Trump’s defense budget boost raises questions on strategy

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer shakes hands with Budget Director Mick Mulvaney, right, as he takes the podium during daily press briefing at the White House, on Thursday, in Washington. (AP)
Updated 18 March 2017
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Trump’s defense budget boost raises questions on strategy

WASHINGTON: An essential element is missing from President Donald Trump’s plan for boosting the budgets of the US military services by $54 billion in 2018. How, exactly, does the commander in chief intend to use the world’s most potent fighting force?
Beyond the threat posed by Daesh and other militant groups, Trump does not articulate what he is defending the country from. Defeating what Trump and his aides call “radical Islamic terrorism” does not require an additional investment of tens of billions of dollars. And Trump, whose “America First” mantra suggested an isolationist approach, has viewed Russia as a potential partner, not an adversary.
Trump’s proposed defense budget of $639 billion, which includes $65 billion for ongoing emergency war-fighting, totals more than the next seven countries combined. Yet documents released Thursday by the White House provide little detail about where all the money will be spent, other than to say the goal is to rebuild an American military that Republicans have accused former President Barack Obama of allowing to fall into disrepair.
The Trump budget makes no specific mention of Iran, North Korea or China. Instead, the documents employ broad strokes to cast the $54 billion increase as “the groundwork for a larger, more capable, and more lethal joint force, driven by a new National Military Strategy that recognizes the need for American superiority not only on land, at sea, in the air, and in space, but also in cyberspace.”
Republican defense hawks in Congress immediately panned Trump’s 2018 proposal. GOP lawmakers including Sen. John McCain of Arizona, the chairman of Armed Services Committee, want at least $37 billion more than what Trump is recommending to begin to reverse an erosion in the military’s readiness for combat.
“It is clear that this budget proposed today cannot pass the Senate,” said McCain, who called Trump’s defense plan only slightly better than what Obama would have crafted if he were still in office.
And much more money will be needed over time to buy all the ships, missiles, jet fighters and more needed to replace an arsenal heavily taxed by 15 years of war, according to McCain and like-minded congressional colleagues. He envisions defense spending increasing steadily in the coming years, culminating with an $800 billion budget for the armed forces in 2022.
Still, Trump’s 2018 plan would be welcomed at the Pentagon. Senior US military leaders have warned Congress that strict caps on government spending imposed in 2011 have squeezed them so hard that beating powers such as Russia or China is far tougher than it used to be as aging equipment stacks up, waiting to be repaired, and troops do not get enough training.
Military leaders have told Congress they have been forced to rob their maintenance and procurement accounts to help pay for missions in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere. That has led to critical maintenance being postponed and lengthy delays in the acquisition of new equipment, according to the Pentagon’s top brass.
“It’s a simple matter of supply can’t meet demands,” Adm. William Moran, the vice chief of naval operations, told the Senate Armed Services readiness subcommittee during a February hearing.
Despite Trump’s focus on the Daesh group, that is a war under control, according to top defense officials. “We’re fully ready and have shown repeatedly that we can fight today’s fight against a violent extremist organization,” Gen. Stephen Wilson, the Air Force’s vice chief of staff, told the House Armed Services Committee last month.
Trump’s budget avoids a knock-down fight with Congress over base closings. The Army and Air Force have said that shuttering excess installations would save billions of dollars. But they remain open because the GOP-led Congress has so far refused to allow a new round of base closures. Military installations are prized possessions in congressional districts.
Conservatives gave Trump’s defense plan high marks because the increase is paid for by slashing spending for foreign aid and domestic agencies that had been shielded under Obama.
But Rep. Raul Labrador, a member of the House Freedom Caucus, said he and other deficit hawks have no intention of giving the president’s plan a free pass.
“We should make sure we’re using military spending wisely like we look at every other item in the budget,” the Idaho Republican said. “I think we make a mistake as Republicans when we say it’s OK to plus-up (defense) spending and decrease everything else without really looking closely.”


Britain condemns Israel bias at UN rights council

Updated 2 min 15 sec ago
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Britain condemns Israel bias at UN rights council

  • British foreign secretary Boris Johnson criticized the council’s controversial Agenda Item 7, a permanent fixture on the schedule exclusively devoted to discussing rights abuses in the Palestinian Territories.
  • Johnson noted however that the council had an important role to play in “the Israeli-Palestinian conflict under the right agenda item.”

GENEVA: Britain on Monday urged the UN Human Rights Council to reform its treatment of Israel, joining the United States in demanding an end to the body’s alleged bias against the Jewish State.
Addressing the opening of the 38th council session, British foreign secretary Boris Johnson criticized the council’s controversial Agenda Item 7, a permanent fixture on the schedule exclusively devoted to discussing rights abuses in the Palestinian Territories.
“We share the view that the dedicated Agenda Item 7 focused solely on Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories is disproportionate and damaging to the cause of peace, and unless things change we shall vote next year against all resolutions introduced under Item 7,” Johnson said.
Israel is the only country with a dedicated council item.
Washington, some European countries and Australia have sided with Israel in condemning Item 7 as prejudiced, noting that countries with arguably worse rights records in recent years, like Syria are spared such intense scrutiny.
While previous US administrations have criticized Item 7, President Donald Trump’s government has raised the prospect of withdrawing from the council unless it is scrapped.
Johnson noted however that the council had an important role to play in “the Israeli-Palestinian conflict under the right agenda item.”
Each council session includes an agenda item on so-called country specific situations, known as Agenda Item 4, where debates on the crises in Syria, Burundi and others typically take place.