S. intervention in an attempt to settle internal political disputes in distant countries. In fact, at Obama’s direction, our military was quite literally dropping bombs faster than they could be produced.
It is only by comparison to the heights of hysterical saber-rattling among the Washington establishment that Obama can be cast as inactive in foreign policy. His is the ignominious legacy of the only American president to preside over two full terms of war, and it is precisely that legacy—crafted as it was with the reckless prodding of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton—which Trump’s candidacy often critiqued.
No, this is a not a story of Obama’s pacifism and Trump’s power. It is a story of presidents past entangling the United States in costly, risky interventions with no endgame or defined strategy—and of Trump so far deciding to do the same thing, but more.
Nevertheless, we have yet to complete the first 100 days, and our president has shown himself nothing if not adaptable. The foreign policy of more need not be a permanent fixture of this still-young administration—and after two months of executive order governance at a breakneck pace, the White House could hardly be faulted for pressing pause to develop a plausible path to fix America’s failed foreign policy of the last 15 years.
Bonnie Kristian is a fellow at Defense Priorities. She is a weekend editor at The Week and a columnist at Rare, and her writing has also appeared at Time Magazine, CNN, Politico, Relevant Magazine, The Hill, and The American Conservative, among other outlets.
This piece was originally published by The Hill on April 27, 2017. Read more HERE.