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

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.”


Hong Kong police warn of ‘live fire’ if they face deadly weapons from protesters

Updated 17 November 2019

Hong Kong police warn of ‘live fire’ if they face deadly weapons from protesters

  • Protests have tremored through the global financial hub since June
  • China has repeatedly warned that it will not tolerate the dissent

HONG KONG: Hong Kong police Monday warned for the first time that they may use “live rounds” after pro-democracy protesters fired arrows and threw petrol bombs at officers at a beseiged university campus, as the crisis engulfing the city veered deeper into danger.
Protests have tremored through the global financial hub since June, with many in the city of 7.5 million people venting fury at eroding freedoms under Chinese rule.
China has repeatedly warned that it will not tolerate the dissent, and there have been concerns that Beijing could send in troops to put an end to the spiralling unrest.
Three protesters have been shot by armed police in the unrelenting months of protests. But all in scuffles as chaotic street clashes played out — and without such warnings being given.
A day of intense clashes, which saw a police officer struck in the leg by an arrow and protesters meet police tear gas with volleys of petrol bombs, intensified as night fell.
Clashes rolled across Kowloon, with the epicenter around the Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU), where scores of defiant demonstrators set large fires to prevent police from conducting a threatened raid on the campus.
They hunkered down under umbrellas from occasional fire from water cannon and hurled molotov cocktails at an armored police vehicle, leaving it ablaze on a flyover near the campus.
Police declared the campus a “riot” scene — a rioting conviction carries up to 10 years in jail — and blocked exits as spokesman Louis Lau issued a stark warning in a Facebook live broadcast.
“I hereby warn rioters not to use petrol bombs, arrows, cars or any deadly weapons to attack police officers,” he said.
“If they continue such dangerous actions, we would have no choice but to use the minimum force necessary, including live rounds, to fire back.”
Police said they fired at a car late Sunday that had driven at a line of officers near the campus — but the vehicle reversed and escaped.
Protesters at the campus appeared resolute — a twist in tactics by a leaderless movement so far defined by its fluid, unpredictable nature.
“I feel scared. There’s no way out, all I can do is fight to the end,” said one protester joining the barricade in front of the university building.
“We need a base to keep our gear and have some rest at night before another fight in the morning,” another called Kason, 23, told AFP.
On Sunday, activists parried attempts by police to break through into the PolyU campus, firing rocks from a homemade catapult from the university roof, while an AFP reporter saw a team of masked archers — several carrying sports bows — patrolling the campus.
Violence has worsened in recent days, with two men killed in separate incidents linked to the protests this month.
Chinese President Xi Jinping this week issued his most strident comments on the crisis, saying it threatened the “one country, two systems” model under which Hong Kong has been ruled since the 1997 handover from Britain.
Demonstrators last week engineered a “Blossom Everywhere” campaign of blockades and vandalism, which forced the police to draft in prison officers as reinforcements, shut down large chunks of Hong Kong’s train network and close schools and shopping malls.
The movement, characterised by its fluidity and unpredictability, has started to coagulate in fixed locations, showing the protesters’ ability to switch tactics.
The protests started against a now-shelved bill to allow extradition to China but have billowed to encompass wider issues such as perceived police brutality and calls for universal suffrage in the former British colony.
The financial hub has been nudged into a recession by the unrelenting turmoil.
A poster circulating on social media called for the “dawn action” to continue on Monday.
“Get up early, directly target the regime, squeeze the economy to increase pressure,” it said.
The education bureau said schools will remain closed again on Monday.
Earlier on Sunday, dozens of government supporters gathered to clear barricades near the university campus — a sign of the divisions slicing through the city.
Many residents are wearied by the sapping protests. Others support the Chinese-backed city government.
Some applauded a Saturday clean-up by Chinese troops from a garrison of the People’s Liberation Army in Kowloon.
The garrison is usually confined to the barracks under Hong Kong’s mini-constitution, although it can be deployed at the request of the city’s government to help with public order breakdown or natural disasters.
Hong Kong’s government, which presides over a city that enjoys greater freedoms than the mainland, said it did not ask the PLA for help on Saturday.
The choreographed troop movement “has only compounded the impression that Beijing has simply ignored” Hong Kong’s unique political system, said analyst Dixon Sing.